By Missourian staff and wire reports
ATLANTA - Pete Van Wieren, who worked beside Skip Caray for 33 years, says Atlanta Braves fans lost more than just a broadcaster when Caray died in his sleep at home on Sunday. He was 68.
Caray was a 1961 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. Caray, a Webster Groves native, started in local radio.
According to a 1985 Missourian article, Caray said he gained most of his experience working at Columbia radio station KFRU/1400 AM. "I was on KFRU then (while in school) and worked as an intern on KMOX in St. Louis," he said at the time.
Caray joined his father, legendary broadcaster Harry Caray, in the booth to broadcast MU football before eventually settling in for a long career with the Braves.
"He's certainly been as big an icon and big part of the franchise as any player or manager," Van Wieren said Sunday night.
The death of Caray marked the end of an era for the Braves and their fans.
"He's been through it all and he had a very unique style," Van Wieren said. "I think people appreciated his honesty and his irreverence at times. You never knew what you were going to get with Skip. It could be very factual or it could be very funny."
Caray was part of a family line of baseball broadcasters.
The cause of death was not immediately known, but various health problems had limited Caray to calling only Braves home games this season.
Caray's last game in the broadcast booth was on Thursday. He called in sick on Friday but his death was a shock to Van Wieren and Braves manager Bobby Cox.
"This was completely unexpected and is a complete loss," Cox said. "I had just spoken with Skip this week when we did the radio show and I didn't know he wasn't feeling well. He seemed in his normal good spirits."
Added Van Wieren: "I thought really this past week he had more energy and was sounding more like himself than in past years. He didn't come to the ballpark Friday because he wasn't feeling well, but from what we heard it was like he had a cold."
Word of Caray's death reached the Braves on their flight from Atlanta to San Francisco on Sunday.
"We've all lost a very good friend," Cox said. "For me, he was a good buddy - at the park and away from the park. We always had a lot of great laughs. He will be very sorely missed."
Caray was drawn into broadcasting by his father, Harry, the longtime voice of the Chicago Cubs and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The family line has continued with two of Skip Caray's sons. Chip Caray is part of the TBS broadcast team and Josh Caray is calling games for the Class A Rome Braves.
While his father was known for his declarations of "Holy Cow," Skip Caray was able to proclaim "Braves Win! Braves Win!" with regularity as the team won 14 consecutive division titles beginning in 1991 and the 1995 World Series.
"Our baseball community has lost a legend today," Braves president John Schuerholz said. "The Braves family and Braves fans everywhere will sadly miss him. Our thoughts are with his wife Paula and his children."
Caray and Van Wieren began broadcasting Braves games with Ernie Johnson Sr. in 1976. Caray's sarcastic wit made him a popular lead voice of the broadcast team and his fame grew nationally as TBS carried Braves games to a national audience for 30 years.
After decades of calling the Braves America's Team, TBS this year began a seven-year contract of national weekly telecasts, leaving the Braves to the regional Peachtree TV network - and leaving Caray to radio work on home games.
Health problems also cut into Caray's workload.
Caray said this year he was battling diabetes, congestive heart failure, an irregular heartbeat and reduced kidney and liver functions.
"I almost died in October (2007)," Caray told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the Braves' 2008 home opener.
Still, Caray's death came as a shock, even to those who worked closely with him.
"He's had some medical issues but you're never ready for something like this," longtime TBS producer Glenn Diamond said. "We're all very shocked by the timing. It's a very sad day for his family and for Braves fans. I think the Braves fans feel they're part of Skip's family."
He joined the St. Louis Hawks NBA broadcasting team and followed them to Atlanta in 1968. He was added to the Braves broadcast team in 1976.
Caray and Van Wieren were inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2005. Caray was named Georgia sportscaster of the year six times.
"He had a huge impact on a lot of people's lives and he had a huge impact on my life," Diamond said. "During the season we spent more time together than we did with our families and our lives."
Caray is survived by his wife and four children.
The Braves said funeral arrangements will be announced later.