Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Voice of Baseball

Ernie Harwell recently made an appearance on MLB Network's Studio 42 with Bob Costas. I caught the first airing on Tuesday night. The program was taped during the World Series, and Harwell acknowledged it would probably be his last, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer of the bile duct in September of this year.

I was rapt throughout the interview, even though most of the content was already familiar. Mostly I wanted to just hear his voice, and listen to clips of him calling games. To see him speak with genuine humility about his career was something indeed. He essentially glossed over the fact that he is an beloved icon, not just here in Detroit, but throughout baseball. Ernie actually said he hoped that listeners of his broadcasts felt like he was their friend, because that's how he himself felt.

I hope he knows that he fostered the love of baseball for countless young fans, me chief among them. I knew he was something special even as a 14-year old newbie to baseball. His storytelling, historical knowledge, and letting the game speak for itself were all hallmarks that stood out even to my untrained mind.

One thing I did not realize, was that Ernie did not begin using his signature home run call "It's Looooooooooooooong Gone!" until the late 80s. He was not using it at the time of the 1984 World Series.

The interview should have been two hours, seriously. They could only touch briefly on subjects, many of which deserved lengthier treatment. Many others, such as Ernie's recommendation of Jose Feliciano to play the national anthem (which stirred up a firestorm of controversy at the time, after the unorthodox, but incredibly beautiful rendition), were not discussed at all. If, by chance you've never heard it, please give it a listen here.

The late Bo Schembechler has made himself some enemies beyond the grave after Harwell revealed that Bo walked past Ernie's outstretched hand at event they both attended (quite some time after his infamous firing of Harwell in 1990). Bewildering is it not, that Bo was the one to hold a grudge in that situation?

It's been a syrupy post, but I'm not apologetic. When Ernie quoted his "That's Baseball" speech from memory at the end of the interview, I won't lie, my eyes were not dry. My original tribute to Ernie can be found here.


Greg Eno said...


I think Bo's displeasure stemmed from what he perceived to be betrayal (believe it or not) by Ernie. Bo maintains Ernie promised him that he wouldn't take his beef public. Or, at least that he wouldn't make such a big deal about it (with a presser, etc).

I saw a sound bite from Bo and he was still VERY bitter about it.

"So THAT'S what I think of Ernie Harwell," I remember Bo spitting at the camera.

I guess Bo was a minority of one, though, who thought Ernie was a bad guy.

OldEnglish said...

Hey thanks for the great insight on that angle, Greg.