Baseball lost a great one today with the news coming out tonight that Ernie Harwell died today. He was 92.
He lived a full life and will always be known as one of the greatest to ever work behind a microphone. I met him just once and over the winter wrote about that.
RIP Ernie, you were a wonderful human, so good for this game and will never, ever be forgotten.
Below is that story.
I don’t remember too many facts from that day. I know it was March, perhaps in 2003 and I was at the ballpark in Lakeland, Florida, getting ready for a spring-training broadcast.
That day I would host the Orioles pre game show for my then employer, WBAL Radio. It was several hours before the game and almost no one was in the stadium at the time.
I was the only person in the main area of the press box for a while. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. An older, gray-haired man extended his hand and said “Hi, I’m Ernie Harwell, welcome to Lakeland.”
Of course I knew of the legendary Ernie Harwell. The fact that he caught me off guard and the fact this was a broadcasting legend standing right next me combined to leave me a little tongue-tied for a few moments.
I remember, during that tongue-tied time not exactly knowing what to say. So I blurted out ‘hey Ernie your Tigers have been playing here in Lakeland for about 40 years, right?”
“Yeah, we’re starting to get used to it,” he said.
Before long we were chatting away and what a thrill to spend the next five minutes or so sitting in a baseball press box and speaking one on one with this legend of the game.
Sometimes the bigger they are, the nicer they are. That’s how I found Ernie Harwell that day and I’m pretty sure that’s how he is every day.
But now this legend is in his final days. Harwell is dying of cancer and may not make it to next opening day.
Just that thought makes we want to tear up.
But you know Harwell would say, ‘don’t feel sorry for me.’ At 91, he’s lived a full life and he is at peace with his situation.
Watching him on an interview with Bob Costas Tuesday night you saw a man who is thankful for his family and friends and the chance he had to take part in this great sport for so long. You also saw a man ready to say goodbye.
Over many years, no sport has worshiped some of its home announcers like baseball.
But now many of the greats have passed on. To name a few, the game has lost Jack Buck, Harry Kalas, Harry Caray and of course, Baltimore’s own Hall of Famer, Chuck Thompson, forever the voice of summer in Baltimore.
The fans have a special feeling about these special broadcasters.
Maybe Chuck Thompson said it best at his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown. He said something like “if years from now someone happens upon my plaque in Cooperstown and sees the name Chuck Thompson and they ask you ‘did you know him.’ I hope you’ll say ‘yes, he was a friend.’
Ernie Harwell made a lot of friends along the way, and some of us only really got to know him for five minutes. But that was more than enough.