Ernie Harwell taught me baseball. I would lay awake at night with my transistor radio under my pillow listening to the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers. I didn’t know which player was on which team, but as I listened night after night, summer after summer, I learned everything I needed to know about baseball from Ernie Harwell.
Ernie Harwell taught me storytelling. He didn’t just broadcast a game, he painted a picture. His descriptive phrases told so much:
- “He digs in at the plate waiting for this 3-2 pitch. Bent at the knees, his two-toned bat waving behind his right ear.”
- “The lanky right-hander goes into the wind up and delivers.”
- “There’s a fly ball to deep left field. It’s loooooong gone!”
- The Tigers didn’t just turn a double-play, they “got two for the price of one.”
- A batter didn’t just look at a called third strike, he was “called out for excessive window shopping” or “he stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.”
Ernie Harwell taught me graciousness. After 30 years of serving as the Tiger’s play-by-play voice, he was unceremoniously fired in 1991. What did Mr. Harwell say? “The Tigers had plans that didn’t include me. I’ll always be grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with such a fine organization.” And after the public outcry restored him to his broadcast booth position the following season, he never once gloated.
Ernie Harwell taught me how to finish well. He finished his career well. He died last night with his wife of 69 years sitting by his side. When he announced last year that he had inoperable cancer, he said he was ready for the next great adventure. He loved Jesus, but never flaunted his personal relationship with Christ. He simply lived it out every single day. I can’t imagine that anyone has an unkind thing to say about this great man.
The radio voice may be silenced, but his lessons will continue to live on in me.