Music had Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. The movies had names like Cagney and Bogart. Television had Johnny Carson.
And for many years, we in the South had Ernie, Pete and Skip.
Forgive me for being a bit nostalgic. It happens every year at this time as a new baseball season begins. I think of the days when fans throughout the state of Georgia and “Braves Country” were greeted by broadcasters Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray.
They were as a part of our homes as the refrigerator. They were comfortable, like our favorite chair.
They were there every night, usually when we were all sitting down for dinner. We would watch “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Sanford & Son” or whatever show Ted Turner had on before the Braves. Then we would hear Ernie, Pete and Skip.
Some before my time might remember when Ernie was joined, or led by Milo Hamilton, the Braves’ first play-by-play man. But when Turner fired Hamilton after buying the team, Van Wieren and Caray joined Johnson and created broadcast magic.
There were others who joined in, like Darrell Chaney, John Sterling, Billy Sample and later Don Sutton. But Ernie, Pete and Skip were Sinatra, Martin and Davis. They were the Rat Pack. All the others were just Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop trying to uncomfortably fit in to the group.
This is no offense to the current broadcasters, all very professional in their own right. But there will never be a broadcast team like Ernie, Pete and Skip.
Caray died in 2008. Van Wieren retired after the 2008 season. Johnson died in 2011. But if you listened to them for years like I did, don’t you still wonder what they’d sound like calling the current cast of characters wearing Braves uniforms?
Wouldn’t it be great to hear Skip’s sarcasm during a Dan Uggla at-bat or Pete marveling over how impressive Julio Teheran is on the mound? Wouldn’t it be great to hear a home run call by Ernie on an Evan Gattis blast?
Caray was the class clown, making trouble whenever he could by saying things that would crack you up. Van Wieren was the professor, as he was dubbed by Johnson. He was studious and would give us the facts and numbers to back them up. And Johnson was the ex-jock who over time became a tremendous announcer. He held things together.
They were friends off the field, and you could tell by their camaraderie on the air that they got along. That’s something you can’t fake. They had fun, despite many of the teams they covered being downright horrible. They tried to keep you there listening and watching, even if the Braves were already losing by five or six runs. And on many nights, they were.
They had chemistry, which is not always present in a broadcast setting. Some have it; some don’t. They meshed well together, regardless of who was working with whom. Their voices just went together, just like Sinatra, Martin and Davis singing a medley of their best hits.
And for years, when the Braves were TBS, when that channel was perhaps the most popular station in this state, they were the hosts. They were the ones we wanted to watch after Georgia Championship Wrestling on Saturday nights. They were the ones we wanted to watch after Academy Award Theater on Sunday mornings.
I feel sorry for the young people who love the Braves. They never got to hear that trio work together. It was 25 years ago this season that Ernie retired from full-time work. He hung around for another decade doing weekly games with other announcers, but it has been that long since the trio worked together.
There are times when the current Braves come on that I still, even to this day, expect to hear Ernie say, “It’s time for Braves baseball.” For many of us, hearing that greeting and Skip’s legendary “So long everybody” at the end of every broadcast will never leave our memory.
They were simply the best, and please forgive some of us if we wish we could hear those voices one more time when the Braves pop up on TV or on the radio. They were the standard-bearers, the broadcast team some of us grew up with and the legends who made the Braves fun to listen to on radio and to watch on television.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.