By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 02, 2000 at 3:20 PM

Jim Powell, one half of the Brewers radio broadcasting team, is entering his fifth season calling Brewers games. Working alongside Bob Uecker, the soft-spoken Powell has developed his own contrasting style, one rich with details and insight. Last week, Powell, an Atlanta native, sat down with to talk baseball, his career and his roots. From the Brewers broadcast booth at their spring home in Maryvale, Arizona, Powell discussed his background, working with Uecke, and his dual role of fan/broadcaster.

OMC: So how did you get this job?

JP: I ask myself that all the time. I was filling in for the Minnesota Twins for a couple of years. Their Hall of Fame announcer Herb Carneal had surgery and missed about half of the 93 season. The program director in Minneapolis was familiar with me, I was doing minor league ball and college baseball in South Carolina, and they called me up for a one week tryout, and they ended up signing me the rest of that year. So I did half of the season in 1993 for the Twins. Then the other announcer, John Gordon, got sick in '94 so they called me back up, and I filled in up to the strike in '94. Then everybody stayed healthy in '95, so I was still doing college baseball and minor league ball. Then Pat Hughes took the Cubs jobs. And I heard about the job like everyone else did. I sent a tape in, but the Brewers got about 130 tapes!

OMC: Maybe that had something to do with chance to work alongside Bob Uecker?

JP: That may have had something to do with it. You know, there are so few openings in major league baseball, only 30 jobs, and most or about half of the jobs are filled by former ball players. So for guys like me, who were whiffle ball all stars, there are only just a handful of jobs. And so many of these guys, like Bob, do such a terrific job, they get the job and they stay with the job for 30 years. There are very few openings, so when they come open, everybody in the minor leagues, everyone who has ever done a game, they all go for it. So 130 tapes, they narrowed it down to 20, they cut it down to 10 and when they got inside 10, I started getting semi-hopeful. When they got inside five, I started having my best contacts call. That's when I called in my reinforcements.

OMC: He doesn't swear on the air, he's well spoken, that kind of stuff?

JP: Right. Nice guy. Actually Bob Costas called on my behalf. That was helpful. And the people I worked with on the Twins. Laurel Prieb (Brewers VP Corporate Affairs) used to be with the Twins, he was travelling secretary. So there was some relationship and I think that helped me, too. They finally offered me the job and I gratefully accepted.

OMC: So you up and moved to Wisconsin? Moved your family here?

JP: Yup. Moved to Wisconsin with no kids and now we have two with a third on the way. So something agrees with us about living in Wisconsin.

OMC: You built a house recently?

JP: Yeah, we built a house in Delafield. We really love the Lake County area. I'm surprised everybody doesn't live out there. It's a little bit of a drive if you work downtown, but not too bad. It's about 25 minutes to the ballpark. It's perfect for me. It gives me a chance to get out of the daddy mode and get into the baseball mode.

OMC: You're from Atlanta?

JP: Correct.

OMC: So you probably grew up a Braves fan?

JP: Yeah, I was the Braves fan. That is correct.

OMC: How do you move to a new town and be told, okay, be a Brewers fan?

JP: Well, you know it's not as hard as you might think because you get to know these guys, and you make friends on the team. You're naturally gonna root for your friends. So I tried the first year or two -- people who have been listening to Brewers baseball aren't going to believe it if I start saying "we" and "us," and "my guys," and all that stuff. You're not going to fall in love with a team overnight. But over time, they're obviously my favorite team. I hope the Brewers win every game. It bothers me personally when they lose games, as you can probably hear on the air. Last August and September, Bob and I weren't all the cheerful on the air.

OMC: You were singing.

JP: Yeah, that was pretty good (laughing). You find other things to talk about. Try to change the subject.

OMC: When the Brewers are way out of it, in the middle of the summer, and the Brewers are down 10 to nothing in the fifth inning, what do you do? How do you get through it?

