Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Happy 94th birthday, Ernie Harwell

Today would have been Ernie Harwell's 94th birthday.

I grew up in the fine company of Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller, Joe Angel, Ken Levine and later Fred Manfra and Jim Hunter, calling Baltimore Orioles games on 1500-AM WTOP.

I did not grow up with Ernie Harwell, though I surely wish I did.  I was a Detroit Tigers fan, after all, despite my Maryland residence.  Ernie personified the same things that I admire in life:  respect and consideration for others, enjoyment of the grand ol' game, and a love for a good story.

When I was hired to work for the Lugnuts in 2009, my father sent Ernie a letter.  In it, he explained my love for the Tigers, my admiration for Mr. Harwell (I own his audio CD collection), and my recently-gained employment as voice of the team down the road in Lansing.  Ernie responded with a letter to me, writing that he enjoyed hearing from my father and he hoped we would be able get together one day.

And so we did, meeting on an off-day that summer.  It was not a very long confab, but the minutes brimmed with treasure.

The format was simple:  Ernie asked me a simple question about myself, I would offer my reply, and this would then trigger a magnificent story in Ernie's memory.  At times, he resembled Scheherezade, inserting an anecdote within an anecdote.  While painting the picture of his first game in the Major Leagues, for instance, he set about describing the bench-clearing brawl in his very first inning, idly tossing in the comment, "You know, that pitcher would later have his nose bitten off in a bar fight."  And then, as my mouth fell open, he was already off to his next story.

One thing I've found remarkable about life is that people generally praise in others qualities that they don't have in great abundance within themselves.  With Ernie, he had so many magnificent attributes and strengths of character, everyone found something to extoll.  People who did not have any real need to get along with anybody else -- well, they could not get over just how kind and caring Ernie was to everyone he met.  Those who did not read as much as they felt they should praised Ernie's literary acumen.  Those who did not trust others easily praised Ernie for how rock-solid trustworthy he was.  And so on, and so forth...

Whoever you were, you found attributes in great abundance within William Earnest Harwell that you wished you had, too, like his great balance of faith in humanity and in religion; or the love between him and Lulu, his wife; or the way he connected with all of his loyal listeners, so that they all felt as though they were his family.

Here's what I admired the most about Ernie Harwell:  I was not very long in his company, and I knew that he possessed a remarkable balance of confidence, dignity, and humility.  There have been many Great Men and Women in this world who accomplished a Great Many Things. I don't know if I would have enjoyed any of their company more than I enjoyed the warm, sensible, witty company of Ernie Harwell.

Whether on the radio or in person, Ernie was the finest of company to keep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful! Thanks for writing it.