The Professor is gone. Pete Van Wieren recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. I love baseball, and the death of Tony Gwynn was sad for everyone associated with baseball in any manner. However, the death of Pete Van Wieren hit home for me and made me genuinely sad. Just as Braves fans were celebrating the inductions of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, they were hit with the news of Van Wieren’s passing. Each one connects back to the run of 14 straight division titles for the Braves. As a kid growing up in suburban Atlanta they were all a part of my childhood.
Listening to Cox cheer on the players or get in the face of an umpire to protect one of his players. Watching Maddux and Glavine pick apart opposing batters, often getting borderline calls which other pitchers with less impressive resumes would not get. Through it all there were Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren calling the games. These men were the voices of my obsession with baseball when I was growing up. The nasally voice of Caray with his one liners, countered perfectly with the precise information of Van Wieren. They were amazing on their own, but together they were golden.
I have no doubt that both Skip and Pete had their faults but to a boy so in love with baseball and rooting hard for the Braves every night, they were saints. Every team has their own voices. Some even share these voices with the rest of baseball. The Dodgers share Vin Scully, the Tigers shared Ernie Harwell, the Cardinals shared Jack Buck, the White Sox share Hawk Harrelson, and the list goes on. However, Skip and Pete always seemed to not garner the same national recognition as the others, despite the Braves being on television nationally nearly every night thanks to owner Ted Turner and TBS. I have personally met die hard Braves fans from Rochester, New York (Van Wieren’s hometown), Billings, Montana, and other cities which should be far outside the reach of the Braves. In some way this has made me love Skip and Pete even more, they were the Braves treasure to enjoy. We did not have to share them with the rest of baseball, they were ours.
Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS is the proof that Skip and Pete were ours. The call by the national broadcasters is as foreign to me as speaking Russian. However listening to Skip and Pete call the game continues to give me Goosebumps. Skip talking about “alotta room in right center” and Sid Bream’s mad dash home from second on Francisco Cabrera’s single to left field and Barry Bonds’ throw being too late. I had just turned six when that play happened but I can remember jumping up and down then and when Marquis Grissom caught the final out of the 1995 World Series. These calls by Skip and Pete will forever be the sound track of my childhood.
Every broadcast for the Braves with Skip and Pete began the exact same way. The camera would come on in the broadcast booth and Skip would say “Hello everybody”. It always made you feel like he was talking to you and your family. In the same way in which Red Barber, Jon Miller, and Tim McCarver in my mind have a full name because they are broadcasters, Skip and Pete only have one name each because they are family. They were not working, they were simply telling you what was happening in their opinion, often times with a pro-Braves slant because they too were cheering for the Braves. Most people want a neutral announcer, not me, I want someone who will celebrate an important win or be angry when an umpire blows a call or will laugh when a player does something funny. I want to watch the game with family and friends and this is exactly what Skip and Pete gave you and me every night.
Skip carried on the family business from his father Harry Caray, while he could be just as entertaining as his father, he could also be serious in his own manner. This has passed on to his own son Chip Caray, who broadcast with the Cubs for a while but has found a home with the Braves now. Chip is his own man but you can definitely tell there is Carey blood in him.
Pete sought to change his family name, as chronicled in his autobiography Of Mikes and Men. His father abandoned him and his mother when he was young, so he sought to reclaim the dignity of the Van Wieren name. I view Vin Scully as a grandfather figure, Harry Caray as the fun uncle, Bob Uecker as the crazy cousin, Skip as the wisecracking older brother, and Pete as the smart friend who never ceases to amaze you with his vast knowledge of the game and his humility. You will be missed by me and everyone who ever heard you call a game, and you played such an important role in my life and the lives of thousands of others who you never met. Job well done Pete and thank you.
The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman is a collection of excellent baseball stories. Some recount real events on the diamond, whereas some leap from the imagination of their authors. The book includes the classic comedy of Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First”, which I always find hilarious. Al Stump brings Ty Cobb back to life and shows a side of the Georgia Peach which many fans never saw. The immortal Red Barber discusses Jackie Robinson and the lead up to the permanent breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Gary Smith follows the home run chase of 1998. It was more than just Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Vin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. The missed greatness of Pete Reiser is told by W. C. Heinz.
The stories Jeff Silverman chooses to include in this book are great for the novice fan and for the baseball fanatic. The art of the short story is on full display. The writers do not have the chapters to develop characters and story lines. Rather they must develop the entirety of the story through careful selection of every word. This to me makes these stories come to life, as the reader does not get lost in the descriptive language. Letting the reader visualize the story for themselves, with the author as the guide is what makes great story telling.
Baseball books typically dive deep into the sport and focus on specific themes, people, or events. The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told deviates from this and to great success. Silverman provides a brief introduction to each piece to get the reader the proper context before they embark on the story. This is a great read, especially for those of us who take public transportation in our daily lives. Silverman does not require long stretches of time for the book to be read and enjoyed. His change of pace with this book is just what baseball fans need for filling those minutes during their commute, at lunch, or before bed.
“Baseball is boring. It moves so slowly that I fall asleep.”
These are not my words, but the complaints some people levy against baseball. I could not disagree more with this sentiment. Baseball has plenty of action and the charges against the sport that it is slow and boring are unwarranted. Miami Marlins President David Sampson recently said he wants the team to play faster. Clearly he wants to spend more time on the beach instead of working. It is sort of hard to blame him considering it is Miami and it is the Marlins.
