Detroit’s voice of God

March 31, 2008 - Kansas City Royals v. Detroit Tigers

Pulling off the sports hat trick this week. Monday it was Tim Tebow’s eyeblack, Thursday was LeBron James and the Ten Commandments. Today we’ve got a profile of the Detroit Tigers former Voice of God:

How do you say goodbye to Ernie Harwell? Jose Feliciano sent a massive bouquet and a note signed with love, then sent another bunch of flowers four days later. The devout women of the Ames United Methodist Church in Saginaw, Mich., knitted a shawl and prayed over it. Harwell is dying, which means the childhoods of roughly four generations are dying.

And all of them seem a lot more troubled by it than Harwell is.

Any doubt this is going to be a great story?

Yet another from Really, other major media outlets need to get what ESPN gets about religion.

Harwell is, indeed, a legend. And there is plenty of that in this piece. But what’s nice to see is the treatment of why Harwell is having an easier time with his incurable cancer than his many fans and friends and Gary Spicer, who for more than three decades has been fan, friend and Harwell’s attorney:

So Harwell waits, for a month, maybe more, until the inevitable. He tells Spicer that he’s at peace. He’s 91 years old, surrendered himself to Jesus nearly 50 years ago at a Billy Graham crusade and has seen just about everything. The first inning of his first game behind the microphone, he watched Jackie Robinson steal home. He still believes Willie Mays was the best ballplayer he’s ever seen. He still knows baseball is the most perfect game because of its continuity.

Harwell’s blue eyes still twinkle, and his easy, Southern voice never crackles, leading friends to hope that mettle will win out over medicine. Harwell is realistic.

Also could have used “He’s at peace,” assuming he is, but the picture is painted. It’s clear right away why Harwell, much like John Wooden, is ready to go when his time comes. But senior writer Elizabeth Merrill leaves no doubt when she closes the story, which is sliced into little remembrances from different people whose lives Harwell has touched, with Harwell’s biggest supporter: his wife, Lulu.

It’s obvious he wants to stay longer for Lulu. He calls her his biggest supporter. She puts up with him daily, he says, and will be beside him until the inevitable.

“He never missed a game,” Lulu says, emphasizing the long and healthy life he’s enjoyed. She’s had Ernie to herself for seven years now — he officially retired in 2002 — but in some ways, she’s always shared him. They open packages filled with bread and cakes and quilts.

They listen to goodbyes but rarely shed tears.

“I have great faith that heaven’s there and I’ll see my brothers and my mom and dad when I get there,” Harwell says. “I think it’s better than here. I think God always has the best for us.

“I just have faith. It’s just there. It’s not any big deal.”

Harwell’s faith is not the thrust of this story, nor need it be. The focus is why the few months since Harwell announced he was terminally ill have been so difficult for his fans. The vignettes are touching, but there is really no mystery there: For over five decades Harwell was the Voice of God to Tigers fans.

Makes me thankful that Vin Scully is still a spry 82.

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  • Jerry

    Really, other major media outlets need to get what ESPN gets about religion.

    I have also had the impression that many non MSM outlets get religion pretty decently. In this month’s Consumer Reports, for example, there’s a short article on net neutrality which is the principle that everyone should have equal access to the internet no matter who they are or how much money they have.

    They chose to highlight the story of a small business LaserMonks run by a monastery. Religion was not the focus of the story, the benefit of net neutrality was, but the matter-of-fact choice of the example of a monastery was nicely done.

    Too often we read about religion being the issue in a news story of some controversy or other rather than reading a story of religion as part of a story.

    The example of this blog topic and the Consumer Reports story are nice counter-examples.

  • Mike Gridley

    I grew up in Detroit and for my whole life until his retirement a few years ago, Ernie Harwell was the voice of summer. There will never be another like him, he will be sorely missed.