This was impossible to write.
When I was about 10 years old, I met Ernie Harwell. I walked into the broadcast booth of the old Tiger Stadium with my father, and greeted Ernie’s then partner, Jim Price. After hanging out for a little while, my father chatting with Mr. Price, in walked a short statured older man. He may as well have been 10 feet tall. It was Ernie Harwell in the flesh, larger than life.
I wish I could remember the specifics of our conversation. What I do remember is the unbelievable kindness with which he treated me. He had that uncommon ability to make anyone feel special, even complete strangers. I was a wide-eyed elementary school student. Ernie could easily have shook my hand, took a picture and gone about his business. But that was never Ernie’s style. He engaged me. He cared.
And that personal encounter I had with Ernie was embodied in who he was as a broadcaster. Ernie would give the score often. He would randomly assign hometowns to fans that caught foul balls. He developed his catch phrases like “longggg gone,” “He stood there like the house on the side of the road,” “He was caught window shopping,” or, “A fastball right down Woordward.” But most importantly, Ernie stepped aside and let the game do the talking. Wojo from The Detroit News put it best:
“Who, in a high-profile business, stays out of the way anymore?”
That was Ernie.
There’s been a lot written the past few days about Ernie Harwell. I can’t really add much to the extraordinary words that have been spoken by media, friends and family.
What I can say, though, from my personal encounter and listening to him as a kid, is that Ernie was like a comfortable blanket. Many people say that sports themselves are an escape, but having Ernie’s voice enhanced it greatly. Many times people, including my family, timed their journeys so as to coincide with a Tiger broadcast.
Sports are entertainment, to be sure. What was more than entertainment, however, was Ernie’s ability to make everything okay simply by describing Cecil Fielder’s home run. He had an intangible gift to inspire and soothe at the same time. From his decades long marriage with Lulu, to the way he lead his life on a daily basis, we can all learn something from Ernie Harwell.
Ernie had a huge impact on my decision to attend Emerson College and pursue a career in Broadcasting. As I begin my career, I have many goals as a journalist. I have a deep passion for reporting, for chasing down stories, and for performing the basic function of the press, to inform. But not lost in that is my desire to be someone who can just talk to people as a friend, whether that’s through a camera, microphone, or with a pen. When Ernie broadcast a Tiger game, it was my friend describing the game to me.
I’ll miss you, friend. Let the celebration of your life continue.
Ernie Harwell 1918-2010