Blog Entry

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Posted on: May 4, 2010 9:32 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2010 9:38 pm

The world is a little less gracious, a little less gentlemanly tonight. Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell is gone, probably talking with baseball fans in heaven above in that beautiful, courtly manner of his, and the voice of our game is momentarily silenced and forever changed.

If Michigan summers could talk, they would sound like Ernie Harwell: Relentlessly sunny and optimistic. I wrote those words last September after one of the greatest baseball voices of our time went public with his battle with cancer and, on this sad evening, I can't say it better than that.

I wrote this, too:

I know I'm not alone here: I listened to him on my transistor radio while on our swing set as a kid, on a portable radio in the backyard as the weekend sun shone and the Wiffle balls flew, on the car radio while my father took me to my Little League games. I listened on my alarm radio while falling asleep at night, on my car stereo as the high school years rolled past, on friends' radios as we played basketball on summer nights, ate pizza and laughed.

When the Tigers played out west and I worked early mornings in college, I'd go to bed by 11 and set the alarm clock twice, the first time for around 12:45 a.m. That way, I could listen to the last inning from Anaheim or Oakland and get the score before falling asleep for good. And when I left Michigan and sorely missed those warm summer nights with a wide open future, I listened to Ernie in rental cars when I returned, as good a Visitors' Bureau as any state could ever have.

I wrote several other things that day as well and, for those of you who missed it, here they are.


Meantime, as we observe a moment of silence, I'll leave you with Ernie's beautiful "definition of baseball", as he put it, from the end of his Hall of Fame speech in 1981. Those of you who read this blog regularly or semi-regularly know my affinity for picking out a Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day. Well, today, this is it, and it is perfect:

"Baseball is the president tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his 714 home runs.

“There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh 46 years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a 16-year-old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.

“In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.

“Baseball is a rookie, his experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of 35 hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.

“Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over-aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

“Baseball is just a game, as simple as a ball and bat, yet as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.

“Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World Series catch, and then dashing off to play stickball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, ‘I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.’

“Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, ‘Down in front,’ ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’

“Baseball is a tongue-tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball! Thank you.”

Rest in peace, Ernie. You were beautiful. And prayers for his family.

Category: MLB

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: November 27, 2010 8:37 pm

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

In the summer days of my youth I would listen to my transistor radio and dream of the great tiger players. I miss that golden voice of Ernie Harwell and his co-announcer George Kell. Those my friends WERE the days.

Since: Nov 8, 2006
Posted on: November 26, 2010 8:47 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Jack Buck (Cardinals), Bob Prince (Pirates), Mel Allen (Yankees), Vin Scully (Dodgers), George Kell and Ernie Harwell (Tigers), these were the voices of my childhood. I am so proud to have heard them and they will never be replaced by the babbling talking heads of today.

Since: Nov 9, 2006
Posted on: May 5, 2010 4:03 pm

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Forty years ago, in the garage working on my bike with my dad. Cicadas humming in the trees...listening to the Tigers. Ernie says "he stood there like a house by the side of the road" for the millionth time. That, Ray Kinsella, was heaven.

Since: Apr 1, 2010
Posted on: May 5, 2010 11:53 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

I am so sad to hear that Ernie passed away, but so very priviliged to have grown up listening to him on the radio. Being 36 years old now, one of my first memories of Ernie was when my sister and I would spend the weekend at my grandparents house and we would play out back during the summer evenings listening to the games on my grandma's old Philco transistor radio (which I still have). And what a great Christmas present I received as an 8 year old when my parents bought me a digital alarm clock. That hunk of a clock radio was the gateway to listening to Ernie and Paul every night while falling asleep in my bedroom. Then there were the times when I was older and driving up north on a summer night with Ernie and Paul calling a game, keeping me company when the drive was so lonely at times. There would come a point when I would begin to lose reception about halfway up and the mad scramble that would ensue trying to find the local station that carries the broadcast. I know it might seem like an overused cliche, but losing Ernie really does feel like I am losing a favorite uncle or something. There is no such thing as perfection in my mind, but Ernie Harwell was about as close as a human could get to it.

