This came up in my Facebook Memories today. I’ve written about Ernie in a past blog, which you can read here:
Today, however, marks the 12th anniversary of his passing. Here is a piece I wrote when the news broke:
So Long, Ernie
All Detroit Tiger fans knew this day was coming. Ernie told us it was coming, when he told us that he had inoperable cancer. And now, the voice that was such a unique part of past summers is silent.
Growing up, I thought I could be a baseball pitcher. When I played catch, I’d have whoever was catching call calls and strikes. I remember a Carlson classmate, Mike, who said in 3rd or 4th grade that he wanted me to be the catcher when he put his team together. I, however, wanted to pitch.
Baseball wasn’t something that I always understood. As a young kid, I remember my dad watching the Tiger game and they would post the stats of the batter on the screen. It would say, “2-3, Single. Homerun.” I’d ask my dad, “How do they know what he is gonna hit!?” I didn’t understand that it meant that those were what the batter had already done at the plate.
Summer – 1984. The Tigers came out of the chute with a ton of wins. First place! They could do no wrong. It was a dream team. Jack Morris, Willie Hernandez, Darrell Evans, Chet Lemon, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and the rest! Everyone had Tiger fever that summer!
I vividly remember going to my grandparents house and they’d have the radio on in the sunporch. Ernie called the games with Paul Carey. Ernie called a game like no other. It didn’t matter if you were a million miles away, Ernie painted a picture in such detail, that you felt like you were sitting in the ball park. And he had so many great stories to tell! You connected with him!
What Tiger fan didn’t love to hear Ernie say, “Looooooong Gone!?” … or ….”He stood there like the house on the side of the road and watch that one go by….strike three!” … or … “There’s a foul back out of play, and a man from Imlay City will take that one home.” Those were just a few of the famous catchphrases that Ernie used to say. Those phrases were sprinkled throughout many a summer day.
I met Ernie once at Tiger Stadium. He was signing his book. The lines were SO long, and I didn’t get to talk to him long, but he was so gracious. I remember saying what an honor it was to meet someone who spoke so freely about his belief in God, and how his faith in Christ was something he spoke of often. He looked up from signing his book and said, “Amen, brother.” His love for the Lord, his passion for baseball, his kindness, and his zest for life, were all things that were obvious to anyone who ever met him.
When I look back on my life and think of off the great summers growing up, Ernie is there. He might be on the radio at grandma’s or on the radio in someone’s back yard as I walked through the neighborhood. He might be on the car radio as we drove to the store, or maybe on the radio up north at the cabin in Caseville. He was a summer fixture.
Lots will be written about Ernie Harwell over the next few weeks. None of it will be enough. He was a legend. He was a mentor. He was an example. He was a talent. He was one of a kind.
I wrote him a letter once asking for advice. He sent a reply, which I sadly only have in these pictures.
“Dear Keith, Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your loyalty. My only advice is work hard and always be yourself. Enclosed is photo. Best Wishe, Ernie Harwell“
As I look back on the advice he gave me, one can see he followed his own advice. He “worked hard” and “always was himself.” He will be missed.
12 years later, he still is ….