You knew this was going to happen, probably sooner instead of later. The mortality of human life dictated it.
But somehow knowing Ernie Harwell has taken his last breath is still saddening.
I hadn't known how to respond to Ernie's illness. The last thing he wanted was sympathy. He lived a good life, and knew it. He was at peace.
Like everybody else, I grew up with Ernie as my voice of the summer. Sneaking the transistor
radio to bed to listen to the Tigers' games isn't a myth. I did it. So did every other kid I knew.
The Tigers back then had a grip on this town no other team has since. Baseball was the clear-cut
king. Ernie's deep voice echoed throughout the kingdom.
But his impact on me truly became profound the moment I first actually met him. It was my first Tigers' game as a reporter. I was covering high schools and answering phones for The Oakland Press, working 80 hours per week for pay that was ridiculously low. I wasn't even on staff. It was 1983. The Tigers were building toward 1984. Don Frost, the sports editor at the time, called me and said the Tigers' beat writer couldn't cover a Sunday afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He said covering the game was my reward for a job well done.
I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was when I hung up the phone - until I actually arrived at the ball park. I went into the clubhouse, and while standing in manager Sparky Anderson's office, I broke out in a cold sweat. I was scared to death. I walked out of the clubhouse totally humiliated
without saying a word.
I was standing at the door of the elevator, looking down and feeling
ill. All of a sudden, this hand jetted in front of my face and I heard that voice: "Hi, I'm Ernie Harwell. Good to meet you."
I can't tell you much at ease it made me feel. Or how often I have thought of that moment, or repeated it to friends down through the years. It was a defining moment of my life.
Only Ernie could have that type of impact with such a simple gesture. Beyond his ability as a broadcaster, it was his great gift.
Those of us who knew Ernie better than the general public, we'll all tell you the stories are true. Even in his
more human moments, when what might be perceived as flaws would be exposed, Ernie never tried to cover them up. It was "this is what I am. I'm not perfect
." But he did so with grace.
I respected his knowledge of the game - and incredible recall about the past - more than anybody I've met. I admired his graciousness. More than anything else, I loved Ernie's approach to life. He was spiritual, yes, but didn't knock you over the head with it. He definitely wasn't afraid to put people in their place. And he was unyieldingly loyal.
His wife, Lulu, is a truly wonderful person. Seeing them together was always, to me, the definition of what a marriage should be. My heart goes out to her and Ernie's family.
I know this: I'm still going to hear Ernie voice the rest of my life. I won't have to put his audio scrapbook in to hear it - although I undoubtedly
will, and often.
That voice is there in my heart - just like you. And it will resonate
as loudly in his death as it did in life.
Labels: Ernie Harwell