Cover the Bases Interview with Pete Van Wieren

by on May 30, 2010

A Voice for the Braves for 33 years, Pete Van Wieren has seen the highs and lows of a franchise that transformed baseball in Atlanta.  Since retiring after the 2008 season, Pete has written a book called Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball in which he chronicles his long career and some of the key people and events he encountered along the way.  The book is published by Triumph Books.

We have been listening to Pete since the early days of the TBS SuperStation and he has greatly influenced us with his insights, wisdom and ability to educate through his undaunted research and preparation.  We are appreciative that Pete was willing to spend some time on Cover the Bases.

Right off the bat in the book, we find out that Pete was destined to be a baseball announcer.  He played the game as a young man growing up near Rochester New York, and attended numerous Rochester Red Wings games, at the time an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.   He would watch the broadcasters climb the tiny staircase to the top of the stadium and knew that it was for him.

No one can deny that he had the skill and talent to ascend to the level of one of the most cherished announcers in the game.

As a way to present some of the important aspects of the book, we discuss a few key individuals who had major roles in the 33 years that Pete was in Atlanta.

After some minor league stints, he was snapped up by Ted Turner as part of the broadcast team with Ernie Johnson and Skip Caray back in 1975.  He was also tapped to do some additional duties in those days, including Hawks basketball and even Traveling Secretary for the Braves.  Pete considers Ted Turner to be one of the easiest people to work for, as his style was to give you a job (or two) and then get out of the way.

Turner had the foresight to start presenting baseball across the country on cable television, which helped to grow the popularity of the Braves beyond the local market, no matter the play on the field.  One crucial marketing decision that Pete points out was the 1:00 am replay, which coincides with late evening on the west coast and even prime time in places like Hawaii.  This ensured Braves fans would be in the stands at ballparks wherever they played!

Turner went against conventional wisdom, against many of his fellow owners, and even against the commissioner.  Bowie Kuhn thought broadcasting baseball into other markets would be “the ruination of baseball”.  In the end, the Braves attracted larger crowds at the gate and eventually saw the current Commissioner Bud Selig say that it changed the way baseball was viewed forever.

The second person that we address is Manager Bobby Cox.  Pete has had the great fortune of seeing all of the Cox era with the Braves, and got numerous opportunities to speak with him directly about baseball, particularly on the road over a cup of coffee.  It is an intriguing question to ponder whether Cox appreciates and reflects upon his own place in baseball history, and Pete points out that he does but “is embarrassed by it” mostly.  He would prefer to talk about the specifics of a recent game itself, not what he has accomplished in his career.

Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was a big part of the success that the Braves had during Pete’s time behind the mic.  Maddux is such an interesting study in how outstanding pitching can be achieved, we wanted to get some insights from Pete to help us understand the mental approach from the star pitcher.  Pete declares that Greg is such a competitor that he would never share that type of information with anyone!  Maybe one day we might get a book from Maddux, or we have to study the works of Greg’s pitching coach brother Mike.

Pete also points out that it was one of the greatest benefits of his job, to have been the broadcaster for a starting rotation with Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz plus a cast of other formidable pitchers.  There will never be another rotation like it again.

We ask Pete for some advice to young fans who might be interested in having a greater understanding and appreciation of the game of baseball.  Pete’s advice goes beyond a particular player and instead points to getting some knowledge of baseball during certain eras.  For example, how the game developed and changed from one with no home runs to one with Babe Ruth in it.  Seek out information about war time baseball, expansion, the golden age of the 40’s and 50’s etc.  Pete believes that having a solid understanding of the development of the game would help a young fan appreciate what is on the field today!

We have to extend our sincerest thanks to Pete Van Wieren for appearing on Cover the Bases to talk about his book Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball. Please let us know in the comment section what you think about this great voice of the game, as well as any other suggestions you might have for future editions of the podcast.

We would love to hear from you. Send a Tweet to @baseballisms with a quick message, send us an email or visit our Upload page with a video message. We look forward to growing a community of fans interested in the poetry of the game of baseball!

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