Snowpocalypse may be going on in my immediate environs, but my mind is on the warmth of Florida where baseball teams are about to start spring training. Tigers pitchers and catchers are due to report tomorrow and begin their work toward the regular season.
Baseball is the only sport that works on radio. Football has too many players and too much motion on every single play to make it radio-worthy. Basketball and hockey have too many passes, too much constant action to make it work. Baseball, on the other hand, is the perfect pace for radio play-by-play. The game is largely a duel between two players, pitcher and hitter. The broadcaster keeps us in the tension of each at-bat with mentions of pitch-counts and pitch-types. With a bat-struck ball comes a burst of activity–every man on the field moving–but still paced so that the radio-man can describe it. And there is enough time between each pitch for a bit of reflection.
Ernie Harwell (1918-2010)
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some of the great radio broadcasters. When I moved to St. Louis in the early 2000s I quickly became a fan of Jack Buck. I heard him call his final season before his death. Back in 1984, my father, brother, and I listened to many of the Detroit Tigers games, called by one of the all-time greats, Ernie Harwell. The Tigers went on to win the World Series that year…and my love of baseball on radio was fixed. Every great radio-man has his signature calls, and we grew to love Ernie’s. He’d tell his listeners the home town of those in the stands who caught foul balls. How did he know that?! When a batter took a called third strike he’d say: “He stood their like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by.” His home run call: “That one is long gone!”
Ernie professed faith in Christ. He was quick to give God credit for any success he had. When he entered the Hall of Fame in 1981, he said, “Baseball is a tongue-tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown.” Every year he started his broadcast with a reading of Song of Songs 2:11-12 (KJV):
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
The season after Ernie went on to his eternal reward, I happened to be in Comerica Park the night the Tigers honored him. They handed out pictures of Ernie behind the mic and ran the following video tribute during the game. His faith in Jesus Christ, “his Lord and Savior,” was explicitly mentioned…