Braves' broadcast crew shuffled

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Apr 18, 2005
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Skip, Pete and gang replaced on Turner South

Starting next week, there will be less of Skip, Pete and the gang on Braves telecasts.

Fox Cable Networks, which agreed earlier this year to buy Turner South from Time Warner for $375 million, will take over the regional cable network on Monday — and will make an immediate change in the Braves' broadcast booth.

The familiar lineup of Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray will be replaced on the Braves' 58 Turner South telecasts by the Fox Sports Net South broadcast tandem of Bob Rathbun and Jeff Torborg.

The Carays, Van Wieren, Sutton and Simpson will continue to call the Braves' 70 games that are televised nationally on TBS, as well as all the games on radio. But the Turner South change means Skip Caray and Van Wieren will call fewer games on TV than at any time since the 1970s, when Ted Turner hired them to help make the Braves a cable programming juggernaut.

"I've got a nice little arrangement with [Turner Broadcasting] — I show up when they tell me to show up, and they don't bounce a check," Skip Caray said when asked Friday about the Turner South change. "It's disappointing, but our input wasn't requested or needed. ... Sure, it's disappointing, because you enjoy being there and broadcasting the games, and we're not going to be there as much."

Then he commended Fox for giving the Turner South gigs to Rathbun and Torborg. "It hurts me to say this from a personal viewpoint, but they're doing the right thing," Caray said. "They should be loyal to their people."

Rathbun has been calling FSN South's limited slate of 25 Braves games per season for the past decade, and Torborg, a former major-league player and manager, joined him as color analyst this year.

Braves fans might not be as understanding as Caray. "A Braves broadcast simply isn't a Braves broadcast without Skip, Pete and Don," said Robert Bruce, 30, of Dunwoody. "I think this really stinks."

Rathbun has been in a similarly awkward position before. He was brought in by the Detroit Tigers as a radio replacement for the legendary Ernie Harwell in the early 1990s. The backlash was severe, and Harwell was rehired.

"We are all fans of the TBS crew," Rathbun said. "I don't want anyone to think we wanted to push them out the door. That's not the case. I know this is a tough situation for everyone. I know that from experience."

The Turner South sale means Fox will control the TV rights to more than half of the Braves' games, including those previously committed to FSN South. This will mark the first time since the 1970s that a non-Turner network televises the majority of the team's games.

"This whole year is sort of the end of an era," Van Wieren said, "because we're going to have a new owner of the ballclub, too. We've been very fortunate all the years I've been here that everything has been under one umbrella — the TV and the team. ... But this is a year of transition for the whole company. The umbrella was nice for all those years."

Turner South's name and all of its original programming will remain in place next week, but Fox says it plans to soon rename the channel and turn it into an all-sports network. Some movies and syndicated shows licensed to Turner will be removed from Turner South as of Monday for legal reasons.

But the most noticeable immediate change might be in the Braves' broadcast booth, starting with Monday night's telecast of a game against Colorado.

When the Turner South sale was announced in February, Fox officials left open the possibility that some of the long-time Turner announcers would remain on the Turner South telecasts at least through the end of this season. That would have required an additional financial arrangement between Fox and Turner, which pays the announcers.

Jeff Genthner, vice president and general manager of FSN South, said the decision to immediately change the Turner South broadcast team came after discussions between Fox and Turner Broadcasting. He said Caray, Van Wieren, etc., are closely identified with Turner, while Rathbun and Torborg are identified with Fox.

"There were many considerations — the view of the fan was obviously a major consideration, but also the contractual relationships that various announcers have with various companies, the brand of Braves telecasts on TBS and the brand of Braves telecasts on Turner South and Fox," Genthner said. "It just wasn't a 'We own it, we control it, this is what we're doing decision.' We really cooperatively thought this through with Turner [Broadcasting]. ... We have tremendous regard for Pete and Skip and the rest of the Turner broadcast team."

Said Turner Broadcasting spokesman Greg Hughes: "Fox's desire to put their announcers on their newly acquired games was strong, just as our desire was strong to have our announcers remain on our TBS games and on the Braves' radio network."

In future seasons, Fox will have the option of shifting games from the to-be-renamed Turner South to FSN South, or vice versa. But Genthner said Fox will stick with the two channels' previously announced Braves schedules for the remainder of this season.

With its reduced slate of games, TBS will face personnel decisions of its own after this season. Five broadcasters are more than needed to cover 70 TBS telecasts — a number that goes down to 45 in 2008 — and 162 radio games.

"If you do the math, I'm sure there are going to be changes," Skip Caray said. "I worry more, frankly, for the people who are not as well paid as we are — people who have done such a good job all these years."

—- Staff writer Guy Curtright contributed to this article.

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