The Last Inning

Just outside Detroit’s Comerica Park stands a larger than life statue of a legend.  Any casual passerby instantly recognizes the countenance of Ernie Harwell, the Tigers’ Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer, and before that, voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles.  Over the years Harwell, now 91, painted the never-ending summer epic unfolding in the green cathedrals of baseball.  Last week, Harwell calmly announced he has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

If you’re into Baseball trivia, it’s recorded that Harwell is the only announcer ever traded for a player when  the Dodgers’ general manager traded a catcher to the Atlanta Crackers in order to gain Harwell’s broadcasting contract from WSB.  A stylistic cross between Vin Scully and Dick Enberg, Harwell’s enduring story-telling fortified with rapier-sharp baseball intricacies personified all that is  or ever was baseball.  Through forty years of simmering summer days and cool Michigan nights, from Toledo all the way to the vast expanse of Lake Superior shores in the far-western Upper Peninsula, Ernie Harwell was the sound of summer across the Great Lakes.

Not a firebrand the ilk of Harry Caray, or like so many of today’s in-your-face sportscasters, Ernie Harwell held the temperament of your favorite uncle or your nicest neighbor.  Revered for his homilies, Harwell would predictable remark upon a strikeout, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road” or “He’s out for excessive window shopping; looked at one too many.” When someone in the crowd caught a foul ball, Harwell would quip, “A young man from Mount Pleasant caught that ball”, having not the slightest idea of the fan’s identity.  When a manager left a pitcher in the game under duress with runners on base, Harwell would likely offer, “He has decided to ride the rapids with the incumbent.”  You knew it was coming, but you loved it just the same.

Born in Georgia and discovered by WSB, Ernie Harwell endured throughout good seasons and bad, prosperous times and the low moments such as those that Detroiters face today.  For 42 years, Harwell rode the wave of Tiger history, all the way to the Hall of Fame.  In early fall 2002 Harwell broadcast his final game only to redirect his energies to kids’ causes and baseball charities, extending his world class charm and humility to thousands of Americans.

Each year in the spring during the first-game broadcast, Ernie Harwell read from “Song of Solomon”:  “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”  And in the green cathedral on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, disciples heard his soothing voice, the hum of the crowd, a vendor’s cry the crack of a bat.  All was well again.

Since hearing of Harwell’s diagnosis, generations of fans by the thousands have emotionally express their love and adoration for this humble Georgian who simply loved telling the story of baseball.

There are other great sportscasters, honored in their own time and place…but there will never be another Ernie Harwell.  In the days ahead, Baseball still has time to properly say, “thank you Ernie”, and in doing so, take solace in knowing Ernie Harwell had all his innings.

This Guest Blog was written by Tim Moore of Audience Development Group, author of the “Midweek Motivator”,  http://www.audiencedevelopmentgroup.com

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