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My Ernie Harwell Story

May 9, 2010

Ernie Harwell speaks to the crowd in Detroit one last time.

Venerable Detroit Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell died last week at the age of 92. The game’s writers quickly gathered to pay tribute to Harwell, who, along with other greats like Vin Scully, likely defined the role of a radio commentator. This is my own Harwell story:

I really liked baseball on the radio when I was a kid, probably because we didn’t have cable and I didn’t even realize I could watch the players without being at the stadium. I still think it’s my favorite way to experience the game. One season, I listened to every single contest the Pirates played, in its entirety. This was still when my brother and I still shared a room, so we had three TVs (one with a PS2, one with an XBox and one with a Gamecube), a stereo, and a record player (a relic from the ’70s) that somehow had really long-range reception.

One day, I grabbed a book off of the wooden shelf outside the downstairs bathroom (the top shelf of that is predominantly sports books and the left-side is almost entirely baseball). That books was by Harwell, I think, and recounted some of his memories of the game. I decided that I wanted to hear him announce at least once, if he was still around.

So I picked up my dad’s copy of the Sporting News baseball preview (this is before my family had the Internet, remember) and found out what channel Detroit’s broadcasts were on. After the Pirates finished a game early one night (It was probably one of those mid-July contests that they seem to play every year, where the visiting team’s unknown pitcher manages to set the Pirates’ hitters down routinely while the offense just doesn’t seem to have the heart to truly slaughter the Pirates’ pitcher, so every score for two or three weeks in the middle of the season ends up being 5-1 Not Pittsburgh.), I played around with the dial until I somehow found the right station in the sonic abyss.

And there he was. He was damn good and somehow, through all of the little crackles and fuzz, made that Detroit team (remember, those were the really terrible Tiger teams – almost historically bad) entertaining to a kid in a city halfway across the continent who had absolutely no vested interest in the result of game 86 of 162. I don’t remember the way he called balls and strikes or any of his catch phrases. This only happened one time and I was just happy to be listening. I do remember, though, being proud that I had found this voice, this seeming relic of the game’s golden days, floating through the air, and proud that he and I felt the same way about this game.

That’s it.

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