Van Wieren surprises with retirement
Braves broadcaster of 33 seasons decides to make exit
ATLANTA -- As an aspiring broadcaster, all Pete Van Wieren truly wanted to do was serve as the play-by-play announcer for his hometown Rochester Red Wings. While never afforded that opportunity, Van Wieren spent the past four decades living a life that proved far more enriching than his youthful dreams.
Over the past 33 seasons, Van Wieren annually committed himself to the Braves and the grinds of the long baseball season. Known as "The Professor," he was truly the consummate professional who seemed destined to spend the rest of his life calling Braves games.
But while his love for the Braves and baseball remains strong, Van Wieren realized that his devotion to his demanding profession was denying him the opportunity to enjoy the family life that he annually sacrificed throughout his broadcasting career.
Thus, with no apparent signs of hesitation or remorse, Van Wieren announced his retirement Tuesday. There won't be a farewell tour for the ever-humble announcer. Instead, the legendary broadcaster simply provided this goodbye and said thanks to the baseball figures and fans who allowed him to become such an important part of their lives.
"I didn't want to get to the point where I worked until I couldn't because if you can't do this job anymore, you can't do anything -- all you're doing is sitting and talking," Van Wieren said.
At 64 years old and in good health, Van Wieren now finds himself with the opportunity to travel the world with his wife, Elaine, and watch his three granddaughters grow. Over the past two years, he attended every regular season and Spring Training game played by the Braves. The only game he didn't call came during the 2007 season, when he was sidelined by a one-day bout with laryngitis.
Now as he excitedly enters his retirement life, Van Wieren looks forward to taking one of those summer Alaska cruises that haven't been available when his only free time came during the winter months. He also suddenly finds himself with more time to make that long-desired trip to Holland to learn more about his ancestors.
Most importantly, he has more time to devote to his wife, children and grandchildren, who essentially shared him with the Braves' family from March through October on an annual basis.
"They had to put up with a lot over the past 43 years," said Van Wieren, while adding the 10 years he spent as a Minor League announcer. "Now, I'm going to be able to give back to them."
While introducing Van Wieren on Tuesday afternoon, Braves president John Schuerholz called him "one of the great Braves of all time."
|"I am so happy for Pete. But this is really sad news for Braves fans everywhere. He will greatly missed. Since the first day we met in 1978, Pete has been a true friend to me. He has such a strong knowledge of the game and has the ability to communicate as a great broadcaster, but also to talk and think from the manager's perspective. He is a real pro and gentleman."|
|-- Braves manager Bobby Cox|
Like Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Harry Kalas with the Phillies, Van Wieren and Skip Caray became synonymous with the Braves. They joined Atlanta's broadcast team together in 1976 and unexpectedly ended their tenures in the same year.
Caray's death in August created a void for Van Wieren, who spent the final two months of this season coping with the reality that he'd never again call a game with his close friend and perfectly compatible broadcast partner. Third baseman Chipper Jones noticed an immediate difference.
"He just wasn't having as much fun without Skip there," Jones said. "You could just tell that it wasn't the same."
But Van Wieren's thoughts of retiring preceded Caray's death. In fact, Caray's passing actually made Van Wieren wonder if this was truly the best time for him to walk away.
"It didn't influence my decision in any way because my decision was pretty much made before [Caray's death]," Van Wieren said. "But it did reinforce my belief that I didn't want to do this until I couldn't do it any more."
When the Braves wanted to discuss what would have essentially been a "lifetime" contract in Spring Training, Van Wieren wavered, knowing in the back of his mind that he'd reached the point he and his wife had been awaiting for so long.
As the regular season's final weeks unfolded, Van Wieren again responded vaguely whenever Chip Caray, Joe Simpson or other members of the media talked to him about plans for the 2009 season.
Outside of his family, the only people who knew about his retirement thoughts were Schuerholz, Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk and Derek Schiller, the club's vice president of sales and marketing. They all wanted Van Wieren to clear his head after the season before making an ultimate decision.
After clearing his head, Van Wieren suddenly found himself with a much clearer schedule. The Braves have offered him the opportunity to remain a part of the organization in some capacity. But for now, he seems focused on enjoying his freedom. Somewhat surprisingly, he stressed he'd only "occasionally" be at the stadium during future seasons.
"It's been a great ride," Van Wieren said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. But I think I'm going to enjoy my retirement, too."
Van Wieren's contributions to the Braves extended beyond the microphone. During the days when Ted Turner believed his employees should perform multiple jobs, "The Professor" served as the club's traveling secretary.
Turner added to the challenge of the job.
When Turner decided to serve as manager for one day in Pittsburgh during the 1977 season, Van Wieren suddenly found himself responsible for finding a way to get manager Dave Bristol out of the team hotel without any of his players noticing.
Still, as Van Wieren reminisced about his long tenure with the Braves, he specifically thanked Turner, McGuirk, Schuerholz and Braves manager Bobby Cox, calling them "great leaders and great friends."
Approximately five hours before every game, Van Wieren would spend time with Cox discussing the team and further enhancing his great preparation. The veteran manager is going to miss those conversations.
"I am so happy for Pete," Cox said. "But this is really sad news for Braves fans everywhere. He will greatly missed. Since the first day we met in 1978, Pete has been a true friend to me. He has such a strong knowledge of the game and has the ability to communicate as a great broadcaster, but also to talk and think from the manager's perspective. He is a real pro and gentleman."
Because of his dedication to preparation and extensive knowledge, many have mistakenly believed Van Wieren's nickname, The Professor, was aimed toward his intellect. But Ernie Johnson Sr. actually gave him the nickname because he felt he looked like one of his former teammates who had been given that nickname.
Johnson served as a mentor to Van Wieren and Caray during their early years and always provided them sound advice. When Johnson's wife met Van Wieren's wife for the first time in 1975, she gave her a plaque that read, "We interrupt this marriage to bring you the baseball season."
During those 33 seasons of interrupted marriage, Van Wieren saw Dale Murphy become a star and Gene Garber snap Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak. Those miserable teams that he covered in the 1980s were followed by those Braves teams that won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles.
Van Wieren never had the opportunity to call a game for the Red Wings. But over the course of 33 years in Atlanta, he became a Braves legend who will be sorely missed.
"Pete was a total pro," Jones said. "He was always the most prepared. He knew his stuff and always had a way to tell it like it was without offending somebody. It's a sad day to know he won't be around like he's been."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.