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Baseball Notebook: Uecker finally gets seat in the front row

Sunday, July 27, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Some things nature did not intend for man to hear.

Man in the moon ID'd.

Broadcaster and former major leaguer Bob Uecker throws out the first pitch before the game against the Houston Astros Thursday, July 24, 2003, in Milwaukee. Uecker, a former Milwaukee Brewer, was inducted into the Milwaukee Brewers Walk of Fame Thursday and will be inducted into the broadcasters' wing of the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Darren Hauck, Associated Press)

Kent State alum wins British Open.

Haley Joel Osment voted greatest child actor of all time (Excuse me! Five words: Jerry Mathers as The Beaver!)

But even above and beyond all those ...

Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the newest member of the Hall of Fame, Mr. Bob Uecker.

Just goes to show that even in the laws of nature, nothing is set in stone (except Uecker's old catcher's mitt).

Uecker, who has made a better career out of being an ex-ballplayer than he ever had as an (in)active player, will be inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies today in Cooperstown. If Gary Carter and Eddie Murray are the valedictorians of this year's class, then Uecker is hands-down its class clown.

To Milwaukeeans, he has been a voice of the Brewers for 33 years. But to the country, he is a self-deprecating old jock with whom The Guy In The Stands wouldn't have minded spitting seeds in the bullpen.

"I led the league in 'Go get 'em next time,'" Uecker once said.

Who knows how differently his life might've gone if he'd actually been good. Which may be the great irony here, for his life's course likely would not have taken him to the steps of the Hall of Fame this afternoon.

In six seasons with the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies from 1962-67, he played in 297 games and hit just .200 with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs. No man has likely reaped so much from 146 hits. There were the Miller Lite beer commercials. The appearances on "The Tonight Show" (better than 100). A seven-year run as a lead on the ABC sitcom "Mr. Belvedere." And ju-u-u-st a bit outside, his role as Harry Doyle in Hollywood's "Major League."

All have root in those six bench-warming seasons.

"I always say that anyone can stick around who hits .300," Uecker says. "Try doing it hitting .200."

Oddly enough, many have as The Guy discovered in compiling a team worthy of paying him tribute on his special day (see following). A team of mis-hits and broken bats only he could love. An assemblage you wouldn't expect to gather on this day of days in the baseball kingdom. But then, this Hall of Fame Day goes against anything Galileo, Newton and Einstein ever told us about the ways of the world. This is the day Bob Uecker has finally made the front row.

The All-Uecker Team

OF: Roger Repoz (1964-72) ... Joe D, The Mick and then Double-R? That's how the Yankees envisioned their center-field lineage. At least until pitchers discovered what scientists had long been unable to -- evidence of a Black Hole -- smack dab in the middle of his swing. Findings: 499 strikeouts, 480 hits, .224 career average.

OF: Rob Deer (1984-96) ... Sure, he hit 230 career homers, or 1 every 16.8 at-bats. But he more than made up for those screwups by striking out 1,409 times, or once every 2.75 ABs.

OF: Jimmy Canavan, (1891-97) ... All Pirates fans need to know about his proficiency with bat in hand (.223) is that among the players Baseball-Reference.com compares him to is Doug Strange.

3B: John Vukovich (1970-81) ... Time and place are everything. A .161 lifetime hitter, he still earned World Series rings with the '75 Reds and '80 Phillies, or two more than Ernie Banks.

SS: Mario Mendoza (1974-82) ... We realize he was not the worst-hitting shortstop ever to take an oh-fer (.215). But when the game's unofficial line of futility is named in your dishonor, how can you not make this team?

2B: Skeeter Webb (1932-48) ... How does a 5-9, 150-pound .219 hitter survive for 16 years? Well, it didn't hurt that he played three of them in Detroit for Manager Steve O'Neill, the man his wife called Dad.

1B: Bill Holbert (1876-88) ... OK, he played in an era when chicks didn't dig the long ball. But this guy likely couldn't even get a date with his cousin. He didn't hit one home run in 2,335 at-bats.

C: Bill Bergen (1901-11) ... He hit .132 in 1909 -- the lowest batting average ever with enough ABs to qualify for a batting title -- as one rusty-gate piece of a career in which he hit .170.

DH: Duane Kuiper (1974-85) ... Who else to put in the power-less spot in the lineup but the man with the fewest home runs (1) of any player with at least 3,000 at-bats?

P: Ron Herbel (1964-71) ... Began his career 0 for 47 and never got much better, finishing with an .029 average (6 for 206) -- worst among any pitcher, which says something if you ever saw Luke Walker or Bob Buhl commit fraud in a batter's box.

