September 17, 2014

God needed a play-by-play man

Posted 5/12/10

I’m only 26 years old, but believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in a house with one television channel. Maybe my family was behind the times, but at my grandparents’ house in Prescott, it wasn’t much better. There were maybe three channels.

Not exactly a lot on the tube when I was growing up.

So I learned at a young age exactly what my grandpa was doing in his Buick LeSabre every evening — listening to Tigers’ games on the radio. And listening alongside him is how I came to know and love Ernie Harwell.

If anyone in Michigan could ever be unanimously selected by the state’s people for sainthood, it would be Ernie. His smooth delivery, firsthand knowledge and experience made us feel like he knew what we wanted to hear. After his passing May 4, I, probably like many of you, spent some time watching old broadcasts of Ernie interviewing players and managers or making calls during games.

Watching these broadcasts made me feel like I truly missed out on what sports broadcasting used to be. Ernie was more than a catchphrase made to grab our attention (although he had many, and they were good). He didn’t need to shout “WAM BAM” or “HEY OOOH” or any other senseless exclamation throughout the game. Ernie cut to the core. He was strictly baseball — more sports journalist than entertainer.

In fact, Ernie’s catchphrase “He stood there like a house on the side of the road and watched that one go by” came from 19th century poet, Samuel Walter Foss. Compare that to some of the stuff we hear today, sucah as Darrell Waltrip’s lacking-in-prose NASCAR catchphrase “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!” Ernie came off as a good ole boy and an intellectual, a friend and a superior, a peer and a teacher.

Soon after high school, I remember reading Tom Keegan’s book “Ernie Harwell: My 60 Years in Baseball.” Reading about Ernie’s one-of-a-kind experiences, I believe, helped solidify my choice to dive into the world of media.

My favorite Harwell story will always be the 1948 trade, when Ernie was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers as a broadcaster, and catcher Cliff Dapper went to the Atlanta Crackers in return.

Everyone loved Ernie, so I asked my Facebook friends to help with my column by posting some of their stories.

Rodney Crainer, Whittemore:

My dad has a cool story about sneaking the family’s transistor radio into his room to listen to Ernie and the Tigs on West Coast trips.

Debbie Furlo, Saginaw:

Ernie Harwell made me love baseball, and his voice was intoxicating and so easy to listen to. Never met the man, but kudos to him and condolences to his family and friends. I know there were many in his lifetime.

Terri Lewis, AuGres:

Ernie was, is and has always been a class act, facing his illness with courage and fighting his battle with the same dignity with which he lived his life. Tiger baseball will forever be changed.

Somewhere up there, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb are playing catch in the outfield. Jackie Robinson is taking some warm-up swings as Cy Young throws his last few pitches before the umpire yells “Play ball!” Angels are filing into their seats, anxious for the game to start. They just needed someone worthy to call the game.

He’s there now. We’ll miss you, Ernie!

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