Heaven's Play-by-Play Man

The Guideposts editor-in-chief pays a tribute to baseball announcer, Ernie Harwell.

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I remember the soft summer nights with a transistor radio tucked under my pillow listening to the unforgettable voice of Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell calling the final innings of a game from Tiger Stadium, the great gray hulk of a ballpark that loomed over downtown Detroit, astride the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues. High in the upper reaches of the stadium was Ernie's pulpit from which he preached the gospel of Detroit Tigers baseball, through the good seasons and bad, over the course of five decades.

It was a voice that heralded the arrival of the chilly Michigan spring and the fading of a too-short summer into fall, a voice that was never angry, never indifferent, never pessimistic. It was commanding and resonant yet smoothened by the hint of a cottony Georgia drawl. It was the voice of a good man, and we all knew it. That good man recently told the world that at 91, only a relatively few years into retirement, he is facing an unwinnable battle with cancer.

It was one of the great thrills of my career to interview Ernie for the cover of GUIDEPOSTS some 20 years ago. He welcomed me into his home in his stocking feet and we sat at the kitchen while his wife, LuLu, perhaps his only earthly love greater than the Tigers, served us ham salad sandwiches and sweet iced tea and Ernie shared his memories of growing up in Georgia and his boyhood dream of being a broadcaster. He had such a manifest destiny for his calling that the men around his local soda fountain used to hoist him up on a stool and make him pretend to call games, a Coke bottle standing in for a mike.

Ernie is as gracious and humble a man as I have ever met, and possessed of such deep and genuine faith that you know exactly what he believes without him having to say it. He encouraged me early in my days at GUIDEPOSTS when I wasn't sure if this was the right place for me (Ernie, of course, was right) and it is hard to imagine the world without him. Yet Ernie has said he is grateful for every day of life the Lord has given him and will not ask for more than it is His will to grant him. And if there's baseball in heaven, I'm pretty certain Ernie will be asked to do the play-by-play. I just pray he is given a couple of extra innings before then.

I haven't talked to Ernie in a number of years, since I stopped by the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium when the Tigers were in town. Of course, Ernie took time out from his pre-game preparations to say hello to a couple of star-struck Tigers fans whom I'd promised would get to meet him. It was a great night.

This is the second consecutive sports-type blog I've posted, which is unusual. But Ernie Harwell transcends the sport he loves. He made baseball a better sport, and taught a lot of us how to love it, and that will inspire me for a lifetime. Thanks, Ernie, for the call.

If you'd like to see Ernie's farewell address at Detroit's Comerica Park, check out this video. But grab the Kleenex first.

Edward Grinnan is Editor-in-Chief and Vice President of GUIDEPOSTS Publications.

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