Ernie Johnson: A peach of an announcer, a prince of a man

Ernie Johnson salutes fans on his last night of work in 1999. (AJC photo by Ben Gray)

Ernie Johnson salutes fans on his last night of work in 1999. (AJC photo by Ben Gray)

My esteemed and much-missed colleague George Cunningham said it best long ago: “Listening to Ernie is like slipping into an old shoe.” Skip Caray told the jokes and Pete Van Wieren gave us the stats, but Ernie Johnson Sr., the old pitcher and the nicest man who ever lived, pulled it all together.

That was the Braves’ broadcast team back in the day when the broadcast team was the best thing by far about the Braves. Having been a player himself, Ernie added a needed gravitas to the festivities, and I write that word knowing full well it’s misused. “Gravitas” implies weight, and there was never anything heavy about ol’ Ernie. He was sweetness and light.

His voice was a wondrous amalgam of New England — he was from Brattleboro, Vt. — and his beloved Crabapple, Ga. He would always call me “Mahhk,” accenting his pahk-the-cahr-in-Hahvahd-Yahd roots, but on the air he was pure magnolia. He’d come to Atlanta when the Braves decamped from Milwaukee, but it’s hard to imagine Ernie calling games for a team not based in the heart of the South.

The most famous Ernie-ism was, “We’re just zippin’ right along, folks.” (This to punctuate a ponderous game.) When the Braves were down, which was often, he’d say: “Let’s see if they can give us a finish.” And when, on that famous Saturday night — it was Aug. 13, 1983 — Bob Watson turned on a Steve Howe pitch and the Braves felled the hated Dodgers, Ernie’s call began: “Back toward that wall … ”

As a human being … well, there were none better. If Ernie uttered an unkind word, I never heard it. (And I was privileged to know him off the air.) Skip? OK, Skip uttered the more-than-occasional unkind word, and even Professor Pete had a sarcastic side. But Ernie was a Southern gentleman who just happened to have grown up in the North.

Ernie Johnson Sr. died at age 87 Friday night, his wife Lois at his side. Ernie had been in declining health for a while, and he’d just been moved to a hospice. The belief here is that Ernie is in a better place now. The belief — no, an absolute conviction — is that ol’ Ernie, in his time in this world, made it a better place.

By Mark Bradley

192 comments Add your comment

J.J.M.

August 12th, 2011
10:19 pm

KL

August 12th, 2011
10:20 pm

I will miss ol ‘Ernie!

SandyB

August 12th, 2011
10:21 pm

I just heard the announcers say that today was Skip’s birthday…a little ironic….

Ernie was a great announcer and a wonderful person….

Michael

August 12th, 2011
10:21 pm

Grew up listening to Uncle Ernie, and he’ll always be THE voice of the Braves to me and so many others. No better person on or off the mic. We’ll miss you Ernie!

Drew 10

August 12th, 2011
10:21 pm

Every once in a while a hear that little something in EJ Jr’s voice that reminds me of Sr. In this day and age its only the MLB radio that you get those truly great personalities.

PTC DAWG

August 12th, 2011
10:21 pm

RIP Ernie Johnson. You’ve already been missed….

Will Partenheimer

August 12th, 2011
10:21 pm

hand solo

August 12th, 2011
10:22 pm

as a 7 yr old boy in 1966 i remember ernie, my heart aches

Brave Dawg

August 12th, 2011
10:22 pm

RIP Ernie. The first Braves broadcaster I ever listened to.

SC Ace

August 12th, 2011
10:23 pm

Sad news. Grew up with him and the others. Nice tribute, Mark.

Sherilyn

August 12th, 2011
10:24 pm

In a celebratory Braves’ night, there was joy in Ol’ #6, as highly deserved for Bobby Cox. And, in semi-sadness, there will be joy in memories of years and years of Ernie Johnson…net and all. His sheer presence and gentlemanly ways, are to be revered. Bless Lois, Ernie, Jr. and their entire family. Thanks for all the 9 innings + , over and over, for which Ernie made homey and joyful.

ml

August 12th, 2011
10:25 pm

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
10:27 pm

Ernie Johnson…..