JP: That's where growing up in Atlanta was great training. The Braves were behind 10 nothing, my whole life. Until '91, they were just awful. What I try to remember is the way I was as a fan, which is if the Braves were in last, all I did was look at the paper every morning to see how close they were to second to last. I'd root like crazy for the Braves to win that day and hope that the team in fifth place would lose. And if you get in to fifth, you start thinking about getting into fourth. And then you start hoping to get to .500. Fans don't care, and this is the great thing about baseball and that's why it's the national past time, baseball is there to hold your hand, every day for seven months. It's your friend, it's on the radio. It follows you to the pond to go fishing. The long trips we used to take as a kid, and later as an adult, we would always time our drives so we would be driving at night so we could pull in five different games. You're driving to Kentucky and you've got it all mapped out on the sports page so you know which stations you're gonna tune to in different states and everything.

I was just a baseball wacko. I try to remember that now. It was good training for being a broadcaster, because they don't want to hear me bitchin' and moaning about why this is going wrong or whatever. They want to hear the best that I can bring to them about their favorite team. So that's what I try to do.

OMC: Which you Bob do on a regular basis in a different way.

JP: He's funny, and I'm not.

OMC: I wouldn't say that. You're just the definition of the descriptive announcer, while Bob will talk about planting cans for two innings. Do people seem to warm up to the contrast in styles?

JP: I haven't altered my style a whole lot when I came up here, but I'm a pretty analytical individual by nature. You know, I got the job to be a complimentary announcer to Bob Uecker. So I had to try and figure out what I could bring to the table that either Bob's not doing or how can I compliment Bob and make a better broadcast. Obviously I'm not going to tell funnier stories than him or better baseball stories.

OMC: You two do play off each other more so than you have in the past.

JP: I'm kind of the Ed McMahon. I spend the winter practicing my "heh, heh, heh, hi-ohs." So I try and do stuff that I know that while Bob's told you about planting cans, he may not be telling you about what Allan Levrault is doing in Triple A that day. Or he may not be telling you about signing another player, or if there are any deals in the works; things that as a die-hard baseball fan, myself, I like to hear on a broadcast.

So I've just tried to find areas that maybe he wasn't as involved in so I can bring something to the table, too. Yeah, I think people appreciate it. I hear from a lot of baseball fans that really like the information that I bring, so I sort of embrace that aspect of it.

OMC: Do you like your job? Is this the best job you could ever have?

JP: (Laughing) You know, on two different levels it is. My goal from the time they started cutting me from little league teams, and they weren't even allowed to cut you, was to get into baseball games for free. As a 12 year old, my dad had told me, and I believed what he was saying, "You can do anything you want. Be anybody you want, so think of something that would be fun." My dad worked a 9 to 5 job as an electrical engineer. He hated it. And I just used to see him getting up at 7:00 in the morning and fighting the traffic and the grind that really wore him down. I was determined not be a 9 to 5 guy. In fact, if I'm even awake by 9, it's an accident. So I started thinking, "What would be the best job in the whole world?" And baseball was my favorite thing at that time I the world, I was 12 years old, and I'm thinking, I want to be in baseball. Do I want to be a manager? Well, you know, especially with the Braves, those guys get fired about every year. General managers, same thing, get canned way too often for my taste. I thought about being a newspaper writer, but at that time, especially when you're 12 or 13, I hated writing. I didn't want to write an essay for my English class, why would I want to do that every day?

So somehow I fixated on being a baseball broadcaster at a very early age. I started working in that direction. As a kid, I watched Braves games on TV and called them into my tape recorder in my living room. So I think it's the best job in the world. I've never regretted pursuing this at all, and I'm just sorry everyone can't experience this. I meet so many people who say, "Oh, I would give anything to have your job." And that makes me feel great.

But then on the other level, in this particular case, I mean I get to work with Bob Uecker for 180 broadcasts a year. People in this world, if they won the lottery and they said, "Okay, you can have a million dollars or you can have Bob Uecker become your best friend and just hang out with him every day," most people in Wisconsin would opt for the latter. Maybe 10 grand and Uecker! So from that level, again, no broadcast team in baseball has more fun in the booth as we do.

OMC: So that chemistry is pretty genuine?