Since: Feb 1, 2010
Posted on: May 5, 2010 9:50 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Beautifully written. I have fond memories of travelling to Detroit or in surrounding areas and my father picking up the Detroit feed. My father first spoke of Ernie Harwell and his famous voice. My increasing love for baseball sent me out into my father's car in the evenings to pick up various feeds. I was always able to pick up the Detroit feed (while living in Toronto) and Harwell's voice always stuck out.

I grew listening to Toronto Baseball with Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth. Tom Cheek was the Ernie Harwell of Toronto Blue Jays baseball. His voice was recognized from city to city, and he was well known for never missing a bluejays game. His passion for the game was obvious in his coverage of each game, and he inspired others to tune in. My father used to make a point of listening to the game even though it was covered on television. There was something about his play by play that brought greater life to the action.

Tom Cheek passed away several years ago and I recall it having an equally strong impact on me. I missed his voice and felt tuning in difficult from that point on.

People like Ernie Harwell don't come into the sport everyday. He'll be missed for sure.

Since: Sep 28, 2006
Posted on: May 5, 2010 9:16 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Growing up in a suburb of Detroit in the 70's through the mid 80's, I fondly recall tuning in to Ernie Harwell's broadcast on a near nightly basis.  Playing 2nd base as a kid in the Harper Woods Little League, I tried to emmulate Lou Whitaker. I can still hear Ernie Harwell talking about the immortal double play combo of "Sweet Lou and Alan Trammell." My family moved to Florida in 1984. Talk about rotten timing, the Tigers, "Bless you Boys", started that season 35-5 enroute to winning the World Series. After our move to the Tampa area, I never heard Ernie Harwell broadcast another game live but I can still hear his voice echoing. My grandfather and I would listen to games on his white transistor radio and he'd refer to the Tigers players as "those bums!!!" I hope I can find some of his broadcasts on    
Rest In Peace, Ernie and thank you for a lifetime of memories.

Since: May 11, 2007
Posted on: May 5, 2010 9:11 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Beast--I didn't mean to make a comparison, just to note that our guys were Murph and Ralph.  As Mets fans we've been very, very lucky to have some of the best in the game over the years.  Bob Murphy is like the voice to the soundtrack of my childhood.  I'm 40, so my memory of Lindsey Nelson really isn't there in the same way as the other two amazing guys.

I think Murph was our Harwell.  As a fan you felt like he was a friend (or in my case an uncle) that watched the games with you.  You almost felt like he was sitting on the couch with you while you watched--or listened.  I never cry when someone famous dies.  I did when I got the news about Murph, and I still get that feeling now.  I think that's what Tiger fans that grew up listening to Ernie Harwell are feeling now.

Let's just remember that sometimes it's good to concentrate on the person at hand instead of trying to redirect to our own guys, who definitely deserve the honor and memory...but this is a day about Ernie Harwell and nobody else.

Since: Dec 19, 2006
Posted on: May 5, 2010 8:35 am

Guarentees in Life

There are certain guarentees in life that people say are just that, a guarentee: death and taxes.  Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, throughout the 80s and most of the 90s I always thought Ernie Harwell doing Tigers games was another guarentee.  God love him and his family!

Since: Nov 22, 2006
Posted on: May 5, 2010 8:33 am

Definition of baseball? Ernie Harwell is in there

Well stated by all - as a lifelong Tiger fan, it's not difficult to say that Ernie was and will continue to be representative of everything Tiger fans love about their team, city and state.

How ironic that in this day and age, where we can listen to baseball radio broadcasts from all over the country ... that there are fewer and fewer great voices all the time. 

Since: Mar 7, 2008
Posted on: May 5, 2010 7:24 am
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