Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell Passes Away

Most baseball announcers are pretty irrelevant. They come and go without leaving much of a mark.

There are some announcers out there who make you want to watch a game with the TV on mute. Some are arrogant old blowhards. Others are frequently obnoxiously oblivious. Some are annoying homers.

But then there are the greats. Guys who make you want to listen to a game without watching it. Who paint a picture of the game in your mind that is better than the one on the field.

And then there was Ernie Harwell, who is in a class of his own.

Ernie always said it best, and I simply cannot come anywhere close to saying it as well, so I'll just let him do all the talking. Rest in peace Ernie.

"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 714 home runs.

“There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh 46 years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a 16-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 35 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 is just a game, 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 Series catch, and then dashing off to play stickball 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 baseball! Thank you.”

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