Of Mikes and Men, an autobiography by long-time Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren, will undoubtedly be of interest to most Atlanta braves fans. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations. While his book is solid, it is wholly unremarkable. It is competent, it is professional, but through most of the pages, it is lacking in both heart and surprisingly, for the man Braves fans know as “The Professor”, in depth. As anyone who watched a Braves broadcast during the many years he sat behind the mic knows, Pete’s steady hand was the anchor of every Atlanta Braves broadcasts. He was the perfect counter to Ernie Johnson’s homer and Skip Carray’s smart-ass. His book lets him down.
The majority of the book is dedicated to the Braves run of fourteen straight division titles, and this portion of the book tends to be a simple litany of facts written in prose, when a list would have sufficed. Perhaps this is a misjudgment of audience? The people most likely to read this book, Braves fans, already know about the constant World Series disappointments. Pete, who was there for the whole run and would often have morning coffee with Bobby Cox, doesn’t offer any in depth analysis into why the Braves were able to win their division so often, or why they failed in the post-season so often. He just mentions that they did.
Likewise, the early portion of his career is skimmed over with mentions of a few famous games (like the brawl-a-thon with the Padres or the billion-inning affair against the Mets where Rick Camp hit a grand slam to keep the game going … Braves fans know the games) without offering any insight into the games or even recreating them in the kind of language that would make them come alive. As good as the Braves were from 1991 to 2005, they were largely that bad from 1974 to 1990 (excepting a few seasons here and there). You would think Pete might be able to offer some insight into why the Braves would struggle continuously throughout this period. I had hoped he might offer his opinions on that ridiculous contract Ted Turner gave Claudell Washington, into the Brett Butler trade, into the Len Barker and Bruce Sutter disasters. No. We are told the Braves stunk and there you have it.
Most disappointing though is the lack of really good, juicy stories. For a man who shared morning coffees for years with Bobby Cox, there might be an actual story to tell … a conversation to recall. I was especially crushed by the lack of great Skip stories. Pete and Skip were on-air partners for years and they would become the best of friends. They were both characters in their way, and we know from Pete’s many interviews following Skip’s untimely passing that he has some great stories, but the book is lacking them. It seems like a missed opportunity that any Braves fan would wish Pete had taken.
The book works best on those all too few occasions where Pete allows his emotion to show up on the page. He does a great job of conveying his hurt and anger at his father who abandoned Pete and his Mom. He delivers a broadside against the TBS executives who decided that he and Skip Carray were not suitable for a national broadcast and took them off the air, only to be forced to put them back on after a true national outcry. Best of all is his amazingly thorough put down of that odious box of crap John Rocker. He truly got under Pete’s skin and Pete did not hide his feelings and seems to wish the Braves had dumped the jack-ass from the start of the problem.
Reading back over this review, it seems unnecessarily harsh. I don’t want to convey that the book is a bad read at all. Pete is an affable and professional guy and that comes through. He also does a great job of conveying how fortunate he was to have the job he did. He loved almost every minute of it. He was especially grateful to the fans for their support over the years, and especially when he was removed from the air. For me, Pete, along with Skip, will always be the “voice of the Braves”. I’m sure any Braves fans will, despite the shortcomings, enjoy the book. Hopefully, they’ll be another book where Pete can expand and expound on his years with the Braves.