Braves fans, speak up for Skip, Ernie and Pete!

The Standard Journal - - POLICE & FIRE - CAR­ROLL

In 2014, long­time At­lanta Braves broad­caster Pete Van Wieren passed away after a lengthy bat­tle with can­cer. Pete was di­ag­nosed shortly after his re­tire­ment in 2008, which wrapped up a 33-year stint with “Amer­ica’s Team.”

The Braves earned that ti­tle be­cause Pete, Skip Caray and Ernie John­son Sr. were be­hind the mi­cro­phones dur­ing the Su­per­sta­tion era. Ted Turner beamed his At­lanta sta­tion WTBS to ca­ble and satel­lite view­ers na­tion­wide (even­tu­ally be­com­ing the TBS net­work), bring­ing the Braves to mil­lions out­side the south­ern view­ing area.

When you con­sider how bad the Braves were dur­ing most of the Ernie-Pete-Skip years, par­tic­u­larly 19761990, credit goes to the trio for build­ing a vast au­di­ence de­spite the team’s dis­mal record. Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro and should-be Hall-of-Fame out­fielder Dale Mur­phy were bright spots, but they had very lit­tle help.

Al­though the Braves na­tional broad­casts ceased in 2007, their in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to­day. We still see fans wear­ing Braves gear in ev­ery city. In some of the more sparsely at­tended parks, Braves fans some­time seem more vo­cal than those of the home team. It isn’t un­usual to find fans in Wash­ing­ton, San Diego and Mi­ami do­ing the tom­a­hawk chop, and much of that can be traced back to the Su­per­sta­tion team in the broad­cast booth.

Ernie John­son Sr., who died in 2011, is widely re­garded as the founder of the Braves Ra­dio Net­work. The former Mil­wau­kee Braves pitcher fol­lowed the team to At­lanta in 1966, and be­gan re­cruit­ing ra­dio sta­tions to carry the 162-game sched­ule on ra­dio, as well as a 20-game TV pack­age that aired in var­i­ous south­ern cities.

Skip Caray, who died in 2008, was the op­po­site of Ernie in his on-air style. Ernie was the cheer­ful, op­ti­mistic straight man, while Skip was acer­bic, bru­tally hon­est and prone to slightly off-color jokes and com­ments. Skip loved mak­ing Ernie laugh, and their repartee, es­pe­cially dur­ing blowout games, was price­less.

Pete Van Wieren lacked Ernie’s folksi­ness and Skip’s rogu­ish hu­mor, but “the Pro­fes­sor” brought his own brand of wit and wis­dom to the booth. He said he was not try­ing to im­press own­ers, man­agers, or play­ers. In­stead, he al­ways put the fan first. His smooth voice de­liv­ered an ego-free, no-frills broad­cast filled with a stun­ning ar­ray of stats long be­fore Google put them at our fin­ger­tips.

Dur­ing a 2014 trib­ute to Pete at Turner Field, his son Steve elo­quently thanked the fans, and said he hoped to one day “see my

Dad in Coop­er­stown.”

I hope he can. The Ford Frick Award, named after a former MLB com­mis­sioner, was estab­lished in 1978 to honor base­ball’s great an­nounc­ers. Each year, one broad­caster, past or present, re­ceives the award. The re­cip­i­ent, if alive, at­tends the an­nual Hall of Fame induction cer­e­mony and makes a speech, just like the play­ers do.

The rules change from time to time, as do the elec­tion pro­ce­dures, but this is the bot­tom line. The cur­rent pol­icy is se­ri­ously flawed. “Team-spe­cific an­nounc­ers” like Ernie, Skip and Pete can only be con­sid­ered ev­ery three years. (In the other years, “pi­o­neers” and “na­tional an­nounc­ers” are the only ones in the run­ning.) Even then, only one of them would be el­i­gi­ble to win. This has ef­fec­tively kept our Braves guys on the out­side look­ing in. The 2020 award, to be de­cided upon and an­nounced later this year, is the last chance for our guys un­til 2023.

Only one Braves an­nouncer from any era (Bos­ton, Mil­wau­kee and At­lanta) has won the award. That is Milo Hamilton, who was hired and fired by sev­eral teams, in­clud­ing the Braves, dur­ing his long ca­reer. The Yan­kees and Dodgers are rep­re­sented by four an­nounc­ers each, while the White Sox and Cubs each have three. Sur­prised?

Vin Scully, cer­tainly quite de­serv­ing, won the award in 1982, after 32 years with the Dodgers. Each of the Braves’ big three served at least that long: Ernie 39, Pete 33, and Skip 32. They all worked only for the Braves, unlike some hon­orees who bounced from team to team.

When you con­sider the fact that this trio brought Braves base­ball to a mas­sive au­di­ence for more than thirty years, and did it very well, it is hard to be­lieve they have been shunned by Coop­er­stown. Sadly, if and when they make it, none will be around to sa­vor the mo­ment. This is an over­sight the Ford Frick Award com­mit­tee needs to cor­rect. All three should be hon­ored with the award, at the same time. Ernie, Pete and Skip were, are, and will al­ways be Hall of Fame-cal­iber, and their fans across the na­tion should make some noise on their be­half.

The Frick Award Com­mit­tee mem­bers will cast their bal­lots in Novem­ber, and the re­sults will be an­nounced dur­ing the Base­ball Win­ter Meet­ings in De­cem­ber. Braves fans, let your voices be heard!

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best col­umns. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, 37405 or

[email protected]

Car­roll

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