Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, members of the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame, have been unceremoniously dumped as television announcers for the team.
Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, who have been calling Atlanta Braves games on television since the infancy of cable TV, will be working almost exclusively on radio next season.
The Braves announced Monday that Caray and Van Wieren, popular voices of the team for 31 seasons, will call games on the team’s radio network through 2009. The announcement, conspicuously, did not mention Caray and Van Wieren’s future TV roles. Turns out, that role is nonexistent in Van Wieren’s case and extremely limited in Caray’s.
Van Wieren told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday night that he will call all 162 games on radio and none on television next season. And Caray told the AJC that his new deal calls for him to broadcast 120 games on radio and only 10 on television (TBS).
The moves â€” the latest in a Braves broadcast shakeup that began with Time Warner’s sale of Turner South to Fox Cable Networks in May â€” are reminiscent of the controversial benching of Caray and Van Wieren from TBS telecasts in 2003. They were relegated to the broadcasts on regional cable channel Turner South and radio, but an outcry by fans forced their reinstatement to the TBS lineup several months later. Caray said “the situation is different” this time because TBS has sharply reduced the number of Braves games it is carrying â€” 70 nationally next season and 45 locally beginning in 2008.
Both Caray and Van Wieren said they are content with the new setup. “The 10 [games] on TV will just remind me how much better I like radio anyway,” Caray said. “It’s getting to be a young man’s game on TV, and I don’t know what they want on TV anymore.” Van Wieren said: “I’ve had 31 great years on the TV side, but [TBS] is going in a different direction, going with the national package [of non-Braves games starting in 2008]. My heart really lies with the Braves.”
Caray and Van Wieren have been broadcasting Braves games since 1976, when then-owner Ted Turner had the seemingly zany idea of beaming the team’s games nationally on his fledgling cable channel (now TBS). Throughout their 31 seasons with the Braves, Caray and Van Wieren have rotated between TV and radio broadcasts.
In a sense, Caray is yielding TV time to his son Chip, a Braves broadcaster for the past two seasons. The younger Caray is under a multiyear contract to TBS and is expected to be its lead baseball voice. “Chip is going to become the No. 1 guy on Braves TV for TBS, and how could I feel anything but wonderful about that?” Skip Caray said.
A likely partner for Chip Caray on the bulk of the TBS telecasts is Joe Simpson, a member of the Braves broadcast lineup for 15 years. The other member of last year’s broadcast team, Don Sutton, was let go by TBS in October. Simpson also could work games on Fox-owned networks SportSouth (formerly Turner South) and FSN South. Fox and TBS are expected to announce their Braves broadcast lineups soon.
Said Caray: “I’m 67 years old, and it’s extremely kind of them to give me a three-year deal. I just want to get through next season.”
“I think for anybody who does baseball, their first love is radio, because of the intimacy between you and the listener,” Van Wieren said. But he said he will miss working with the TBS production crew. “Working with those people was a real privilege over the last 31 years,” he said.
And it was a joy to listen to Skip, Pete, Don, and Joe all these years. Indeed, having started following the Braves closely with the 1992 season, they were always an integral part of the Braves experience. It was always a big letdown when the games were on ESPN or Fox and I had to listen to their crews which, while perfectly competent, simply didn’t know the Braves as well as the announcers or, frankly, how to broadcast a game like the TBS production crew. (That’s no knock on the other networks; putting on 150 or so games a year provided TBS with experience unrivaled except perhaps at the Cubs’ WGN.)
The spinning off of Braves games from TBS has been a tragedy for the fan base. I understand why this happened: Major League Baseball considers TBS a national network and demands the revenues be pooled, whereas the regional channels are considered local revenues. So, I can’t blame the Braves’ corporate overlords for moving the games to more lucrative networks.
Still, it’s bad for the fans. Ted Turner built them into a national team with his SuperStation and fans of the team were spoiled into getting to see all their games on television. That’s not the case, anymore, for those who live outside the southeast. When I moved to Northern Virginia four years ago, I could no longer watch the games on Fox Sports South or Turner South, even though I have DirecTV, because of coverage rules. That has made it much harder to get into the rythym of the 162-game season.
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