Posted: 8:39 am Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Pete Van Wieren: The Professor of baseball studies 

By Mark Bradley

The smart one, the nice one and the snarky one. (Marlene Karas/AJC)

The smart one, the nice one and the snarky one. (Marlene Karas/AJC)

Think of them as the three uncles. Ernie Johnson was the essence of avuncular, the nice man who’d shake your hand and ask how you were doing and make you feel welcome. Skip Caray was the sarcastic uncle, the one who’d make fun of your shirt. Pete Van Wieren was the clever uncle, the one who’d show you the ropes of coin collecting or how to use that telescope you’d gotten for Christmas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pete, whom Ernie Sr. famously dubbed the Professor and who died Saturday of cancer at age 69, and I’ve realized that little of what I remember has to do with a Great Call or a Signature Line, which are the things we tend to remember about a broadcaster. Just as the pianist Thelonious Monk’s singular genius rested in the spaces between the notes he played, Pete Van Wieren’s brilliance shone through in the quieter moments, in the sixth inning of a 7-1 game on a Tuesday night in May.

Think about it. Skip delivered the “Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!” after Cabrera swung and Sid slid; Skip also had the microphone when Marquis Grissom hauled in Carlos Baerga’s drive — “The Braves have given you a championship! Listen to this crowd!” — in 1995. Ernie had the boilerplate lines: “We’re zippin’ right along” and “Back toward that wall …” and suchlike. And Pete? He told you about the game.

That might sound like faint praise, but it’s meant as the highest of compliments. Way too many neo-announcers make themselves the point of their broadcast. Pete made the game the point of everything. He wasn’t without ego — nobody who performs for public consumption is — but his never surfaced on-air. He’d let Skip and Ernie and later Don and Joe crack the jokes. Pete would talk baseball.

In the same way that Vin Scully left Brooklyn to teach the Dodgers’ new audience in L.A. about the sport, the Professor was responsible for tutoring a lot of Southern folks — and with the advent of TBS, not only Southern folks — in the arcana of baseball. You’d listen to his pregame “Diamond Notes” and learn something every single time. He wasn’t the funny uncle, and that was OK. Because he was the uncle who made you feel smart.

 

17 comments
Gman84
Gman84

Pete, Ernie and Skip were my summer soundtrack for 30 years. I was fortunate enough to take them for granted-only realizing how special they were after they’re gone….

TheOldMan
TheOldMan

Lifelong Braves fan.... I immediately took to the new trio and the superstation.  You don't realize just how good they were, especially Pete.  He wasn't the ex-player like Ernie or had the bloodlines of Skip.  But his knowledge of the subtleties of game was unparalleled, as was his research in the pre-internet era.  The broadcasts just flowed seamlessly.  The three of them were perfect counterpoints for each other and each brought their unique contributions.  Players came and went, but the three of them were constants through the years, good and bad.  It was really lightning in a bottle.  They were head and shoulders above any other broadcast teams of the era.  They are all greatly missed.

GusMach
GusMach

Wait -- Pete WAS funny as well. He made Skip and Don (and us fans) laugh a lot through the years. Many people may not remember that because his sense of humor was even dryer than Skip's.

tulsabravo
tulsabravo

I was lucky enough to meet Mr  Van Wieren once, in St. Louis in 1996 during the NLCS. Having friends at CNN, I got to do sound, and was privileged to be granted the requisite credentials that came with that. After we had finished after the first game,  some of us walked up to the bar at the Braves' hotel and though there were some of the  Braves in the bar, I was most excited about seeing Mr. Van Wieren sitting by himself. I think I startled him when I walked up and knew his name, but after I explained that I was from Savannah and a Braves fan who was in law school in Tulsa, and doing some work for CNN, he invited me to join him. Over the next hour or so, I bought myself a couple of drinks, and him a couple of beers, and we just talked baseball. I walked out and cared not a whit about talking to anyone else besides Mr. Van Wieren. Even though we lost that night and the next, my weekend was made.

BaseballBuff
BaseballBuff

It was a great broadcasting trio. This having been said, Pete was my favorite of the three.

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

anybody with the name Bradley can't be all that bad................Good article Mark.........may Pete rest in peace!

stevehere
stevehere

Great tribute MB.

(Impressive how you wove that comparative nuance of Thelonious in there too.)

Wilbo
Wilbo

Better late than never, Bradley. Thank you very much. Very rarely have I thought you wrote a good article. Today I think you did.

ChefTimDix
ChefTimDix

My heart sank when I heard the news, Hummer's column really helped lot.

So did this one.

CouchPotato
CouchPotato

So true. I was trying to remember a signature call and there really wasn't one. Fox Sports showed that he had the call when Gene Garber struck out Pete Rose to break his streak, but not many remember that.

But Pete was my favorite.  He gave you substance with the game you were watching.  I have missed him since the end of 2008 and I miss him even more now because I know I will never see him again. I never thought while I was sitting there watching Pete be the MOC for Hank's ceremony on Opening Night, that this would be the last time

Goodbye Professor - Thank you for the years of wisdom!

DrPhill
DrPhill

I enjoyed Earnie and Pete. Skip was a bit taken with himself. I gave up on Don Sutton with his bad jokes and meaningless drivel a few years ago. I did not consider Joe Simpson a bad announcer until he became Wren and BJ's hoe. When I started following broadcasts by opposing team announcers, I realized how terrible the present crew has become. "BJ (and Dan) are taking some good cuts (strikeouts) and making contact (pop ups, high flys, and double plays), blah, blah, blah."

JackClemens
JackClemens

I used to sit in the kitchen growing up on a farm in south Georgia listening to the game. They made it fun, even though the Braves of those days were terrible.

Savdon
Savdon

I'll never forget any of them.  Thanks Mark.

Wilbo
Wilbo

And I really have to say, those 3 were such a fabulous team of broadcasters, it really is a crying shame those Braves teams of the 90's and early 2000's didn't have the courage and character to be the postseason dynasty they should have been.


The city deserved better, we fans deserved better, and Pete, Skip, and Ernie deserved better, too. A shame. A real shame.

JackClemens
JackClemens

Oh, and a nice tribute to The Professor. Thanks, Mark.