Rubbing it in

Not that there is any gloating going on in Chicago after acquiring Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez (and cash) for Mrs. O'Leary's cow and a used Zippo Tuesday, but Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Downey wrote that "in the home dugout before Wednesday's game ... stood [Cubs GM] Jim Hendry, a man who deserves to be hauled off by the cops for robbing people blind."

Keeping score

Call him overpaid at $8.5 million this season. Complain that he doesn't hit for power. Smack your head over his defense. But be careful what you wish for as the trading deadline approaches. Although he is among the touchstones for the Pirates' problems, Jason Kendall's run production numbers are -- relatively speaking -- good for the money he makes as the 60th-highest paid player in the game. And isn't scoring the object of the game? A look at the run-production of position players just ahead of Kendall on the salary list and just behind him (dollar figures in millions):

Barry Larkin$9.0047
Magglio Ordonez$9.00105
Rafael Palmeiro$9.0095
Jason Kendall$8.5792
Brian Giles$8.5697
Richard Hidalgo$8.5092
Dean Palmer$8.509
Eric Karros$8.3739

Run production = (Runs + RBIs -- HRs)

A good trip delayed

Giants outfielder Marquis Grissom staged what might have been the longest home run trot in recorded history Sunday. Time: Something approaching 6 minutes. And he wasn't Rickey Henderson-ing it, either.

Grissom hit a ball to left field in the fifth inning at Pac Bell Park that was headed over the wall. That is, until a fan knocked the ball back into play. Umpires signaled double, thinking the fan had reached over the wall. But they weren't sure. They huddled. Huddles of umpires naturally attract managers. Grissom stood on second. And stood some more.

Finally, crew chief Ed Montague emerged. This was it. A decision. Montague raised his arm and let loose with the universal hand signal for whoop-dee-doo, er, home run. The crowd roared. And Grissom finished his round trip.

"What, six minutes?" Grissom asked. "I'll take it."

... And delayed some more

Grissom's home run might not have been the most fascinating hit of the week. That would seem to belong to Cleveland's Ellis Burks. Burks was credited with a single Thursday -- 43 days after he went on the disabled list to have season-ending surgery on his right hand.

Seems that during a game against the Red Sox May 24, then-Boston third baseman Shea Hillenbrand was charged with an error on a ball hit by Burks. Indians officials didn't agree with the ruling and submitted a video of the play to a league official, who showed it to a panel of five observers. All agreed that the ball should have been ruled a single, and the official scorer agreed to change it. Any wonder The Guy loves this game.

What's all the angst about?

The Guy discovered a new definition of old this week. Mary Jo Ray attended her first Red Sox game at Fenway Park Sunday at age 108. Consider: That means she has been alive for not just one Red Sox world championship, but five. That the most recent occurred in 1918 is of no matter. Probably seems like just yesterday to Mary Jo.

Time to punt

For years, Bud Selig & Co. have preached that speedier games are happier games. They must've been thrilled, then, to see the Indians beat the hapless House Cats in 2 hours, 4 minutes at Jacobs Field Wednesday night. Still, while good to be commended for anything in a 27-74 season, it only brought another of their myriad troubles to the surface for Tigers Manager Alan Trammell. "[Umpire] Dana DeMuth said both our teams are doing our share. But ours," Trammell told Danny Knobler of Booth Newspapers, "is more a time-of-possession problem."

This 'n' that

Former Pirates center fielder Kenny Lofton could barely hide his excitement upon arriving in Chicago Wednesday. "Tell [Sammy] Sosa to take the right-field line. Tell Moises Alou to take the other line. I'll take the rest. Just stay out of my way." ... Brandon Lyon, upon being traded to the Pirates, discussed the need to remember that every game in the big leagues must be treated with importance. "I've got to keep that focus in the place I'm going to," he said. And at the signpost up ahead -- The Twlight Zone. ... Did Brewers pitcher Glendon Rusch really say this? After losing to the Pirates, 7-2, July 18, Rusch uttered: "It just wasn't my night to win." Uh, Glendon, you're 1-12. ... It was nice of Jose Hernandez to provide a Reader's Digest version of his career in his Pirates debut Wednesday night for fans who might not know much about him. In short: two strikeouts, one home run. ... And finally, Kansas City's Curtis Leskanic (Steel Valley), who upon witnessing an above-the-wall catch made by Carlos Beltran to rob Seattle's Don Wilson of a home run last weekend, observed: "I've been to two hog killings and a county fair and I haven't seen anything like that."

Shot and a jeer

Shot: Who says there's no reason to follow the Pirates now? Two words: Jose Hernandez! WalKing, talKing, history in the maKing. He's the next best thing to being in Detroit this summer.

Jeer: Lloyd McClendon prefers the "B" word when it comes to the Pirates' trades this week. So does The Guy. He just doesn't think they're the same "B" words.

Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474.

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