Hall of Famer Memoir

Apr 20, 2010

<p><em><a href="mailto:aspeybw@interlochen.org">By Brad Aspey</a></em></p> <p>Many Hall of Famers have written memoirs about their lives in baseball, but Earnie Harwell has told his story in a more expressive way. <em> </em></p> <p><strong><em>" ... and that ball is looooong gone!"</em></strong><strong> <br /></strong>For many, spring in Michigan means camping, cherry blossoms and fishing, and for more than 40 years, Harwell's voice. He stopped calling Detroit Tiger games in 2002, and since then we've only heard his voice in bits and pieces, either in baseball documentaries or re-broadcasts of classic plays. But now, thanks to a 4-CD set called <em>Ernie Harwell's Audio Scrapbook</em>, fans of the game can enjoy hearing Ernie tell his story in his own voice. </p> <p>"Ty Cobb, I heard that Ty Cobb was coming down to his home town, Roysten, and I thought it might be good to go down there and interview him," Harwell tells this story in the new scrapbook. "The executives at WSB said, 'Well, Ty Cobb is just a mean old man and he's not going to talk to a kid reporter like you. </p> <p>"We took the big console down there to record. I went to his residence and Cobb welcomed me in and we sat down on his sofa. I had no problem with him at all, he was very cordial, very warm." <em> </em></p> <p><strong>Signature Calls<br /></strong>Ernie also provided plenty of tape from his days of calling games. Many of those clips feature Ernie delivering some of the signature calls that fans waited to hear again and again. </p> <p>"And there's a ball in there for a strike and he stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by." <strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Stories<br /></strong>The major portion of the more than 3-hour scrapbook is a conversation between Harwell and another sportscaster, Bob Harris. </p> <p>"This was not going to be 'Bob interviews Ernie project.' It was going to be two baseball fans sitting on a couch and talking baseball." </p> <p>Ernie talks about his introduction to sports media by landing a job with the Sporting News, and about re-creating baseball games before many stations could afford the technology to broadcast from the ballpark. A telegrapher would actually send Morse code to Ernie's booth and he would relay the information to listeners as if he was actually at the park. </p> <p>For the sound of hits, Ernie would simply smack a ruler on his desk. </p> <p>He also described his one meeting with Babe Ruth when Ernie was only 13. </p> <p>"And I ran up and said, 'Mr, Ruth, Mr. Ruth, can I have your autograph? And Babe Ruth said, 'Well, you don't anything to sign on.' So, I put my shoe up on the railing and Babe Ruth signed my shoe."<em> </em></p> <p><strong>Before The Tigers<br /></strong>Before going to call Tiger games in Detroit, Ernie announced for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was there when Jackie Robinson made history by joining the Dodgers and becoming the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues. Before that first game, the Ku Klux Klan wrote a letter to the Dodgers and threatened to shoot Robinson from the stands if he played. </p> <p>"After the threat they needed a little comic relief," Harwell says in the audio scrapbook. "Gene Hermansky, the good-humored outfielder said, 'Why don't we all wear No, 42, Jackie's number, so he won't know who to shoot.'" </p> <p>The rest of the scrapbook steers clear of most negative issues such as Astroturf and steroid use. The producer wanted listeners to feel as good as they did when they listened to Ernie live back in the day. And, of course, Ernie didn't forget talking about 1968, the year the Tigers won the World Series when the city of Detroit seemed to need it most. </p> <p>"Well, it was great in terms of healing the city because you could vote for a black guy, a white guy, a purple guy or a green guy just as long as he was a Tiger." <em> </em></p> <p><strong>Today<br /></strong>Today, Ernie suffers from late-stage cancer. He was diagnosed in September. He's changed his telephone number and is only in contact with his family. </p> <p>Miller keeps apprised of Ernie's condition through Ernie's daughter. The last he heard, Ernie takes walks around his home and remains upbeat. </p> <p>As Miller said, "He's the same ol' Ernie."</p>