And He Stood There Like The House By The Side Of The Road
Any of you that follow this blog, or check out my Facebook page can probably gather without a magnifying glass that I’m somewhat of a baseball guy. Yesterday baseball lost, not only one of its great broadcasters, but it’s great men, and the world lost one of the nicest human beings to ever grace the planet. I’ve never met Ernie, but several people have, and maybe even some of you reading this have, and they can all say that what I typed above is not an embellishment or exaggeration.
I’m fortunate enough to have grown up during part of my prime baseball years listening to Ernie. I will never forget him. I also have very fond memories of George Kell, and Al Kaline calling games when I was growing up, but before the days of the Pro Am Sports System (who remembers PASS?), Fox Sports Detroit, and cable television, one or two games a week were on TV, so if you were a diehard baseball fan you listened to Ernie on WJR.
Too many broadcasters today are “homers”, too big a fan of the teams they are broadcasting. While I do like the quirkiness of Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, the TV announcer for the White Sox (I do like how he quickly says “he gone” when an opposing player strikes out), it isn’t classic play by play game calling. He is a fan, saying things like “get up there” when a ball is hit trying to coax it over the wall for a home run. This is over the top.
Ernie was what you rarely see in broadcasters anymore. He was a Tiger fan, make no mistake about it, but he did it in such an eloquent way, that you barely noticed. The way he could visualize with words, you almost felt like you were watching the game on the radio. He was a master at letting the game come to you by saying nothing, letting the sounds of the stadium radiate through the radio for a moment before he began speaking again. And finally you never went to long without knowing the score of the game thanks to a little hour glass that Ernie had with him in the booth. And I will always smile when I think of him saying “thank ya Paul” coming out of a commercial break when Paul Carey would hand the mic back over to Ernie after reading an ad or announcement.
And now that he has passed, you are hearing stories of how great a person he was, inviting random fans to lunch and dinner, going out of his way to greet fans at spring training and at Tiger Stadium. He was truly a great person treating everyone the same from the owner of the ball club to the janitor that cleans the urinal troughs at Tiger Stadium; everyone seemed equal in Ernie’s eyes.
In my mind, Ernie was truly the best broadcaster ever to sit behind the microphone, and will never be replaced. I know I’m a biased Tiger fan, and I never had the fortune of listening to Mel Allen, or Jack Buck, but Ernie was #1 when it comes to base play by play guys.
1a on my list (again in my humble opinion) is Vin Scully. I’ve called Vin “the Ernie Harwell on the left coast” for a while. Both of them had the same uncanny ability to become part of the background of a baseball game, while being the primary voice that tells everyone what is going on. The game was first, and the play by play voice was only there to add to it, not to overshadow it. Truly a skill that I think is under appreciated.
Over the course of my career, I've made a handful of trips to LA for work. Aside from the weather I really don't like LA, and rarely look forward to going. One thing I do look forward to is the possibility I might get to listen to Vin Scully I don't know if it's because he called the 1984 world series for the Tigers (at the time I was 10) but I've always enjoyed listening to Vin Scully call a game. So I thought Mr. Scully could say it better than I could ever type. This excerpt is from the Dodger broadcast last night after Vin had learned Ernie passed away. I’ve attached the link, and then the text in case you can’t get to the video, but watching and hearing it is the only real way to appreciate Mr. Scully, and of course Mr. Harwell.
I have a problem and I hope you will understand and bear with me.
One of the finest men we have ever met and a great broadcaster, he's in the Hall of Fame, Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Tigers for so many years, who started with the Dodgers broadcasting in 1948, passed away today.
The strike two pitch is outside, ball one.
But there's a great story about Ernie, who came to the Dodgers in 1948 and '49, then he went to the Giants, and then he was with the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1991, and from 1993 through 2002.
The pitch to Reed Johnson is down and away.
So I really want to salute him and at the same time I don't want to get in the way of the ballgame, so see if we can possibly do both.
Two-and-two the count to [Reed] Johnson.
Before Ernie Harwell ever made it to the big leagues, he established a record, as Reed hits it foul down the line.
What happened was, in 1948, the Dodgers were in Pittsburgh on an off-day. Red Barber was going to play golf at the Pittsburgh Field Club, and instead he hemorrhaged and was rushed to an emergency hospital, and the Dodgers had one announcer — a good one — by the name of Connie Desmond. But one announcer with a full season ahead is pretty tough.
Two-two pitch is high, ball three.
Now, Branch Rickey, who ran the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a friend by the name of Arthur Mann, who ran the Atlanta Crackers in the Sally league. So Branch Rickey called Arthur Mann and said, "I need your announcer." And Arthur Mann said, "I need a catcher."
Here's the three-two pitch coming up to Reed Johnson. Fastball lifted back of first, down the line. A trio of Brewers, it'll be the right fielder Corey Hart making the play, and we have one out.
So a deal was set up. The Dodgers sent a catcher, Clint Dapper, to Atlanta. And the Atlanta club sent Ernie Harwell to the Brooklyn Dodgers. So Ernie was the first and only baseball broadcaster to be involved in a trade.
He was such a lovely man, everybody loved Ernie, and eventually he just stole the hearts of everybody in Detroit and the state of Michigan, and for that matter anybody who loved baseball.
Russell Martin takes high, ball one, one and oh.
Ernie was blessed, I mean really blessed. He lived to be 91, and he was married for over 67 years, to the same lady by the name of Lulu.
There's a ground ball to short. Up to get it is Escobar, takes care of Martin. So we have two down in the first inning.
Well, Ernie passed away just about two hours ago or thereabouts. I never could say God bless you to Ernie because God had blessed him indeed. And from what I heard, the last time I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, he was ready to go. He was totally and completely at peace. You and I should be that lucky.
So anyway, we say goodbye to Ernie today. Detroit's in Minnesota. I wish they'd been at home, but they weren't. And we have lost a very dear, gentle soul, Ernie Harwell.
Okay, two out, first inning, no score....
Thanks for stopping by -- Dan