From 1976 through 1989, for 15 seasons, fans of the Atlanta Braves heard three voices every single game. Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray were the announcers. Many of those were bad seasons, yet with the expansion of TBS it was also the era where the Braves became a team people all over the country began to root for.
Those three formed a magical team. That word,” magical,” is how Van Wieren described the trio when I asked him about it last December. There was chemistry galore, and that’s something that is needed in the broadcast booth as much as it’s needed in the clubhouse.
Pete Van Wieren died Saturday. It is definitely the final piece of a puzzle that has slowly evaporated the last six years. Caray died in August, 2008. Johnson then died three years later, in August, 2011. And now Van Wieren. Even though they haven’t been on the air together for many years, it is the end of an era.
Others were brought in to be the fourth announcer, like Darrell Chaney, John Sterling and Billy Sample. But it was always those three. After Ernie stepped away from full-time duty following the 1989 season, Don Sutton joined the broadcast team and fit right in with Pete and Skip. Then in 1992, Joe Simpson came in and formed another magical team with Pete, Skip and Don.
When fans all over the country were watching the Braves on TBS, it was Ernie, Pete and Skip. There are many who will still count Milo Hamilton as an important voice in Braves history, and he is. Hamilton joined Johnson and Larry Munson – yes, that Larry Munson – as the Braves first broadcast team in 1966. Hamilton was in Atlanta the first 10 years the Braves were in the south. He called many of Hank Aaron’s historic home runs and was extremely popular.
But Milo wanted to be “the” voice of the Braves. Pete would tell the great story of when he joined the broadcast team, replacing Milo, he actually called Ernie “the voice of the Braves.” Ernie leaned over during the next inning and told Pete, “You don’t have to do that. We’re all the voices of the Braves.”
And that’s part of what made that trio so special. They were a team. They liked each other. They had dinner and played golf and got to know each other’s families. They became a family, and considering they were in our homes each and every night at 7:35, they were part of our family.
I started to think of how Ernie, Pete and Skip had to rank amongst the history of sports broadcast teams. Since they were on TBS, they were not only Braves announcers, but they were national voices as well. Van Wieren’s death will not be like a local announcer passing away, since there will be fans from all over the country that will be sad that his voice has been silenced.
Harry Caray and Steve Stone formed a partnership on WGN calling the Cubs games from 1981 through the 1997 season. Harry was Harry – fun loving, crazy and a fan’s fan in the booth calling the games like we would if we had the mike. Stone added the color and put up with Harry, and it just worked. Stone would allow Harry to be Harry and simply do his job.
How about Ken “Hawk” Harrlson and Tom Paciorek, who called White Sox games for 10 years. They kind of reminded me of Bill White and Phil Rizzuto, who were Yankees television announcers for 18 years on WPIX. Both teams just had fun calling the games. They laughed a lot, which irritated many, but they just had a ball being at a baseball game. They just happened to have a microphone in front of them and got to tell us what was going on.
From 1972 through 2001, for 30 seasons, Jack Buck teamed with Mike Shannon for St. Louis Cardinals baseball. They were special together on KMOX. I remember as a kid listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey do Tigers games on WJR in Detroit. They were together from 1973 through 1991.
Marty Brennaman teamed with Joe Nuxall on WLW in Cincinnati from 1974 through 2004. They had tremendous chemistry on Reds’ broadcasts. One team that stands out for me now is Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow on San Francisco Giants’ telecasts. They’ve been together since 1996. They are known as “Kruk and Kuip” around the Bay area.
Nationally, I’ll list the teams on NBC in the 1980s as a couple of my favorites. Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek were great together from 1974 through 1982. Then Vin Scully joined Garagiola to form the number one team for NBC. They held that role for seven seasons, and when that happened Kubek joined a young Bob Costas to create perhaps the best number two broadcast team in baseball history.
The years Al Michaels worked with Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer on ABC were special. Those three seemed to have a great chemistry working together.
There were other great broadcast teams. I’m certain I’ve missed more than a few, and if you’re from a certain part of the country or root for a different team you may have your favorites to add to this list.
But on this day, as we say goodbye to Pete Van Wieren, forgive us in the south if we’re a little partial to a trio of broadcasters that will never be duplicated. They were Ernie, Pete and Skip – three names that will go down as perhaps the best broadcast team in baseball history.
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 email@example.com.
The best broadcast team in MLB history?
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