Every spring I miss Ernie Harwell.
Harwell was the long-time radio, and sometimes TV, announcer for the Detroit Tigers. His voice was smooth and his stories were delights.
Ernie, as everyone knew him, had interviewed and traveled with baseball’s greats of the classic era. He would occasionally talk about those greats on a personal level. He told stories about them no one had heard before.
Ernie was also noted for his catch-phrase of “he stood there like the house by the side of the road,” when a batter watched a third strike zip by without swinging.
Another of his quirks was to declare the hometown of someone in the stands who caught a foul ball. “That was caught by a young lady from Ludington,” he would announce. He must have kept a list of the towns as I never heard him duplicate one.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU
It was Ernie’s voice, and his love of baseball and the way he presented that love every day of the season through his microphone to my radio, that hooked me on the Tigers.
In 1967, Ernie and his color man, Ray Lane, described every play of the Tigers close-but-no-cigar quest for the pennant. Listening to them, I could fade off and envision a hitter at the plate, rapping the bat on his cleats one by one, then taking a few warm-up cuts. I was there and saw it all through magic of radio.
When Ernie announced the ball was driven hard into the left-center field gap and off the wall, I saw the old Tiger Stadium’s low, blue outfield wall with the upper deck in the background held up by steel girders. Old fashioned gridwork steel held up the lightstands overhead. I could see the fans in the front row of the lower deck dangling their arms over the wall to try and catch the ball.
Ernie, and all current baseball radio announcers, paint pictures of the action with every syllable. Their brush strokes are just the right adjective and verb spoken quickly, and sometimes shouted in their frenzy to describe the action.
If they are doing their job right, the listener is in the ballpark with them, maybe in the box seats, craning to see the action as a vendor passes cold, foamy beers down the aisle in front of them.
That’s what Ernie did. He took me away from the disturbing outside world of my youth that featured war, riots and social upheaval. For nine innings I was at Tiger stadium, or maybe the old Comiskey Park, no matter where I was at.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU
I still listen to the games on the radio. But my “radio” these days is either my iPad or iPhone. I do occasionally break out an old black plastic radio with its tiny speaker and six-pack of C batteries to catch a game while I am working in the yard. But often-as-not, I just tune into the Tigers’ channel on my iPhone, plug in the earphones and tuck the phone into a pocket.
The other day I realized my listening to the game with my phone in my shirt pocket was exactly like listening to the 1968 World Series in junior high school with a little red and white transistor radio in my shirt pocket. The only difference is I don’t have to remove a pocket protector to get the phone to fit.
I really enjoy modern tablets, computers and cell phones and use them constantly to contact family members and inform you readers. I also find taking videos with them provide even more information to you.
But when it comes to baseball, I can’t move away from listening, and transforming the sounds of the game into visions of Tigers clad in cleats and stark white uniforms with blue piping and an old-English D on their chests, skimming across the green grass of Comerica Park. It’s a delight that I hope continues as long as there is baseball.
Every spring I miss Ernie Harwell.
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