I don’t know how to start this post. The more I think about writing what I want to write about, the more I realize that I lack sufficient skill with the written word to convey what I want to convey.
Ernie Harwell is gone. I realize, to most of you, the death of the longtime Tigers broadcaster doesn’t mean much. I don’t know, maybe it does. Ernie has always been our voice, the voice of the Tigers, the voice of the state of Michigan. But the breadth and magnitude of the outpouring of sentiment this past week made me realize that he touched a heck of a lot more people than those within the state borders.
It seems like everyone in baseball has an Ernie Harwell story. Grizzled veterans of the game and superstars alike all seem to glow when they get to tell their own Ernie Harwell story. Mine is kind of stupid: I met him at the first Tigers game I ever went to. My dad’s company had a corporate event where Ernie agreed to show up, take pictures and sign autographs. I took a picture with him; that picture (which he autographed afterwards) is now one of my most treasured possessions. Funny thing is that I didn’t even know who he was at the time; I was just a stupid kid taking a picture with an old guy I didn’t know.
I had dinner with my dad this past week and we were having a very serious conversation over dinner. Afterwards, I asked him, “Hey…do you remember when we met Ernie Harwell?” We spent a few minutes recalling the experience and it was the first time he genuinely smiled all night. My dad knows who Ernie Harwell is. Not only that, the day Ernie died, my mom called me with the bad news. She thought somehow that I wouldn’t have heard; she thought it would only be local news. I mean, this is my mom, who only knows the name of a single baseball player (George Brett…because she used to live in Kansas)…but even she knows who Ernie Harwell is.
Despite my encounter with Ernie back when I was a kid, I can’t pretend to know him. I’m sure he wasn’t a perfect man. Perhaps he was not even a great man, but only because greatness is not what he strove for. He kept it simple; he loved his wife, he loved his God, he loved baseball and, based on the outpouring of sentiment nationwide last week, he was beloved by each person who was blessed enough to have met him (and even those that didn’t). We can only hope to live our lives as nobly.
Anyways, enough with my insufficient words. Here’s a link to Mitch Albom using his powers for good instead of evil.
And below is one of the best Ernie Harwell stories I heard last week:
MINNEAPOLIS — Longtime Twins radio play-by-play announcer John Gordon grew up in Detroit, so it’s no surprise that the legendary Ernie Harwell was a significant mentor.
That’s why the news of Harwell’s passing on Tuesday night at the age of 92 after a year-long battle with cancer affected Gordon, along with the rest of the baseball community.
One story that Gordon shared about Harwell was an interaction the two had last year when Gordon was in Michigan visiting his mother, who passed away about two weeks ago.
“Last year, I called Ernie and said, ‘Ernie, where do you live?’ He told me he lived in Novi,” Gordon said. “I said, ‘My mother lives in Novi.’
“He said, ‘No kidding, how far away?’ I told him. He said, ‘That’s very close to where I live. I’ll have to go over and visit her.'”
Gordon shared with Harwell that his mother was 95 and couldn’t see very well anymore or hear. The two left the conversation at that and when Gordon was visiting his mother the very next day at her home, he was surprised to see none other than Harwell walk in.
“I said, ‘Come on. You’ve got to be kidding me,'” Gordon said with a laugh. “My mother was so happy. She told everybody at the home, ‘Ernie Harwell visited today. Ernie Harwell visited today.'”