JP: Absolutely. The first thing Bob told me when I came here was, "I don't care about anything." He said, "You do what you want on the air, jump in anytime you want, talk to me about anything you want to. We're here to have a good time. Let's not forget that." Especially as a young broadcaster, a lot of times you can take your job and yourself too seriously, try too hard to prove yourself or whatever. I think Bob has really helped me in that regard, in terms of "let's not forget that in the end, it's a baseball game. Let's have fun with it."

OMC: I would agree with a lot of people who realize that even though the Brewers may not even be a .500 team, every time they tune in, they are getting a world class broadcast.

JP: Well, thanks. We'd have a world-class broadcast if it was Bob and my wife. The way I like to approach it is if you miss our broadcast one day, you've gotta be wondering, "What did Bob and Jim do today? Was it planting cans, or rolling his R's or whatever." I've learned over the years which buttons I can press so I can egg him on a little bit, and he's gotten more accustomed to me. I think he's loosened up some with me. I think Johnny Carson needed his Ed McMahon, and Uecker needs someone out there to play off of. Plus, his jokes are a lot funnier when I'm laughing in the background.

OMC: I could talk baseball with you all day, but you've got to get back to play by play.

JP: I'm game, man.

OMC: Okay. You're a Wisconsinite now. I've heard you talking Packers on the radio. Are you Packers fan now, too?

JP: I'm a huge NFL fan. I'm about as whacked out about football as I am about baseball, and in some ways, more so. Not that this job becomes a job, but anything that you do everyday -- if you are a lifeguard everyday, you probably get sick of going to the beach every day at some point. The NFL is one thing that I can still be a fan of. I don't have to work it, I don't have to prepare, I just watch it and enjoy it as a fan. My wife is great. She knows when the off-season comes that she can forget about me doing much of anything on Sundays.

I like the Packers. I appreciate the class. I like the way they built the team. I like the way the conduct their organization. I love the fact the fans can own stock in the team. I like the whole small town thing. A lot of that appeals to me because of my own personal nature, so it's been real easy to become a Packer fan. WTMJ radio asked me to a Packers Sunday last year and that was fun. They've asked me to do a lot more on ‘TMJ and to be on a lot more in the off-season, but I've really resisted that because I have two small kids and a third one on the way. I'm away from my wife months at a time, and there has to be a time when I'm home to help around the house and be a husband and a father. I don't want to do a whole lot of work in the off-season. Plus, I don't want to give up my NFL Sundays.

OMC: You seem to be a pretty Web-savvy guy.

JP: Yeah, I'm a Web wacko.

OMC: Do you use the Web to research baseball, keep in touch with fans? I know you do the Fan Forum on the Brewers web site.

JP: Yeah, the Internet is the greatest thing for baseball broadcasters, in particular, because we're on the road so much and you have a new game every day to prepare for. It's just unbelievable. When I first started with the Twins, just to give you an idea how much preparation for baseball broadcasting has changed in short time between '93 and now, I used to carry two enormous bags full of old Sporting News's, Baseball Weekly's, reference books. I looked like a pack mule. People used to make fun of me trying to get on the plane because I couldn't get in between the aisle. But I had to have all that stuff because, hey, tomorrow we're playing Cleveland. I'd go back through their beat writers' reports for the last four months and see exactly what's going on with the team, and I can get all that on the Internet. All I need to do is carry a laptop and read it. I can read every newspaper in North America every day and do, many of them. My laptop is open and on, and I'm on the Net from the first pitch to the last pitch every game we do, and I've just found it an incredibly useful tool. It's great for communication and e-mail. I enjoy doing the Fan Forum and communicating with the fans, but mostly I use it for research.

OMC: And Uecke?

JP: He is on the Net some. He likes to make fun of the cyber world. A lot of that is him joking around. He does get online, he does read, he can surf the Net. He just doesn't want to admit it.

OMC: The Brewers. Looking kind of grim here in 2000. What do you think?

JP: Well, as with any team, this team will go as far as its pitching staff can carry them. I'm encouraged, because I believe the bullpen is going to be one of the better ones in the National League, particularly in right-handed relief. If the Brewers lead after five innings, they've got a great chance to hold the lead. The acquisitions of Leskanic and Acevedo …

OMC: You think those were good trades?

