In the wake of legendary baseball announcer, Ernie Harwell passing away, there seems to be a a slow fading of the old generation of play-by-play announcers not just in baseball, but in sport. In today, where production, glitz, graphics, and sometimes, even acting are part of a sporting event, often forgotten is the art of storytelling. The ability to enter someone’s home or radio and guide them for two or three hours. Talents like Harwell, Harry Kalas, Bob Costas, and Vin Scully to name are few, are instant classics. Voices, when you hear them that demand attention. And while I’ve never had the distinct opportunity to really appreciate Harwell or Kalas before their passing, from clips, sound bytes, and speeches, you are aware of their greatness.
Although my generation is linked to the Joe Bucks, John Maddens, Michael Kays, and John Sterlings of the world, appreciating greats like Harwell and Kalas is not difficult because of their timeless work. And while very little of the announcing old guard remains, I will be sure to one day attempt to listen to the one-man announcing crew that is Vin Scully call one game before he too, leaves the game.
The import is a transcript of Ernie Harwell’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech where he gives his definition of baseball.
Ernie Harwell’s Definition of Baseball
Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his 714 home runs.
There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.
Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September.
Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.
Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, and an over-aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.
Baseball is just a game as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.
Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World’s Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front”, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.
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. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this is baseball! Thank you.