ATLANTA — Pete Van Wieren grew up wanting to be the radio announcer for his hometown team, the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. Instead, he became one of the voices for a bold new experiment.
Ted Turner’s superstation.
With a calm, soothing delivery and far-reaching knowledge of a game he always researched diligently, Van Wieren spent 33 years in the broadcast booth for the Atlanta Braves, many of them when the team was beamed out across the country on TBS.
The announcer known as "The Professor" retired Tuesday at age 64, saying he wanted to step aside while he was still healthy enough to enjoy life beyond the baseball park.
"It was a little strange pulling into the parking lot today," Van Wieren conceded during a farewell news conference at Turner Field. "I really did enjoy it, but I’m looking forward to not being tied in to that schedule anymore."
He made the announcement just 21/2 months after the death of his longtime broadcast partner, Skip Caray, who had been in poor health for several seasons but stayed with the team right to the end.
"Losing Skip was certainly a tough thing, but that didn’t affect my decision," said Van Wieren, who was already leaning toward retirement in the spring. "If anything, it reinforced my decision. I didn’t want to keep working until I couldn’t do it anymore."
Van Wieren was the last link to the broadcast team that Turner assembled in 1976 as he was making plans to beam Braves games nationally on his new superstation.
Caray, Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson Sr. would become household names, even though the Braves were traditionally one of baseball’s worst teams in the 1970s and through most of the ‘80s. After Johnson retired, former big leaguers Don Sutton and Joe Simpson joined Caray and Van Wieren in the Braves’ booth, forming another long-standing group.
"For us, it was no different doing those games than it was doing games for local television," Van Wieren said. "But the following we attracted around the nation was a surprise. No one felt people all over nation would watch the Atlanta Braves, but they did."
In 1991, the Braves went from worst to first and made it all the way to Game 7 of a memorable World Series against Minnesota. They would go on to capture 14 straight division titles, a record streak that included the city’s lone Series championship in 1995.
"I really did another whole year of postseason games when you add it up," Van Wieren said. "Atlanta went from a city where no one came to the games to a place where they were selling out every game and doing the tomahawk chop. It was an unbelievable experience."
He has too many great memories to designate one game as his favorite. He does remember saying "Let the celebration begin, Atlanta" after the Braves clinched the NL West on the next-to-last day of the ‘91 season. But he was also there for the end of Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak, and Bob Horner’s four-homer day, and the 200th career wins for both Phil Niekro and Tom Glavine.
"There were so many great wins, so many great come-from-behind wins, all those great pitching performances," Van Wieren recalled. "It’s hard to single anything out."
Van Wieren was dubbed "The Professor" by Johnson, who gave him the nickname because he looked like former big league pitcher Jim Brosnan. But the moniker certainly fit an announcer who always arrived at the ballpark early in the afternoon for night games and spent countless hours researching statistics and digging up long-forgotten baseball stories.
"The nickname says it all," Braves president and former general manager John Schuerholz said. "He was ‘The Professor,’ a guy who knew the game, who loved being inside the game, who enjoyed the game. His joy and spirit were so real, so consistent. He was just a real baseball man."
The Braves were phased off TBS in recent years, conforming with rules that now restrict the number of local games that can be shown in other team’s markets. Caray and Van Wieren spent less and less time on camera, a move that ruffled the outspoken Caray, who blasted the team for a lack of loyalty.
Van Wieren just went about his job, spending this past season working strictly on the Braves radio network.
He has no complaints about a career that also included stints calling NBA, NFL and college football games.
"I’m so happy for Pete, but this is really sad news for Braves fans everywhere," manager Bobby Cox said. "He is a real pro and a gentleman."