To Celebrate Ernie Harwell

There are thousands of reasons to love baseball, so many reasons that I find myself writing at least one baseball reference into pretty much anything I try to write (which always get edited out—because editors, in general, do not know baseball). And so it makes me extremely sad that Ernie Harwell is dying and not enough people know how great an impact he has had.

I’m not good with details, but I know Harwell was announcing baseball before I was born. I know that his was the first voice I heard describing the beauty of a Sweet Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammel double play. His was the voice I heard when I cried after Guillermo Hernandez blew the ’89 pennant for the Tigers. When my parents were fighting late into the night, his pipes filled my Walkman Sport headphones, assuring me that the Tigers were playing in Oakland and everything would be okay. I know I’m writing in the passive voice, but that’s how Harwell would like it… describing things slowly, announcing the score every couple of minutes just in case someone new tuned in.

Every time I see “a house by the side of the road” (google this phrase if you don’t know it, I implore you) I think of Harwell. Babe Ruth reminds me of Harwell (my father gave me Harwell’s book The Babe Signed My Shoe for Christmas in 1994). The Detroit Tigers remind me of Harwell, and I follow them every day…

Upon learning of his impending death, Harwell remarked that he was doing okay because he could eat ice cream again, like when he was a kid, and not gain weight. He still goes for walks with his wife, and holds her hand everywhere. There is something profoundly sad and uplifting about this. Ernie seems okay with where he is going, but I’m not. I wish he could still announce those games, that I could put them on my ipod and fall asleep to them—I don’t care if the Tigers lose every game like they used to—I just want Ernie to call them.

Ernie reminds me what it’s like to think hope springs eternal (listen to his first game of spring training broadcast and don’t tell me you won’t promise to be a better person), to love green grass and curveballs, and to never forget what kind of joy a ballgame can bring. I always thought that these things, like baseball, like Ernie Harwell, were immortal.

To be contrite and screenwriter-centric, Ernie has been my voiceover for these past 26 years. All I want to do is to not think about this, but I know that he would say differently: for you Mr. Harwell: I will not stand by the side of the road and watch this one go by.