you lived well….and long. You, Skip, and Pete…..no better Braves announcers….never will be that good again. WSB Radio….then WTBS….then TBS. You made listening to baseball fun…and never boring. What a great job you did when the old ballpark had 2,000 people in it with Mike Lum playing first, Marty Perez playing short, and Rowland Office playing CF……horrible team….but you made watching them with my business buddies fun while we drank ballpark beer, ate ballpark hot dogs…..cracked ballpark peanuts…..watched chief nock a homa……and listened to you call the game on radio……those were the day…….that was baseball……that was good times. Thanks for helping make it so. RIP. We will miss you.

long m

August 12th, 2011
10:29 pm

So long Ernie we will miss you. I remember listening to you many nights on 750am even when the Braves were one of the worst teams in MLB. You and the professor were the greatest.

Mark from Marietta

August 12th, 2011
10:29 pm

Childhood and young adult memories of Braves = Ernie Johnson!

Heath

August 12th, 2011
10:29 pm

Listening to those three on the radio was the soundtrack to my youth in the summertime.

Todd Eilskov

August 12th, 2011
10:30 pm

How ironic two Braves legends retired tonight. both will be sorely missed!! RIP Ernie

long m

August 12th, 2011
10:31 pm

Enter your comments here

Beoti

August 12th, 2011
10:31 pm

A voice of my childhood…thank you for the memories.

@DanWeiner

August 12th, 2011
10:31 pm

Ernie was retired as a broadcaster before I was growing up watching the team, but my dad thought the world of Ernie as a broadcaster. He will be missed. Best wishes to his family.

long m

August 12th, 2011
10:32 pm

We will miss you Ernie. You were the greatest on AM 750 with the professor

MattyB

August 12th, 2011
10:32 pm

Rest in Peace, Senior. You will be missed.

Michael Stults

August 12th, 2011
10:32 pm

One of the best!

Rob

August 12th, 2011
10:33 pm

Goodbye!! R.I.P.

Showdog

August 12th, 2011
10:35 pm

This is your best,but also your saddest column,Mark. I grew up with Ernie,calling the braves,he will be missed. I’m sure he’s in a better place,if not,nobody will ever get there.

Henry D.

August 12th, 2011
10:35 pm

RIP Mr. Class. You will be missed.

Casey Stevenson

August 12th, 2011
10:37 pm

Rest in Peace Ernie! My condolences go out to Lois, Ernie Jr and family.

Cobb Dawg

August 12th, 2011
10:37 pm

Mark: Just read your last three columns — this one, as well as the ones on Uggla and Bobby. Whatever they’re paying you, pal, it’s not enough. Love your work.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2011
10:38 pm

Thanks, Cobb Dawg. I’m obliged.

LC

August 12th, 2011
10:39 pm

The Braves nations weeps tonight. A great man, announcer, and Brave. I’ll never forget Ernie’s call on the Justice homer against Cincy deep into the 1991 season. That homer and Ernie’s call may us all believe that the Braves were for real and that we could win a championship.

Fan since Sixties

August 12th, 2011
10:39 pm

What a gigantic, historic and bittersweet night for the Atlanta Braves franchise… first… R.I.P. Ernie… listened to EJ and Milo on my transistor radio past lights out as a kid. A really classy farewell and show of respect to Bobby Cox… incredible turnout by Braves alums… historic record stretch of Uggla’s record streak… and Chipper goes yard and sets a milestone. If there is an empty barstool in Heaven next to Skip… I’ll take it!

Matt from MN

August 12th, 2011
10:42 pm

The world could use a whole lot more people like Mr. Johnson. What a sad day. Condolences to his family.

Marivee Cade

August 12th, 2011
10:44 pm

Well said, Mark. Thank you.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

August 12th, 2011
10:44 pm

A part of my youth just past away. RIP Mr. Ernie Johnson, you will be forever remembered.

Jax Braves Fan

August 12th, 2011
10:47 pm

@Tampa Gator, 10.27p -
Thanks, my friend for that homily. Boy, you sure brought back some VERY fond memries! May God his soul. My old Braves broadcast team is finally gone and we are the poorer.

