I was making dinner for my family Tuesday evening when I got a text telling me that Ernie Harwell had died at age 92, having suffered from cancer.
Normally, I do not react much when hearing about the death of somebody famous. I feel bad for those who knew the person, but since I don't know the person, I don't feel a need to mourn.
More importantly, because of my faith, I do not see death as something terribly sad because I do not believe it to be our end. The only sadness I feel when it is someone I know is that of my own personal loss, and if it is someone I do not know, I feel sad for the loss of those close to the person.
All that aside, hearing of Harwell's passing reminded me of a wonderful experience I had as a teenager with him, even while I lived here in Arizona.
It was early 1993. I was almost 16 and was a sophomore in high school. My combined Advanced English/History class was to participate in the National History Day competition.
That year's theme was "Communication in History" and I decided to research the radio voices of baseball (at that point in my life, it was the career I desired for my future).
As part of my research, I sent letters to several major league teams, asking for information about their broadcasters. I wrote to, among others, my then beloved Dodgers about Vin Scully, the Brewers about Bob Uecker, the Cubs about Harry Caray, the Yankees about the late Red Barber, and the Tigers about Ernie Harwell (who at the time had been let go and brought back to booth).
To my disappointment, there was little response to my correspondence.
I only heard back from two teams. One was the Brewers, who (a whole year after the competition I might add) sent me an autographed picture of Bob Uecker.
The other was prompt. It was a letter from the Tigers' spring training home in Lakeland, Florida by Connie Bell, the team's public relations director, informing me how to get a hold of Harwell's office.
I called the number and there was no answer, but I left a message. At best, I expected to get a call back telling me when to call. I didn't really expect to get a call back; after all, I was just a 15 year old kid.
To my surprise, on a Sunday afternoon, my mom tells me I have a phone call. I take the phone and find out that it is Ernie Harwell himself.
I couldn't believe it.
I talked to him for a few minutes, conducting what was probably a very poor interview, but I was impressed, to say the least. He, a famous broadcaster, took time out of his weekend to return a phone call to a teenager across the country to answer a few questions. To this day it still amazes me.
It has been 17 years since this happened. I didn't end up going into broadcasting, and I hate the Dodgers now. I don't know if I even ever heard an Ernie Harwell game call after that date.
What I do know is that Harwell was not only one of the game's best broadcasters, but he made an impression on a young me as a man and the Detroit Tigers impressed me as an organization. They forever have my respect.
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