SAN DIEGO – Such a sad day. Pete Van Wieren, who died early this morning, was truly one of the good guys, in addition to being a damn fine broadcaster and perfect partner for the irreverent Skip Caray. Wonderful tandem, and before that a wonderful trio with Ernie Johnson.
Now they're all gone.
They lived hard, they worked hard, they made days and nights a lot better for a long time for Braves fans, and for many of us baseball fans who didn't live in major cities with baseball teams and only had access to TBS back in the day.
I can remember many nights watching Braves games at home in North Carolina, Memphis or Kansas, thinking, this team stinks, but these broadcasters are really good. And, hey, Murph (or Horner) could go 'yard at any time.
Eventually the Braves got really good, and Pete and Skip were kings. I mean, I can recall staying at the team hotel sometimes in my first years on this beat – I took this job in 2002 – and noticing that when a bunch of players and the broadcasters went out to get on the bus, only Chipper got as much attention from autograph-seeking fans as Skip and Pete got. People completely identified with them from those years on TBS.
They were our Vin Scully, and we loved them.
I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend 6-7 years around Pete, aka “The Professor”, and Skip each day at the ballpark. Skip was a Mizzou grad, so we – I’m a Kansas grad -- busted each other a lot about that. Pete was always interesting, always had a great point to make or a story to tell, stories that you loved hearing because they were interesting and he was a great storyteller.
Did you know Pete was also an accomplished poker player – he cleaned up at some big tournaments – and a fine drummer, and that he loved rock music including a lot of current “alternative rock”? Well, he did.
Pete was a great dude. A really great dude. Most people know Skip was hilarious and the life of the party, but not so many know how much fun Pete was because they probably assume he was as professional and relatively (compared to Skip) buttoned-down away from the mic as he was on it. But that’s not really true. Pete was funny. Classy, sharp, and very funny.
As great as they were in the booth, they were at least as engaging away from it. Those fellas were real. Real smart, real funny, real good. And real.
I'm sure they're all already together, Skip and Pete and also Ernie, bellied up to the big bar in the sky, a game on the TV, Skip ripping someone a new one....
This morning I called and chatted with Dale Murphy about Pete and the broadcast team. Murph is a Braves icon, and so are those guys who were behind the microphone. We all know that. It was something that the current generation of fans will probably never know, highest-caliber broadcasters who stuck with one team for decades, rather than jump ship to some generic sports network and be replaced by some young broadcasting hack just up from a minor league job.
Braves fans got spoiled, not just by having great teams for about 15 years, but by having great broadcasters for far longer. It was wonderful.
Anyway, Murph was up at Napa Valley, he's there for Raiders camp with his son, who's on the team. There was sadness in his voice as soon as Murph said hello. He saw my name on the caller ID and knew exactly what the call was about. Here's what Murph had to say about Pete:
“I think of Pete and it’s hard not to think of Ernie and Skip at the same time. When you think of one you always think of the other two. Isn’t it interesting, the combination of personalities that worked together so well. They were a great team, each one totally different, totally different approaches, and it worked so great. Pete complemented Skip and Ernie. It was as great trio. Happy that I got to know them. Those teams, personally for me, we only had a couple of years of real fun, exciting times. But those guys were great.
“I think of Pete as, when you talk about people that are real professionals and know their crafts, Pete was a craftsman. And great guy. Loyal to his team, obviouisly. But they called them liked they saw them….
“Nice, polite, classy guy that was always fun to see at the ballpark and fun to be able to work with. Very thankful for the years I was able to be with them. He was part of a great broadcasting team and a great Braves family that will be missed. Lot of great memories.”
“I think that’s why there’s such a loyal Braves fan base, their (broadcasters’) loyalty to the team. He was one of our guys, and we’ll miss him. It’s a sad day to hear the last member of that great trio has passed.”
• I'll close this with this great tune that Jackson Browne wrote and Gregg Allman covered. Raise a toast to Pete. (And Skip. And Ernie.) Pete, you'll be missed more than you could've ever have imagined.
"THESE DAYS" by Gregg Allman
Well I've been out walking
I don't do that much talking these days
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to
And I had a lover
It's so hard to risk another these days
Now if I seem to be afraid
To live the life I have made in song
Well it's just that I've been losing so long
I'll keep on moving
Things are bound to be improving these days
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend
Don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them