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.

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As a baseball fan growing up near Rochester NY in the 1960’s, author Curt Smith could tune in radio and television stations from around the country, delivering the play by play from some of the legends of the game. In his imagination he could see Yankee Stadium, Forbes Field, or Tiger Stadium among others, through the voices of Mel Allen, Bob Prince, and Ernie Harwell. The national game of the week on CBS television delivered pictures to accompany the fractured English of Dizzy Dean.  The influence of those word pictures launched Curt on a career that includes numerous books on baseball from the broadcast booth.

Voices of Summer | Curt Smith | Baseballisms.comIn his 2005 book Voices of Summer: Ranking Baseball’s 101 All-Time Best Announcers, Curt takes a quantitative look at the top broadcasters who have worked at the Major League level and analyzes them to determine a ranking.  Using criteria such as longevity, network honors, World Series assignments and continuity, he determined a mathematical formula to get to a ranking order.

He shares his top five:

5) Red Barber

4) Jack Buck

3) Ernie Harwell

2) Mel Allen

1) Vin Scully

In an attempt to find out who might be the up and coming play by play announcers who could ascend to this level, we get into a discussion about the obstacles in front of the practitioners.  Whether it is dividing loyalties and working multiple sports under a network contract, or going were the dollars are and starting out in television where the pictures tell the story, Curt has a hard time identifying someone today who he clearly could vote for in the Broadcasters Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Back in the days before email, I used to type up a letter to some baseball friends of mine with baseball tidbits, group predictions on the season, and a section about the calls that we loved from our favorite broadcasters. Most baseball fans can still hear that replay of a moment fresh in their minds and be transported to that time once again. I share with Curt my recollections of Al Michaels serving as the play by play voice of ABC during the 1986 ALCS and can still hear his excitement over the events that had unfolded before him during Game 5 in Anaheim.

Curt has some strong opinions about the fact that Major League Baseball, at the highest levels, does not have an overall sense of how to televise the game to make it more attractive in this current environment. He shares that an inquiry to the Commissioner’s office regarding any issue with a broadcast could not be directed to the proper individual simply because they do not have such a person.

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