In 2013, the Marlins were tied with the Kansas City Royals for the second shortest average length of game at 2:56. The fastest team was the Toronto Blue Jays at 2:55, and the slowest team was the Houston Astros at 3:15. Sampson believes the Marlins can play games on average in 2:40. Sampson is not the first person to suggest baseball needs to speed the game up. I do not understand why baseball is seen as being too long, and why it is singled out among other sports and accused of taking too long to play a game. The average game in the NFL lasts 3:12. So on average football games last longer than baseball games. Why does it take over three hours to play a game designed to take one hour? Perhaps it is because during football games you have the unnecessary stops in play like the two minute warning. Are players incapable of looking at the clock and understanding how much time is left in the half or in the game? Then you have the time outs which are called to “ice the kicker” late in games. I see it as a waste of time, but die hard football fans will say it is strategy. These are the same people who say bringing in a relief pitcher to match up against a particular batter is a waste of time, not strategy. So in baseball trying to give your team a better chance to win is wasting time, while in football it is an important piece of strategy to winning on the gridiron. Yeah, I’m not buying it.
The argument of baseball having so little action is also farcical. Again, these are usually the same people who will lose their minds during football games. Baseball has action and plenty of it. Again, the average football game last 3:12, which is roughly the same amount of time as a baseball game. There is an average of 11 minutes worth of actual action in a football game. 11 minutes of the ball in play and the teams are passing, running, or kicking the ball. The average baseball game has 18 minutes of action. During a single game, baseball has 7 minutes or 63% more action than a football game. Football does show a replay of every big or important play, so as fans watch the actual game they are also watching the highlights of the game. Baseball does show replays, but not nearly at the same level as football. 7 minutes may not sound like much, but do the math. The NFL regular season is 16 games long. 16 games with 11 minutes of action means fans get 2:56 worth of actual game action per season. Major League Baseball has 162 games in the regular season with 18 minutes of action in each, which gives fans 48:36 worth of action a season. I will gladly take the extra 45:40 or 1,556% of action per season which baseball offers. Do not come back with the argument that baseball has a longer season, there is more action in baseball regardless if you want to divide it per season or per game. People make their own decisions, but I choose to see more game action.
Why do people wanting to leave a game sooner? Did they not pay to be entertained? People go to sporting events to be entertained. Ultimately entertainment is what sports come down to for fans. Beyond sports, the movies are the biggest source of entertainment for people. I fail to recall any debate on whether or not movies are too long. The average movie is 2:21 long, with 45 minutes of previews, totaling 3:06. This fits nicely into the average length of a baseball game. People usually flock to the movie theaters to see the latest and greatest out of Hollywood. Roughly three hours later they leave having watched as people, who are among the best in the world at what they do and paid millions of dollars to do one simple thing, entertain them. So why do people complaining baseball takes too long, when they are among the best in the world and are paid millions of dollars to ply their trade?
If people want something to complain about in sports, complain about the last minute of a basketball game when one team cannot win, yet continue to foul. This rarely works if the winning team is up by more than four or five points. It is completely understandable if it is a single position separating the two teams. What about the television time outs, and the bazillion timeouts each team gets per quarter or half. Yes, basketball has more action than baseball, but this is due to the nature of the sport. Anyone who argues basketball is a more difficult sport needs to only give me an adequate answer to the follow. Basketball players could at a time go from high school straight to the NBA, now after a single year of college, yet even the most talented baseball players spend multiple years in the Minor Leagues, why is this the case when baseball is so easy? Football too sees its best players move quickly from high school through college and to the NFL after only three years. Baseball is special among sports. Take a baseball player and he can shoot a basketball. He can throw and catch a football. He can hit a tennis ball or drive a gold ball. While he may not do this as well as the other athletes, he can still do it. Now take the athletes from these other sports and tell them to hit a curve ball or a 95 mph fastball. They will not be able to, this is what makes baseball special.
The easiest answer I can provide is to quote Red Barber,
~“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”
I do not mean to call people who do not like baseball and find it dull. I feel bad that they miss the beauty of the game. There are countless ways to analyze baseball; it is a never ending quest to understand the game. The history and the daily grind of the season provide baseball fans with a wealth of information to examine, ingest, and analyze. The present day is always compared to the past in baseball. The major records in baseball are common knowledge, such as most career home runs. Other records in sports do not have the same level of reverence as baseball records receive. Baseball and its records are a part of the fabric of the United States in a way that football and basketball can only hope to become.
Baseball continuously seeks to balance progressing with the times while maintaining its tradition and history. The new rule about home plate collisions has changed the game. Yes it leaves the intent of the runner and the catcher to the umpire, but do you think Ray Fosse or Mike Matheny or the other catchers who had their careers cut short due to the abuse they took from home plate collisions would rather have others go through the physical fall out they had to face. The creation of the Designated Hitter (DH) also changed the game, as the American League became a more offensive driven league. I hope the DH never goes to the National League, but the change it has had on baseball has not fundamentally changed the game. Baseball is ever changing and is forever trying to hold on to its past. Speeding up the games do not answer a problem, which I personally do not think exists. The speed of baseball is fine, give the fans the entertainment they came to the ball park for and they will leave happy. Leo Durocher sums it up best,
~“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
Pay attention to the few.