Greg Glass

August 12th, 2011
10:48 pm

A fine gentleman indeed. Very non-controversial and warm. Though I love the Redbirds always thought Ernie was a class act

Linda Baker

August 12th, 2011
10:49 pm

I grew up here in Atlanta in the 60’s listening to Ernie, Skip, and Milo. He was a Brave through and through, win or lose and he reminded us that we as fans should be behind our team and support them and be proud of them. His voice was calling the game on the radio was always a childhood memory for me. Ernie, there will never be another like you. We will miss you. May God bless you on you journey to your rest.

Greg Glass

August 12th, 2011
10:51 pm

Enter your comments here

Ken Shelton

August 12th, 2011
10:51 pm

When the baseball God’s took Skip Caray away from Braves fans a couple years ago, a seemingly loss of memorable youth removed, now with the sad news of Ernie Johnson’s passing, another link to an innocent childhood of ears seemingly glued to the old transistor radio, even late into the southern nights, as first memories of the early 1970’s as Ernie shared billing with Milo Hamilton. As Ernie took his smooth octave voice of always-calmness even during 100–loss otherwise dismal teams to the bigger stage as TBS became “America’s Team” the pairings of Ernie, Skip and ‘the professor” Pete offered endless hours of entertainment every summer. Much like others have offered up, ‘win (much more often lose) the Braves games were always great with the remarkable chemistry of Ernie, Skip & Pete. I can’t honestly say I personally knew Ernie but in the old days when you could hear a pin drop as attendance norms were around 5,000 per game in the mid-late 1970’s at old Fulton County Stadium I met Ernie two times as he was walking with fans to the press box. Ernie, like his easy-going demeanor would suggest was an equally genuine great guy as well as a huge part of Atlanta Braves history. Like many Braves fans how I long to hear Ernie’s catch phrase “Zipping right along” one more time! God bless the family of Ernie Johnson during your loss!

Wrecker

August 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

Thanks, Mark. A momentous day. As someone in another blog mentioned, I will always remember nodding off to sleep (particularly on West coast games) listening to Ernie’s soft voice on the radio. RIP.

GP

August 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

Thanks Mark. Ernie was special. I grew up listening to Ernie and Skip and Pete (Milo too). Ernie was always the best. Funny and goofy but always, always appreciated and loved!

Susan in GA

August 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

I grew up listening to Ernie announce and my sister yelling at the Braves to run!! Ernie was the best there will ever be!! Thanks for the years and the wonderful memories…you’ll be missed but not forgotten!!

D in ATL

August 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

RIP……A major piece of my youth. It saddens me that such a gentle and talented man has passed on. My sympathies to the Johnson family……

Legend of Len Barker

August 12th, 2011
11:00 pm

It’s time to go-get ‘em Braves.

CHUCK UGA

August 12th, 2011
11:03 pm

Mark, well said. It’s been a while since I have had watery eyes, but I sure do tonight. Something tells me another beloved announcer and contemporary of Ernie – Larry Munson – is just as sad. The worst part about getting old is losing idols from your youth. This is a prime example.

moboman

August 12th, 2011
11:03 pm

How many times I enjoyed Milo yelling — “Ernie , the net!!!” when a foul came back.

Simon Bar Sinister

August 12th, 2011
11:07 pm

Back in the early ’80s I was working secibd shift, and I listened to just about every Braves game. I probably spent more time listening to those three than I did anyone or anything else.

If it was a particularly good game I’d watch the replay on WTBS (or was it WTCG?) when I got home, and I listened to the same guys as they switched from one medium to the other.

P B Orr

August 12th, 2011
11:09 pm

What I most remember about Ernie is how he got so much better at his job. When he was with Milo (Hamilton), we all thought he was pretty bad – but then something happened, and he got much much better, and his interactions with his crew mates was a source of constant amusement in the lean times, while his calls became sharp and professional. I feel like I lost a part of my own youth. Ernie was all Brave, all the time.

KakNiqueTree

August 12th, 2011
11:16 pm

That Bob Watson game was in ‘82, right?

whatacrew

August 12th, 2011
11:17 pm

Very nice article – Mark. One of my best summertime memories as a kid was listening to the voice of Ernie on a hot sultry night in Atlanta (as well as road games). He was the perfect all around announcer for the Braves. In fact – no disrespect to the current Braves announcers – but listening to the Braves hasn’t been the same since he retired. Rest in Peace, Mr. Johnson.