This season will be Joe Simpson’s 27th year in the Braves broadcast booth, but first as a team Hall of Famer.
The generation of Braves fans who fell in love with the sport through the team’s unprecedented 1990s run did so to Simpson’s narration. The organization placed him alongside many of those he grew so familiar with on Saturday night when Simpson was inducted into the team Hall of Fame.
“It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me in baseball,” Simpson said. “It’s a big thrill, a great honor. And I’m especially proud to be going in and joining the ranks of Ernie (Johnson), Skip (Carey), Pete (Van Wieren) and Don (Sutton). That’s a big deal.”
Simpson, 66, left Seattle after five seasons and signed a one-year “prove it” deal with TBS in 1992. He’s called Braves games ever since, with the last 11 seasons exclusively with Fox Sports South network.
It was a risk. After an All-American collegiate career at Oklahoma, he’d had an 11-year run with the Dodgers, Mariners and Royals. But that meant he had no connection to the Braves or Atlanta.
“I was an unknown,” he said. “No one knew who I was, coming from Seattle. No one knew who I was, what I sounded like. And to be embraced by the (broadcasters) I mentioned earlier … meant a lot to me and made me feel at home right away.”
Along with nine-year Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, Simpson was honored at a Hall of Fame dinner emceed by his longtime colleague in the booth, Chip Carey. Former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, manager Brian Snitker and catcher Tyler Flowers spoke about Simpson prior to his own speech.
Carey delivered an emotional speech before Simpson took the podium. Simpson worked with Chip’s father, Skip, until his death in 2008. Chip said he wished his father could be there to congratulate Simpson.
“I am inspired by your family and your dedication to them,” Carey said. “I’m grateful for your support in all you teach me every day. I’m humbled by your friendship. There’s a saying that when someone knows just about everything about you, and likes you anyway, it fits. I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished. … You’ve climbed the mountain and earned it every step of the way. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Simpson was heavily influenced by the aforementioned announcers. He gave special credit to Johnson, whom he said was an invaluable teacher and the “patriarch” of Braves broadcasts.
“Just understanding that it’s not about us,” Simpson said. “It’s about the game. When I first got here, I missed the worst-to-first year, but to be here for the next 13 straight division championships, it would be easy to get caught up in how special we are. We’re only the conduit between the players and fans. There are people out there listening, watching that may not have watched the game before.”
As a Braves broadcaster for almost three decades, Simpson readily admits he’s a fan in the booth.
“I am a homer,” he said. “I’m not ashamed of it. I love the Braves. I want each and every one of you players to do well. I pull for all of you guys. If anybody has a problem with that in this part of the country, there’s something wrong with you.”
Saturday was a change of pace for Simpson. He’s often the one called upon to host these ceremonies, and undoubtedly will do so again.
“Someone asked if I was still going to emcee,” he said, laughing. “I said ‘If I do, it’s going to be one hell of an introduction.’”