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  • Bill Chastain

Like Father Like Son

Baseball fans living below the Mason-Dixon line pledged allegiance to the South’s first professional sports team when the Braves relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta prior to the 1966 season. Their games could be listened to on radio and later, watched on TV. Other than the NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons, the Braves represented the only available action. We’re talking long before cable here.

Ernie Johnson served as the Braves’ color commentator and play-by-play man, becoming a familiar voice to fans from Florida to Tennessee. Due to his understated manner, few realized he had pitched in 273 major league games. And he had actually been a standout in the Milwaukee Braves’ bullpen when they defeated the Yankees in the 1957 World Series.

Lazy Sunday afternoons with Ernie calling the game brought comfortable occasions. The folksy way he called the game made you feel like you were spending time with family. Ernie might mention a couple from Vidalia that had driven to Atlanta for the game then ease back into Henry Aaron facing a 2-0 count. People in the stands engaged him because they felt comfortable doing so.

Atlanta-Fulton_County_Stadiumaerial Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium

One young reporter experienced Ernie’s grace when he joined him at a table in the press dining area at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. While they ate fried chicken and potato salad, Ernie asked the young man about his life, spun a few anecdotes, and genuinely seemed interested. Why? Because he sensed the youngster was alone and intimidated in his surroundings. In an ideal world, that’s how people would treat others.

Ernie_Johnson_Jr_in_2012 Ernie Johnson Jr.

Ernie Johnson died in 2011, but his son, Ernie Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps and is quite accomplished for his work at TNT. Among other things, he does the major league playoffs, the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, and he’s been the host of TNT’s NBA coverage since 1990.

Last week Ernie Jr. won the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Studio Host. The award is considered the highest honor in his field. Rather than keep the award, he turned it over to the daughters of Stuart Scott, the popular ESPN host who died this year of cancer at the age of 49.

Ernie Jr.’s gesture felt like a warm Sunday afternoon in the ’60s with Ernie Sr. at the mic. Classy all the way.

bchastain19@gmail.com

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography