The Braves announced this morning that long time broadcaster Pete Van Wieren lost his battle with lymphoma early this morning. The Professor – as everyone knew Van Wieren – was the co-voice of the Braves for 33 years, 31 of those years alongside fellow Braves legend Skip Caray on TBS.
The Braves issued this statement this morning.
“The Atlanta Braves are deeply saddened by the passing of Pete Van Wieren. He was such a large and important part of our organization. We and all of our fans across Braves Country fondly remember his soothing voice calling our games for 33 years. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Elaine, his children and his grandchildren.”
Chipper Jones chimed in on Twitter.
Sad day in Braves Country as Pete Van Wieren has passed. Grew up watching him every night. We will miss you buddy!
The Professor was born October 7, 1944 in Rochester, New York and attended Cornell University. In the 1960s he worked for the Washington Post with another legend of sports journalism Shirley Povich. He’s best known of course for his work as a Braves broadcaster. He he paired with Ernie Johnson Sr,and Don Sutton during those years but is remembered mostly as right hand man and supreme foil to Skip.
The two broadcasters were hired by the Braves at the same time and no matter how bad the Braves were – and at times they were awful – from that time forward the broadcast booth always had an All Star team. It was fitting then that the pair entered the Braves Hall of Fame together in 2004.
The man behind the voice
Most believe the Professor tag came not only from his in depth knowledge of baseball – he was a SABR member before most fans had heard of it – but also because there wasn’t a sport he couldn’t handle. He also broadcast Hawks and other NBA games as well as Atlanta Flames hockey and Big Ten football. Actually Ernie Johnson Sr. who mentored Pete and Skip upon their addition to the broadcast team hung that tag on him.
Johnson said that Pete looked like a former teammate who had also carried that nickname and once Ernie said it, the name was their for good. Whatever the reason for that handle. in the eyes of most baseball fans in America, Pete and Skip were the face and voice of baseball when only TBS and WGN cared enough America to bring America’s game to the fans every day.
According to Mark Bowman, Van Wieren was more than just a broadcaster. In the days when Ted Turner believed everyone should multi-task, Pete also served as the teams traveling secretary. So it was that when Ted Turner decided to be manager for a day Pete became the one responsible for sneaking then manager Dave Bristol out of the hotel unseen.
In 2006 the Skip and the Professor were pushed out of the TV booth by the new look TBS and spent the next three years on radio. It was not the first time TBS tried to move the pair out of the booth. IN 2003 they were relegated to Turner South (regional cable TV) and radio work but the fans weren’t going to put up with it and they were reinstated later in the season. The 2006 reduction in TBS broadcasts was enough to make it stick this time and while they still did 10 games that season, that virtually ended their TV careers.
IN 2008 Van Wieren began work on the last of his books, “Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball” released in 2010. He also coauthored “ The World Champion Braves: An Illustrated History of America’s Team 1871-1995” with Bob Klapisch and “Chop to the Top!: The Behind-The Scenes Tale of the Team-And the Town-That Turned Upside Down : As Seen Through the Eyes of the Voices of the Atlanta Braves” with Richard Sink and Skip. He’s also sourced in several books about the Braves and sports in Atlanta, He’s also listed in “The Greatest Sports Announcers in the United States: Top 100” by Alex Tros. That’s fitting acknowledgement for the eight time winner of the National Association of Broadcasters award as Georgia Sportscaster of the Year.
Following the 2008 season Pete suddenly announced his retirement. Many felt the loss of his close friend Skip Caray three months earlier took all of the fun out of it for him. Here’s a video of Pete’s farewell to skip.
The Braves later named the broadcast booth after him as a thank you for his years of service.
In late 2009 he noticed a lump on his neck and in early 2010 was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma . He seemed to be winning the battle, too, as he noted during an interview in November 2012.
“Every time you’re sitting there in that chair, getting those treatments, you’re thinking, ‘I hope this is working…'” said van Wieren of the chemotherapy treatments he received. “And I’m fortunate that, for me, it worked.” Indeed, it did. After three long rounds in the ring with cancer, van Wieren learned last year he had beaten it back; his cancer is in remission.
Prior to opening day this season he was emcee for the Hank Aaron 715 anniversary celebration and said doctors told him he was as healthy as he’d been since being diagnosed. Shortly after however the cancer took an aggressive turn. This morning he passed away peacefully at his home. He was 69 years old.
That’s A Wrap
A sad as this day is for Braves fans Pete Van Wieren would not want tears and glum faces. Pete was always upbeat and positive even when the Braves were losing 100 games. If it’s any consolation I’m sure the non-celestial being to greet Pete was Skip. He immediately led Pete to their new broadcast booth where they will watch Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews and the rest of the baseball’s former stars play once more. They’ll probably get an interview with Babe Ruth and I know would have been hilarious. Goodbye Professor, the ride was too short but it was fun.