Wednesday, September 10, 2014





The 1975 Braves team finished with a 67-94 record and a staggering 40 1/2 games behind division winner Cincinnati. Clyde King was fired late in the season and the team was looking for a new direction. But things were looking up as the Ted Turner and his deep pockets was about to buy the team and the Braves...were only going to get worse in 1976.

But in one way, the biggest (and best) change for Braves was the firing of announcer Milo Hamilton in 1975 and replacing him in the booth with Hawks announcer Skip Caray and Braves traveling secretary Pete Van Wieren joining broadcaster mainstay Ernie Johnson.

Skip Caray
and his misguided mid-70's afro

Wise cracking Skip, whose memorable lines included saying Eddie Miller looked like The Jazz Singer in reverse after sliding across home plate and being covered with chalk and aggravating Ernie after Cardinal second baseman Tom Herr would pop up and Ernie would say, "Popped him up." Skip would counter with "No, popped Herr up." It was always fun with Skip.

Ernie Johnson: 1957 World Series hero

Maybe not the greatest by the book announcer there ever was, but old Uncle Ern, Ernie Johnson (1957 World Series hero with the Milwaukee Braves) was certainly one of the most beloved. I remember him for some of his redundant calls such as every time both teams scored in the first inning, how he would say, "This could end up to be one of those 10-9 games!" When a batter would hit the ball down off of home plate and would be up in the air long enough for him to reach first base, he would say, "That's an artificial turf hit." Even though it didn't hit the turf at all! When a couple of players collided or almost collided he would always call it an "Alphonse and Gaston act." I finally looked up what that was after hearing it for several years (A pair of bumbling Frenchmen from an early twentieth century comic strip. It had nothing to do with Cito Gaston.) But all Braves fans loved Ernie.

The other one in the booth was the cerebral Pete "The Professor" Van Wieren. Steady, smart, informative and probably my favorite baseball announcer of them all.

Other announcers came and went throughout the 70' and 80's (including the not quite up to the task Darrel Chaney, the obnoxious John Sterling, the self-proclaimed Bob Newhart of broadcasting, Billy Sample and Don Sutton, who I can still never seem to think of as anything but a Dodger) but the main trio in our heart was always Skip, Pete and Ernie.

Brushes with greatness: I met Skip Caray at the Fox Theater during a performance of Beatlemania! (Me and Skip were obviously such radicals). I met Pete Van Wieren at the library while he was looking at microfiche (What could be better than meeting the cerebral Van Wieren as he is looking at microfiche?) I never talked to Ernie, but certainly felt like I knew him.

If you think about it, players and managers come and go, but the announcers seem to stay forever. Ernie Johnson was the Braves announcer since the Braves moved to Atlanta and stayed with the team for the next quarter century or so. Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren stayed in the Braves broadcast booth for over thirty years.

If you listen or watch a lot of games, and at 162 games a year, that's a lot of time that you spend listening to these guys. If you aren't careful, you may one day realize you have spent more time listening to them than you spent listening to your parents, teachers or your friends! At least it was time well spent (I hope!).

Skip Caray passed away at the age of 69 in 2008. Ernie Johnson passed away at the age of 87 in 2011. Sadly, as I was writing this blog, I saw the news that Pete Van Wieren passed away on August 2, 2014 at the age of 69. I miss them all.

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