By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 04, 2002 at 5:54 AM Photography: Eron Laber

PHOENIX -- The Milwaukee Brewers biggest star today is a career .200 hitter who's never even played for the team. But Bob Uecker, the radio voice of the team for 32 years, has just about done it all.

Nationwide, fans still remember Uecke as an actor, comedian and author. To Brewers fans, though, he's a no nonsense scholar of the game who's not afraid to criticize a pitcher who can't throw strikes. Here in Milwaukee, we also appreciate him for his dry sense of humor that can keep any game entertaining, even when the team is mired in a slump. We caught up with Mr. Baseball this March at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Spring Training home of the Brewers. Even while nursing a sore throat, Uecke had plenty to say about the team, his career and what keeps him motivated after all these years.

OMC: You've been announcing Brewers games for 32 years. How do you get motivated to entertain us after more than a decade of on-the-field futility?

BU: I don't think there's any motivation involved. It's baseball. It's my job. It's something I've done for a very long time, not only doing the games on the radio, but having been a player and being in the clubhouse, on the field and up here.

I've been to the bottom, and I've been to the top, winning a World Series with the Cardinals in 1964. I think there's always a little extra incentive to really enjoy being around baseball. I still enjoy being around baseball and being around the guys. I still get a kick out of doing the games. If I didn't, I wouldn't do it anymore.

You know, you do something for so long, it becomes part of your way of living. I don't know what I would do if I didn't do baseball. I've never wanted to do anything else. The acting and all the other stuff, that's all fine. I sometimes get a little testy in the middle of the summer when the club's not playing well. But I know they're not going out there and trying to lose. But I don't like losing even when I'm up here.

OMC: You are known for getting on the players when they underachieve. I can hear it in my head, "Folks, he just ... walked ... the leadoff man. Hmmph!" How do players react to your style?

BU: I know they're trying to throw strikes, but there are some times when players don't apply themselves as much as they should or give themselves as much credit. Everyone is here as a big league player, and those who take it to the next level and really excel, are guys who really go out there and bust their rear ends. And that's what it takes. But up here you still have to be enthusiastic about the game, and you want people to listen.

Sometimes it takes someone outside of the game to keep people listening and having fun -- and not so much at the players' expense. I can look around the ballpark and have fun with things going on, or I can go back and look at things that happened during my career as a player. I can draw on the contacts I've made in and outside of baseball and have fun, without taking anything away from the game. But there's a fine line. In spring, you can mess around all you want. Half the guys are taken in and out of the game. Nobody knows what's going on, but once you get into the regular season, there's a fine line between messing around and having fun, especially when you have a good game going on. If you've got a good game, you want to back off some of that stuff. But if you're getting blown out, of if you're blowing someone else out, there's nothing wrong with having a little fun.

OMC: Fans in Milwaukee understand your balance of serious baseball talk and comedy. Outside of Milwaukee, perhaps they think of the guy from the Miller Lite commercials or "Mr. Belvedere." Do you think this perception has hurt your chances of getting inducted into the Hall of Fame?

BU: I never think about that stuff, I really don't. The guys who go in there are really deserving. I've done enough network stuff. With the Internet now, you can hear play-by-play of whoever you want. There are other guys who are deserving to be in there. You know what? When I started doing this up here, I never thought about stuff like that and I don't think about it until someone else brings it up. It doesn't bother me, though. I always tell people I should have gone in as a player with my stats.

OMC: You've become somewhat of an ambassador for the Brewers, appearing on the cover of their media guides and emceeing the closing ceremonies at County Stadium. How does it feel to be one of the most beloved figures in the organization, even though you've never even played for the Brewers?

BU: I think that comes from my long association with Bud Selig, Wendy and his whole family. I've known them forever. I think longevity breeds likeness. I live and die with the Brewers. I want them to win all the time. Having not been a player here doesn't mean anything. I played at County Stadium when the Braves were there. I think the whole identity thing with the Brewers -- from doing the Miller Lite commercials, from doing Belvedere, from doing films -- it's not only from baseball where I'm recognized all over the country. I'm not being egotistical, but once you do national spots or a series or movies -- hey, I did that stuff for laughs. I thought it was fun.