JP: Oh, excellent trades. The Leskanic deal was a very lopsided trade, in my opinion. And Acevado, it remains to be seen. Obviously, he didn't pitch all that well with the Cardinals last year, but he has a great arm, and he's throwing 95 miles per hour out here in Arizona.

OMC: If he could stop those nosebleeds …

JP: Yeah (laughing), too many days in the Uecker seats, I think. But the bullpen is going to be solid, and Steve Woodard is solid. He's gonna have a good year, I think. He's 24 years old with all that experience already. He's really our version of Greg Maddux. I love the way he changes speeds. He's legit. He gonna get people out. So that leaves the other four slots in the rotation, and it's hard to evaluate out here. Everybody, every team has an ERA of six in the Cactus League. The ball flies here. Obviously, they haven't been great this spring, but hopefully Jamey Wright can come back healthy. Snyder, I think, is going to be a pleasant surprise. I like John Snyder. He throws harder than I thought. I thought he was a real finesse type guy. He doesn't blow you away, but he throws over 90 miles per hour. He has legitimate stuff. I think he'll help us.

So it's going to be up to Wright and Haynes, to be me that's the key to the Brewers in 2000. They're gonna score some runs. Defense, even though it's looked shaky out here, should be good. It's going to come down to Jimmy Haynes and Jamey Wright, number two and three starters -- why not? If they are, we're going to win a lot of games.


OMC: They gave up a lot with Cirillo. In fact, I'm glad he's not playing today, because I couldn't stand to see him in a Rockies uniform.

JP: Yeah, it was weird going to Tucson and seeing Cirillo, Karl and Myers. We saw them all our first game out there.

OMC: Cirillo wasn't too pleased with the trade, was he?

JP: No, he liked it in Milwaukee. He was a good player and a good guy, and he'll definitely be missed. But it's the nature of the game. Because of expansion, pitching has never been at more of a premium than it is right now. Literally, in the history of major league baseball. Everybody is looking for a 25 year old who throws 95 miles an hour, and nobody is willing to give him up. So to get a guy like that, like a Jamey Wright, you had to give up somebody, and it just comes down to are you going to trade Burnitz? Are you going to trade Cirillo? You can't trade Marquis Grissom and get a guy who throws 95 miles an hour. That's just not going to happen. So Dean (Taylor) did what he had to do. We've all watched the Brewers pitching staff these last couple of years. Obviously something had to change. Hopefully, those guys will have success, but at least Dean is trying.

OMC: 10 million to one odds that the Brewers will win the World Series. Would you put a dollar on that?

JP: I'd put a buck on that, if you've got an extra buck. You know, Dean told me today that he believes that we'll be over .500 and be competitive in the Central. On paper, we don't look like a team that's going to accomplish that. But that's why they play 162 games and do more than just sit in the press box and watch them.

OMC: I think Davey Lopes is going to be a good manager, but I was sad to see Phil Garner leave.

JP: Garner is a very good manager, and he'll have success elsewhere. I mean he got a golden parachute. He got a better deal in Detroit than he had in Milwaukee. But sometimes in every sport, good coaches still have to be fired. You get hired to be fired. Sometimes the players need to hear it from somebody else. They need a different style, a different approach. But what I like about Lopes is that he's been around baseball for 30 years. He was a fine player, he's been a coach, he understands the throwback ballplayer and wants his guys to adopt some of those philosophies. But he also has been around as a coach steadily for years and years, and he kind of sees the new generation of players, and he understands he's got to be flexible. I think Lopes had a bit of an edge; I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to him. He's a no-nonsense guy and again, this is no way a criticism of Phil Garner, but I think his style is going to contrast nicely with Garner's. Just like in the NBA, you fire a soft-spoken coach and get a screamer. And after a couple of years, you've got to fire the screamer and get a soft-spoken guy again. I think this is going to be a nice contrast.

You can hear Jim Powell and Bob Uecker on WTMJ-AM 620 and statewide on the Milwaukee Brewers Radio Network.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.