Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell, 92

I will have to mark Tuesday, May 4, 2010, as the start of the second half of my life.
The one without an external narrator, an easy pace, the knowledge there was always somewhere you could return to and find a universal order still in place.
That place?  760 on the AM dial.  Tiger Baseball.  Ernie Harwell.
I am not a traditional baseball fan.  I can’t cite statistics, or tell you who was pitching at the first professional game I went to.  There’s a big hole in my awareness of how the Tigers did during, oh, a decade or two, and I can’t blame ALL of that on the strike.  
No, I can't blame the strike.  I never was a true fan.  Couldn't argue strategy, didn't store trivia and stats in my head.  But I grew up with baseball.
Baseball in the car, almost as far as you could drive in a day.  Magically, farther when you drove at night.  Baseball in the background at my grandparent’s house, either on the television in the family room, or on the kitchen radio if the family room had been declared “for family” that night.
Baseball in your play, kids pulling up outside your door, on bikes, telling you “everybody’s going to the park to play a game.”  You could go with them right away, or join in a little bit.  Game would start in 10 minutes.  Which meant if you wanted any say in your position, you’d be there before then.
Baseball in the family, Sunday mornings driving to a baseball diamond to watch your dad play in a casual softball league.  
Here in this blog there’s been much talk of May flowers.  In my youth, there was another way to mark the arrival of spring--the first warm of day spring meaning you turned your closet inside out so you could find your glove, which hopefully still fits, but even if it doesn’t, is going to be an improvement over bare-handed catch.  A guaranteed sore arm the next day.  
Baseball season marked the rhythm of nature’s seasons and the school year, building a bridge between the last weeks of going to class and summer vacation.  Baseball was what connected houses and businesses and picnic blankets as you rode your bike around...somebody always had the game on.  Sure, it’s a cliche, but asking “How about those Tigers?” was an easy social bridge in conversation.
Baseball was both activity and ambience, something to schedule and something that just was.
So much so that when I read “The Old Man and the Sea,” and the old man talks to the narrator about “Los Tigres de Detroit” (see? even Hemingway, even in Cuba... Santiago says “how ‘bout those Tigers...”), and the old man takes his radio out to check on baseball, I know what he’s talking about. I know the rhythm of what he’s hearing, and I even know the voice he is hearing.
He hears Ernie Harwell.
Baseball defining the rhythms of a year, and years passing.
“A sa-wiiing and a miss...”
From the time the lilacs bloom to the putting to bed of the annuals, a lilting voice would mark time in nine-inning segments.  Kids calling out to each other, long drawn out first names through screen doors like some sort of non-linguistic call to prayer.  Cracks of bats, and the taste of dirt in your mouth even if you were just watching on t.v.
All of this in my head, and I don’t consider myself a fan of baseball.
It permeates my conscious, and my unconscious, as much as my Grandmother’s perfume and the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.
I hadn’t actually heard Ernie call a play in many a year.  He retired in 2002, but I stopped keeping track of the box scores and sitting down for at least a few innings long before that.
"That one went into the seat of a fan from Ludington..."

Perfume?  For today, let's just call it a surprise pitch in the top of the 5th.


The inside door was open yesterday.  It was beautiful out.  Homework would have been delayed, bikes would have been out, bats would have been cracking at the park.  Friends would be calling from the sidewalk.


Fall will be here soon enough.  It always is.  

Play ball.

1970's Topp's baseball cards here at


flittersniffer said...

I have to be honest and say that as a rule, we Brits have no understanding of, or affinity with, your great national sport. I did see the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Browns (is that the right way round?) in 1984 in Cleveland, and although I was aware that I was attending some kind of major civic spectacle, the nachos at half time were the true highlight.

flittersniffer said...

I think I may mean Indians! That just goes to show how rubbish we are...

Nancy said...

What a beautiful post. I, too, come from a family in which baseball provided the ambient sound of summer. Of course, in my case it was the Yanks and Mets. Now, baseball is the source of the nostalgic mental soundtrack of summer nights: falling asleep on a hot night with the game humming in the background and those magical times when I could capture faraway games through the crackling ionisphere on my transistor radio. Perhaps some of those magical transmissions were from Detroit. The past is a faraway place, farther than Detroit.

My capcha is "calit." Call it safe at home.

ScentScelf said...


That's just it, though. I got kinda lost in thought and ended up focusing on one thing, but dropped the contextual thread. I know that baseball woven into one's life is oh-so American. And I wonder if I might be among the last generation of that. My kids play soccer. I mean football, if I'm talking to you. :) Which is not the Cleveland Browns kind of football. :) :)

Incidentally, I was once at a Tigers/Indians game in Cleveland and Gates Brown hit a homerun into my seat. I was not there, because I was persuaded to go to the concession stand. When I returned, the older boy in the seat next to mine (a stranger) just held it up and smiled. My dad hung his head a bit and explained.

This would be somewhat akin to attending a perfume event (yes, they happen), leaving the table as a favor to a friend, and returning only to find your name had been called to win, oh, say, a vintage bottle of Diorella parfum, only they gave it to someone else because you weren't there.

Okay, that's not quite equivalent. I try.

No, no rubbish at all. I had to be a grown-up in order to learn what it would mean to bend it like Beckham. I'm still trying to figure out what's the what when it comes to cricket. Blimey...and they say that baseball is anachronistic...

You know, this hole cultural awareness thing is a sticky wicket. ;)

ScentScelf said...

WHOLE! W-h-o-l-e!!!

(mutters "for the love"...tries to recover by saying "Courtney Love," that is...Hole? Get it???)

Ergh. Just bad. Very bad.

ScentScelf said...



Yes. Sticky nights out on the porch...the radio...being sent to bed, but the game murmuring in the distance...I remember that. Funny, those Yankees, those damn Yankees...they were so close, and yet so far away...

I kind of regret that the internets mean my children will not feel the same sense of distance, concentric circles defined by a walk away, a bike ride away, a car ride away...a car ride within radio range on the FM dial...on the AM dial...and beyond.

sassymonkey said...

I had to send this to a friend of mine who grew up in Detroit. I know she'll enjoy it.

ScentScelf said...


Lob a hello over the big tire to your friend. Your friend'll know what I mean. :)

Thanks for stopping by.

flittersniffer said...

The ball landing in your seat story is fantastic!! And your Diorella analogy a good one. Or perhaps we could combine the ball game and the perfume world by assuming that Francis Kurkdijan was a baseball fan but couldn't get a seat and was standing at the back during the first half. Then while you were away buying your nachos at half time, he spotted your empty seat and thought he'd rest his legs for a bit? But scarpered before you made it back... : - )

I had a weekend in Dearborn once and meetings in Detroit to do with automotive seals, rings and things.

In terms of Ledge country, am I warm?

ScentScelf said...


Well done, and quite. :)

Musette said...

I am not a baseball fan at all - but my father and my younger Rottweiler are rabid fans.

Like so many of you here, my association with it is aural - in my childhood it was my pop in the backyard, working on some house project to the sounds of Jack Brickhouse on the radio. That meant summer, in my house was often very stressful but in the summertime everything was okay, as long as Jack Brickhouse was on the radio!

xo A

ScentScelf said...

And there is another thing that kind of goes by the wayside with XM radio and cable tv...the regional voice. Every team had a "voice"...I remember meeting up with cousins and looking at each other slightly askance when it came to things like the baseball voice. Because we knew, of course, The Voice was ____ . But they would fill in the blank with one name, and we with another.

Here's to an iced tea with a Jack Brickhouse interval, Musette.