Uecker reflects on passing of Rickles

Uecker reflects on passing of Rickles

MILWAUKEE -- Would Bob Uecker be Mr. Baseball if not for Don Rickles? Maybe, maybe not. The story of Rickles' role in Uecker's rise to fame via "The Tonight Show" has ebbed over the years.

This much was certain: Uecker and Rickles were great friends and mutual admirers, and Uecker was saddened Thursday when he learned that Rickles had passed away at 90.

"I met Rickles a long, long time ago when I was hanging around with [jazz musician] Al Hirt and we went to New York to Carnegie Hall; Al was doing a show there," Uecker said. "After the show we went to the Copa Cabana to see Rickles. That was the first time I ever saw him. I watched him on stage and he was unbelievably funny.

"Every time I saw him from then on -- every time, I don't care where we were -- he would pretend to swing a bat, and then he would look backwards. That was my foul ball. That's all I ever hit. Every time I ever saw him."

When Uecker was presented the Ford C. Frick Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003, the popular story was that Uecker was performing as an opening act for Rickles at Hirt's nightclub in Atlanta and caught Hirt's attention.

Whether Rickles was involved or not, it was Hirt who introduced Uecker to Johnny Carson, who fell in love with Uecker's deadpan delivery and had him on The Tonight Show more than 100 times. The studio was across the hall, Uecker said, from where Rickles filmed the sitcom "C.P.O. Sharkey", and Uecker visited on his way to, or from appearances with Carson.

"[Rickles] was a really funny guy. He was very insulting, that was his thing," Uecker said. "But one of the nicest guys, really, when you were around him."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.