There’s a lot on the minds of Philly sports fans right now. The tazer incident, the Flyers playoff run, the Chooch walkoff, and all of these seemingly big things in this city.
But let me tell you about someone who is much bigger than all of that.
You could call him Detroit’s Harry Kalas. Maybe the Tiger’s Jack Buck. He was to Comercia Field as Vin Scully is to Dodger Stadium. His name was Ernie Harwell. And he truly was a great man.
Harwell lost his nearly year-long battle with cancer Tuesday night, passing away at his home in Novi, Michigan. He told the world eight months ago that he only had months left and would likely never see another Tigers game.
We all saw that unforgettable moment, when Harwell said goodbye to the fans he introduced baseball to through his tremendous career. It was hard not to cry, watching a man who knew he’d never see another All-Star Game and likely never another Opening Day say goodbye to those he introduced to his favorite game when they were just children, 40 years ago. And as Harwell walked off the field he managed to show to so many fans through his words for 55 years, 42 of which he spent in Detroit, a little piece of baseball left with him.
We try really hard to keep the focus here about Philly sports, but Ernie Harwell broke every barrier that can be broken. He meant the world to baseball and he will be sorely missed. In his own way, Harwell transcended baseball. His seemingly hokey calls and amazing ability to capture the biggest moments marked a man who has a place among any broadcasting great.
Take a minute and remember Ernie Harwell, who is the latest in a dying generation of announcing greats. I wanted to share with you a speech Harwell delivered during his Hall of Fame induction about, what else, baseball.
It’s a special speech by a special man. We’ll miss you, Ernie.
Ernie Harwell was 92.
Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his (Babe Ruth’s) 714 home runs.
There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.
Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.
Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.
Baseball just a came as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.
Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World’s Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying., “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front”, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.
Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this is baseball!