Originally created 07/10/98

Knowledge helps broadcasters



ATLANTA -- If familiarity breeds contempt, then we should despise the four men who broadcast the Atlanta Braves games on radio and television.

They are, after all, the eternal, omnipotent voices you hear whenever Team Tomahawk takes the field. But the vast insider knowledge helps make Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton and Joe Simpson so identifiable and respected by baseball fans nationally.

They are the super voices on the Superstation, the uncles who impart the wisdom during the family reunions. After listening to them over time, you don't mind them talking because they seem to know everything.

The quartet certainly seems to be know-it-all when it comes to all matters Braves. Caray and Van Wieren have 23 years of Atlanta service, Sutton eight and Simpson seven.

Whenever games are televised by Turner Broadcasting, and there are 90 of them this season, these four will be there, perched above in their adjoining radio and TV booths.

When games are shown on ESPN, Fox or NBC, two of these four can still be heard on the Braves Radio Network all over the South. The radio network has more than 200 affiliates nationally (66 in Georgia), near the most in baseball. Braves radio games even take precedence over University of Georgia football on Augusta affiliate WGAC-AM 580.

Wherever the Braves go, the Broadcasting Foursome is there, on the team buses, traveling on the team charter, lodging in the team hotel, spending time in the clubhouse, watching batting practice and preparing for the upcoming game.

One exception will occur July 26 when Sutton is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Caray, Van Wieren and Simpson will attend, leaving the radio duties that Sunday afternoon to longtime University of Georgia voice Larry Munson.

"It feels like we see them more than we see our families," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "That's good, I guess, because they're on top of everything."

While the line between being a team shill and an impartial media member can seem blurred, these men take pride in dispensing information without bias, without the Braves-colored glasses that listeners may expect.

"More than anything, maintaining our credibility night in, night out, may be the toughest part of our job," Van Wieren said. "We can speak a million words, and that one mistake, that one sense of being a homer, and it may be tough to respect us."

All four say they have a license to speak their minds, and they've been known to impart a critical pan every now and then at the franchise that signs their paychecks.

"The last decade, though, it's been tough to be real critical because this team has been so good," Simpson said.

"In my 23 years with the organization, I've never had anyone tell me what I could and could not say," Van Wieren said.

"We have to be careful of keeping our objectivism in tact. We know these players, we know their families, we know their parents, so it's a fine line between cheering them on and objectively broadcasting the games with fairness. Because we are so close, because it does feel like we are a part of the team, that still remains the toughest part of our job."

The team's thorough preparation is evident.

Two hours before the first pitch, Simpson, the youngest member, is busy rifling through the latest Baseball America, looking for notes and tidbits to fill more than three hours of air time. Before each series begins, Simpson creates note cards for every member of both team's starting lineups, filling them with recent statistics and performance reports of player-vs.-player confrontations. In front of his swiveled chair sits a flip chart of position players for fielding stats.

"Sometimes I feel like I prepare for a game more than the players and coaches themselves," Simpson jokes. "But you can never over-prepare."

He's a former player himself, with the Dodgers, Mariners and Royals, and on this night, Simpson will join Caray for the first 4 1/2 innings on television, while Van Wieren and Sutton start on the Braves radio network. The two teams then flip sides to finish the game.

Executive producer Glenn Diamond makes the executive decision of broadcast pairings and who starts where.

And the switch from radio to TV can be a bit taxing, Simpson said.

"I think we all can have a tendency to talk too much on the radio because we have to," he said. "We have to be more descriptive, we have to paint that picture. That picture is already painted by television, so usually I can hear Glenn telling me to eliminate some of the nonsense, to knock off the jabber."