Hank Aaron. Phil Niekro. Dale Murphy. Bobby Cox. Tom Glavine. Greg Madddux. John Smoltz. Chipper Jones.
Those are iconic names in Atlanta Braves history.
But so was Pete Van Wieren. He was a voice of Braves baseball for 33 years. He's been off the air for five seasons now, and listening to the Braves has never and will never be the same.
When Van Wieren died early Saturday morning at age 69, a huge piece of Braves history died with him. It was the end of an era. It's just hard to believe that we're living in a world without Pete and Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson.
With all due respect to the current broadcast team, those are the three Braves announcers. The current guys would probably even tell you that. Ernie, Pete and Skip made Braves baseball fun to listen to, even though the team wasn't always very fun to watch.
They laughed on the air. They had fun with each other. They liked each other. You can't really fake that, and they never had to. If you listened to the broadcasts, you knew they were like family.
And they were our family. For years, they would be the voices we would hear when we would sit down for dinner and watch Braves baseball. Since the games were broadcast all over the country on TBS, they became stars themselves.
Ernie was the ex-player that had great stories and was an excellent lead announcer. Skip was the funny guy with all the great lines. And Pete was just solid. He had his stats. And he never seemed to have an off night. Solid. Steady. Professional.
Remember the call he made when Gene Garber struck out Pete Rose to end Rose’s 44-game hitting streak? It was 36 years ago last night, as a matter of fact. How about when Pete called Bob Horner’s four home runs in July, 1986 against the Expos?
“He did it. He did it,” Van Wieren said.
In 1991, when the Braves were about to win the NL West title, I saw one of the more gracious gestures I’ve ever seen. Chip Caray was doing radio that day, and he was scheduled to do the 9th inning. Chip stepped aside and allowed Van Wieren to call the play-by-play as John Smoltz was getting the final three outs to give the Braves a division title. Since Pete had been with the Braves so long, for 15 years at that point, Chip thought he deserved to make the call.
Of course, Van Wieren called it perfectly.
“Let the celebration begin Atlanta,” he said in excitement as David Justice caught the final out and Smoltz jumped into Greg Olson’s arms.
There weren’t many calls that Pete made that weren’t perfect. He was just good at what he did for a living. Very good.
I asked Van Wieren last December to describe his style on the air, and what made Pete Van Wieren who he was as a broadcaster.
"Relaxed. Knowledgeable. Comfortable. I tried not to scream. I tried to talk to one person at a time instead of trying to think of a million people out there. I tried to tell those people what I would want to know if I was back in their home listening to another broadcaster. What would I want to know? I tried to have fun. It's not the Department of Defense and the Department of State, it's baseball. We tried to make it fun. I always thought we tried to make it informative and enjoyable. If we had an informative broadcast and an enjoyable broadcast to listen to or watch, we had done our job. That's what we always tried to do."
And they did it so well. They were Hall of Fame announcers if there have ever been any. Right before that last conversation I had with Pete last year, he had lost out to Eric Nadel as the Ford C. Frick award winner, given to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball." I asked Pete if he had thought about making it to Cooperstown one day.
“How can you not?” he said. “Certainly it’s a very great honor to be on the final ballot. You try not to think about it, but boy, it’s hard not to. You think about the years that you spent and the goals that you had and the people that you admired growing up and to be even thought of in the same caliber as that is an honor beyond description.
“I had conflicting thoughts. Certainly it was a great honor for me personally (to be on the final ballot), but I was a little conflicted because Ernie and Skip weren’t there. We always considered ourselves such a team, such a tight team that it didn’t seem right being singled out from those two. I wish they had an award at Cooperstown for Broadcast Team. I think we’d get it. I think we’d get it.
Truthfully, it's sinful that Van Wieren will not be there if he does make it one day. Nadel has broadcast Texas Rangers' games for 35 years, but did he have a national impact that Van Wieren did with those Braves games on TBS for so many years? No. Marty Brennaman, who is a fine announcer, got into Cooperstown in 2000 after only 26 years as a major league announcer.
I'm biased, but I've never understood that. And it's amazing that Ernie Johnson has never even made it to the final ballot. Perhaps we should try to honor Pete's wish there and push for the people in Cooperstown to vote in all three Braves announcers - Ernie, Pete and Skip. They are all gone now, but it's obvious by Pete's comments that if one went in, the other two would have been right there anyway.
They were Hall of Famers, and we were just glad we had them as Braves announcers.
So long, Professor. Job well done, sir.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Van Wieren a true Braves legend
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