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MUST BE IN THE FRONT ROW.
July 25, 2003

by Bill Hogan

 
 

On July 27, Gary Carter and Eddie Murray will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Are these players worthy of the Hall? Do they have the numbers? Did they each have a Hall of Fame career? I think so. And so do enough members of the selection committee.

Eddie Murray is an eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. He's a member of the 500 Home Run club and accumulated over 3,000 hits. That doesn't happen often – even if you take steroids.

 
 


Gary Carter was a valuable part of the Mets 1986 World Series team. He was a perennial All-Star with the Montreal Expos, is second to Hall of Famer Johnny Bench in home runs for National League catchers and won three Gold Gloves.

It's tough to argue against their election. They have the credentials. And, frankly, I’m glad they're going in. I like them. They were what most modern ball players should try to emulate. And they were, from a fan's point of view, worth rooting for.

There's another ex-ball player that will be honored along with Murray and Carter at the Hall of Fame ceremonies. His statistics may be comparatively lacking, he may never have experienced the All-Star game – from the field, and he's probably never seen a Gold Glove Award.

He would never be the first person anyone would call to participate in a home run derby, or a back-yard sack race for that matter. Nobody would ever go to court to fight over the last home run he ever hit. And there's not much action for an autographed rookie card on E-Bay.

Sure he didn't play as long as Murray or Carter – six years with four teams – but his impact on the game of baseball was, and is, memorable. His career batting average was a paltry.200; he belted less home runs – 14 – than Barry Bond slams in one month; and fewer RBI – 74 – than most clean-up batters have before a single All-Star break.

Others before him and after him were better batters, better fielders, even better at giving autographs. But their names are among the many big leaguers we'll never remember. It's rare that an average ball player will somehow never be forgotten.

Bob Uecker is going into the Hall of Fame. And all I can say is it's about time. What the heck took them so long? The man was on the team that beat the '64 Yankees in the World Series. And he helped sell more Miller Lite than any other ball player in the history of ex-athlete malt liquor endorsements.

There are many ex-ball players. There's only one Bob Uecker. Nobody – with the possible exception of Yogi Berra – is more quotable. Nobody – with the possible exception of Ichiro – is more lovable.

Uecker, playing for the Atlanta Braves, hit an unlikely Grand Slam and drove in five runs in a 9-2 win against the San Francisco Giants in 1967. Later, his baseball wit and comedic talent became evident when he spoke of the aberration. "I hit a grand slam off Ron Herbel", he said, "and when his manager Herman Franks came out to get him, he was bringing Herbel's suitcase."

His short career in baseball gave rise to a long career in comedy and broadcasting. Miller Lite commercials, a couple of years on "Mr. Belvedere" and 30-some years of announcing Milwaukee Brewers games. His stellar sportscasting earned him a place in the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2001.

Now Bob Uecker has met his destiny; a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Argue all you want over whether Carter and Murray belong. But Bob Uecker joining fellow broadcasters Russ Hodges, Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Mel Allen and Red Barber as the Hall's next Ford C. Frick Award winner is a no brainer.

O.k., Uecker was a lousy ball player. But he parlayed his mediocre on-field performance into an unforgettable life experience. How many successful "athletes" would say of themselves "I had slumps that lasted into the winter"? Or "I knew when my career was over. In 1965 my baseball card came out with no picture."

Bob Uecker once said "Sporting goods companies pay me not to endorse their products." But he's sold millions of cans of lite beer and as many people on the idea that baseball can be fun. Carter and Murray have the numbers. But Uecker's done every bit as much for baseball.

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