Randy Smith: Remembering The Professor

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

I was never on a first-name basis with Braves’ announcer Pete Van Wieren. I met Pete several times in the early 1980s when the Braves Caravan would come to Chattanooga. We would always have a nice cordial visit, but later I doubt he ever remembered me at all; even though at one time we both worked for Ted Turner.

I always admired Van Wieren from a distance, and always put him at the top of my favorite baseball play-by-play announcers list. He was one of the “big three”: Ernie Johnson, Sr., Skip Caray, and Pete Van Wieren were all on the Atlanta Braves’ Radio Network from the late 1970s through the early 2000s. Pete was the last one of those three announcing legends to leave us, but he passed away on Saturday after a lengthy battle with lymphoma. He was 69 years of age.

I can never remember hearing Pete stumble or make a mistake on the radio. I can’t say that at all about other announcers, including myself.  You could always tell he was very well-prepared for a broadcast, and when you do one hundred sixty-two of them a year, plus the playoffs, that’s a lot of preparation; more than 6,000 big-league games in his career. You could always count on Pete to give you an abstract comment or thought each time he was on the air. There was never a better prepared broadcaster than “The Professor.”

Pete was called “The Professor”, partially because of his somewhat academic appearance; though he was anything but a nerd.  He was also a tremendous story-teller. During flights from city to city or during times in hotels, players of all ages would gather near the Braves’ broadcast crew and listen to the many great yarns from Pete, Skip, and Ernie. Of those three, Pete was the only one who didn’t grow up around a big-league team or play professional baseball. His stories came from his great relationships with players through the years. He was always the “glue” that held everything together. 

His last contract with the Braves was signed in 2006; a new three-year deal for radio only. Pete suddenly retired in 2008 before that contract was up. After he had announced he was retiring, he wrote a book and in that book, he wrote about some of the high water marks of his distinguished career. He was especially proud of the fact that when he retired, he had broadcast 128 post-season baseball games; second only to the legendary Vin Scully of the L.A. Dodgers. In 2010, Pete announced he had cancer.

When word began to spread about Pete’s passing on Saturday, tributes came pouring in from around the country. There were tributes from other broadcasters of course, but also tributes from many former ball players as well. During the Braves’ TV broadcast from San Diego on Saturday night, announcers Chip Caray, Joe Simpson, and Don Sutton spent almost the entire telecast praising Pete Van Wieren for his professionalism as well as his friendship. Former players, Chipper Jones Mark Lemke, John Smoltz and Dale Murphy spoke of their love and affection for Pete over the telephone.

On several occasions, older pictures of Pete, Ernie and Skip would flash across the screen. While hair styles and clothing would change on Skip and Ernie, they always seemed to remain the same on “The Professor.” That’s the way he was; always there, always rock-steady, dependable, and always, always a professional.    

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Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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