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Sunday, July 15, 2007

An Afternoon with Ernie Harwell

Our Tigers fan JJ was nice enough to ask me to attend an Ernie Harwell lecture today at The George Washington University's Media and Public Affairs program.

The Hall of Fame Sportscaster talked about his career and how fans approach him as an "old friend" because they've often grown so familiar with his voice and personality. "It's a responsibility to a community but it's also a great reward," said Harwell. He told great stories about Ty Cobb and Connie Mack.

He was asked, "What is it about baseball that is so special to people?"

Harwell explained that baseball has history and tradition. "It's a subject we can all talk about with getting into a hissy. We can't really talk about abortion or immigration or presidential candidates without getting into arguments. But if I say Stan Musial was better than Ted Williams, you can agree or disagree and we can move on." He went on to explain that in baseball fans can see mistakes whereas in other sports, fans don't really know exactly who failed to block the play or make the right move. "There are fundamentals and there are nuances. Fans with a little bit of knowledge or a lot can all appreciate the game. That's the beauty," he said.

He also believes broadcasters should take the back seat to the action. Storytelling is important but it should not interupt calling a play. Then, he offered this fun story:
I always hated doing interviews in the booth. Here you are, calling a game, people are watching to hear the game, and you have to interview some beauty queen. One time, Hubert Humphrey was in the booth for about a half an inning. I said, okay Mr. Vice President, we know you are busy, thanks for stopping by. The VP said, no I'm not that busy, I'd love to stay another inning."

Harwell is the only broadcaster to ever be traded for a player. Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager, Branch Rickey, traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Atlanta Crackers in exchange for Ernie Harwell to replace the ill Red Barber.

His first game in the Major Leagues was calling a Brooklyn Dodgers vs Chicago Cubs game where Jackie Robinson stole home and the crowd erupted. His first game was supposed to come a day earlier but didn't due to a rain delay. He agreed that "the boys of summer" was a fitting description of that team.

Harwell was then asked about baseball in Washington.
It is great to have baseball here in the nation's capitol. It's important...that tradition of having the president throw the first pitch - that is opening day for every team. That used to be when baseball really started for the summer. And Walter Johnson's career is something very special for Washington fans. The World Series in 1924. And remember that image of Mrs. Coolidge keeping score in the stands.

I loved Griffith Stadium. I remember that fig tree out there. And Old Man Griff used to play pinnochle in the front office; it was a primitive looking front office.

He talked also about his time in Baltimore when they first came back in 1954. He said they called the Orioles the "Kleenex team" that year.

Then he went on to work for the Tigers for 42 years.

Some of his signature calls include:
"he stood like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by"
"going...it's a long one...it's long gone."
"two for the price of one"
"caught by a man from Saginaw"

On Barry Bonds, Harwell thinks the whole thing is a black mark on a wonderful sport. He thinks Bonds record should be valid and that Bud Selig should be there to see it. He is very impressed with Roger Clemens and was reminded that in 1973 on this day (July 15), Harwell called a Nolan Ryan no hitter. Harwell remembered that Ryan struck out 17 during that game.

Harwell, a veteran, stopped to visit veterans from the war in Iraq this morning and was inspired by their courage. "Regardless of how you feel about this war, you have to be emotional when you see these young men." He went on to tell an emotional story about his interaction with one young soldier earlier today.

Harwell then signed his new audio scrapbook and took pictures.


Blogger Jason said...

Stan Musial was not better than Teddy Ballgame. Never.

It's not even a topic/point of discussion.

Go Tribe (and Nats, my new NL favorite)

7:11 AM  
Blogger stephyjames said...

Nice! Sounds like it was a great event!

9:15 AM  

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