You can observe a lot just by watching. ~Yogi Berra
The same can be said for listening and reading. Last week was the anniversary of Bill James publishing his Historical Baseball Abstract. Understanding the impact of his work and the creation of sabermetrics, which have changed how teams evaluate players and provided everyone with a greater understanding of how teams win games. Reading more about Bill James and found that he was a 2010 inductee the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame. So naturally, I started researching the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, as I had never heard of it before.
The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 2008. It is located inside Foley’s NY Bar & Restaurant across the street from the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Visitors must use door handles that are wooden baseball bats to enter Foley’s. Once inside the majority of the wall and ceiling space is covered with baseball memorabilia. The memorability ranges from photographs, signed baseballs, jerseys, signs, to bobbleheads, and any other baseball related item imaginable. While there is a lot to see, the displayed memorabilia is not jumbled together, making each item easy to view and interesting.
The inside of Foley’s looks like Mr. Mertles’ home in The Sandlot, only with better lighting. There are pictures of Reggie Jackson’s third home run in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Pete Rose fighting Bud Harrelson of the New York Mets during Game 3 of the 1973 National League Championship Series. You have Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run ball. A Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox jersey hangs from the ceiling. A bobblehead of Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot is on display as well. The list of items displayed by Foley’s continues around the restaurant. It would be easy to spend a full day looking at everything, without repeating.
As quirky as the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame might sound, and might truly be, it is still important for both baseball and America. It connects the past with people like Manager Connie Mack to the present with nominees like current Met Michael Cuddyer and everywhere in between with Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. It also reminds us that America is a country of immigrants. We have come from all over the world to make America our home. On the diamond, it does not matter if you or your ancestors came from Ireland, Japan, Venezuela, Kenya, or if you are a mixture of cultures. What matters is whether you can play America’s pastime. Every group has its own history in America, but when these histories are put together they create the history of America. The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame simply tells the Irish story of their place in baseball and in America.
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.