Thursday, May 06, 2010

Ernie Harwell has Died.

Ernie Harwell (closest to camera) and George Kell calling a Tigers game in 1961.

The longtime Tigers broadcaster was 92.

I first heard Ernie cover a game in 1987. Harry Caray, the announcer for the Cubs had a stroke and number of guest announcers were brought in to cover for him while he was on the mend. George Will put in a fine effort as did then sitting President Ronald Reagan (a former Cubs announcer for WHO radio). Perhaps most impressive were his colleagues. One after another, virtually every current and many retired major league broadcaster took turns keeping Harry's seat warm while he recovered. Cub fans were given the remarkable opportunity hear America's game called by it's greatest voices. For me anyway Jack Buck, Vin Scully, and Mel Allen were among the very best and it was great to hear Jack Brickhouse behind the mic again. But the best...the best by far was Ernie Harwell of the Detroit Tigers.

He had been the announcer for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants before moving on to the Tigers in 1960. By the time I heard him he was already a legend. It seemed an honor just to hear him call a game. In a profession where you're paid to talk and "dead air" is feared more than anything else, Harwell was an anachronism. He had the self discipline to not talk. Better than anyone else I've ever heard, Harwell understood the natural rhythms of what is essentially a nineteenth century game. He allowed it to speak for itself, and in turn the listener was transported to to another time and place. A place where baseball's centrality in American life was absolutely unquestioned. It was old fashioned and decidedly unflashy...and wonderful. It was what baseball was meant to be.

He will be missed.

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