I don’t watch or listen to the Braves as much as I once did. When they were bad, perhaps the worst franchise in all of baseball and maybe all of professional sports, nothing could sway me from the TV, thanks to the trio of Ernie Johnson Sr., Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren.
There were a host of others filling the fourth chair through the years — Darrel Chaney, Billy Sample, John Sterling, i.e. — but the big three labored calling Braves games on TV and radio through some dark days and lots of bad, bad baseball.
Pete Van Wieren’s passing last week was a sad moment, and another chapter closing of a childhood and young adulthood spent knowing the Braves would always provide entertainment on another stuffy, insufferable summer night when it was just too oppressive to do anything else. The tributes and reminiscences of the Atlanta Braves’ original Big 3, long before Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine took to the mound, have been pouring in from all media corners in the last several days. Ernie Johnson is recalled for his genial humor and warmth and his tales of Vermont. Skip’s sharp-edged sense of humor and grasp of the absurd (and sometimes disdain for it) made watching and listening enjoyable. Pete’s appreciation for baseball and its history, and his incredible preparation, made sure at least you could learn something about the game, even if the Braves’ level of play was from the book of what not to do.
The Braves broadcasters also earned a tremendous amount of respect from their colleagues over the years. There were always plenty of inside jokes, especially when they would verbally poke such friends as Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame voice Marty Brennaman and his wingman, the late Joe Nuxhall, on the air.
And the great thing about Pete, and his Braves broadcasting brethren then and now, is they didn’t make the game about their calls. It wasn’t about them and whatever clever phrase they could concoct. It was about what was happening in front of them and how best they could convey it to the folks who weren’t there alongside.
Through years of bad baseball and a long-awaited run of winning and titles, I can’t imagine having anyone else bring the Braves into the house like they did.