OMC: You're even an author. I read "Catcher in the Wry."

BU: The writer, Mickey Herskowitz, came to me and asked me to do a book. Why would I do a book, you know? Just to tell stories. It was basically just stuff that happened during the minor league days. And as stupid as they were, they were true. The same holds true with commercial work. You get a reputation for being a certain type of guy, where you have a persona that you're everybody's friend. I'm visible in Milwaukee, too, hanging out with fans. A lot of guys lock themselves up, but I don't want to do that. I was born and raised there, and that's where I'm going to take my dirt bath.

People who don't get a chance to travel a lot think 'Milwaukee doesn't have this, Milwaukee doesn't have that.' But the more I've traveled and the more places I've been, I don't want to live any place other than Milwaukee. I spend a lot of time in Arizona in the winter, but I'm always back in Milwaukee four or five times. Cold weather and winter doesn't bother me. You know what? I've never wanted to leave Milwaukee. I've had a lot of chances to go other places and work. I'm happy there. My friends and family are there.

I look at what I've done, and I'm actually as close to being a player now without playing as I can be. I'm broadcasting major league games, hanging around the players. It's fun.

OMC: You played six seasons in the majors, 12 overall in professional baseball. Your batting average was an even .200. But you couldn't have stuck around as long as you did if you were that bad. You must have been a pretty good defensive catcher, right?

BU: I always say that. Anyone can stick around who hits .300, try doing it hitting .200. That's a real player, you know? I could catch, and I could throw. The one thing that you had back then that you don't have today, is there were only eight teams in each league. When you consider eight teams and the amount of players in the big leagues at that time, and the amount of people in the country, they were kind of choosy. Whether you were a front liner or a second-line player, you were still playing in the big leagues. So it was a little bit different. Now there are 30 teams and it could get bigger.

OMC: Speaking of expansion and contraction, what's gonna happen to Jacques (the Expos' ficticous announcer)?

BU: We might retire that guy. He got a little testy last year with Jim Powell. I was about ready to come upside his head a couple of times. Jim backed me off of him. Anybody who's as anti-American as that guy we may have to get after him.

OMC: What do you think of Jim Powell's mustache?

BU: I thought he had an off-season job raking sand on the beach. He tells me it's a charity thing. I told him I'd give him $25 if he took it off right now. He's good partner and a good man. We have a lot of fun. All the guys I've worked with, I've had a good time with everybody. I've never told anybody what to do. Do whatever you want! You want me to talk, ask me something. I'm not one of those guys who jumps in there and criticizes every pitch.

OMC: How much longer can we expect you to keep announcing?

BU: I don't know. I have no desire to retire. I feel good. I'm not going to sit up and slobber and still try to hold a job. I'm not going to have somebody tell me when to quit. But as long as I'm healthy and as long as I'm doing a job and the Brewers and the fans enjoy what I'm doing, I'll stay.

OMC: As a guy who listens to 150 games a year, it's nice to know that even when the season is over in July, at least we can have fun listening to the games on the radio.

BU: That's fun, though. You have to create things to keep people listening. You have to do things so people say, 'Did you hear what so-and-so said the other day?' Television doesn't sell baseball, by any means. People do not sit in their homes on nice summer days and watch baseball games. They take the radio outside, in the car or on vacation. Radio sells baseball. I've done a lot of TV, but you don't see anyone lugging a TV on their back on the beach. You find a place or a niche in your particular area. You can tell by the mail. I've been getting mail from the same people for 30 years. They expect at a certain time, whether they're going to the barn to milk or going to work second shift, you become a part of peoples' lives. I have photos from people who were young when I started, and now I have photos of the grandchildren. And it's all over the state of Wisconsin. So you do become a part of peoples' lives, and that makes me feel good. It really does.

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.