Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I Love Ernie Harwell

Even if he didn't single-handedly (or voicedly) teach me what baseball was during late-1970s Tigers broadcasts on WJR, I would love Ernie Harwell. Why? Because despite the fact the man will turn 90 early next year, he has refused to let old-fogeyism cloud his considerable judgment about the game. From Harwell's column in yesterday's Detroit Free Press:

Now, with the wild card, several communities keep on running a baseball fever in September, regardless of how big a margin the division leaders boast . . .

. . . Are today's fielders much better than they were 10 to 50 years ago? I think so. Today, sensational catches -- especially by outfielders -- happen with astounding regularity. The trademark play of this decade is the leap at the fence, changing a potential home run into a putout. I've never seen so many great catches . . .

. . . Have you noticed that major league careers are getting longer? The increase is because of a couple of factors. First, the big money is a real incentive to stick around an extra year or so -- even if skills are starting to diminish. Second, most of today's players keep in better condition than their earlier counterparts. And, with the larger salaries they can afford personal trainers or their own workout facilities.

Notice the absence of paeans to an alleged Golden Age in which every pennant race mattered, when they clearly did not? Notice the failure of a knee-jerk "the men in my day could pick it better than any of these loafers today" rants? Notice the ability to acknowledge the fact that players today make more money while avoiding use of the words "greedy," "pampered," or "spoiled"?

You see none of those things because unlike so many others, Harwell, despite his years, continues to look at the game with a clear and objective mind. At the same time, his decades and decades of experience allow him to toss in an old Babe Ruth story just for the hell of it, showing that it is possible to both celebrate the old and praise the new. If only the fogeys half Harwell's age could do the same thing, the state of baseball writing and commentary wouldn't be so damned wretched.

By the way, reading these columns, I get the impression that some editor at the Free Press gave Harwell a dictaphone and told him to record whatever the hell occurred to him whenever he felt like it and that he'd have one of the interns transcribe it for publication. Allow me to say that if this was the case (and even if it wasn't) this was the single best decision an editor has ever made in the history of newsprint.


Mr. Thursday said...

If, indeed, Harwell is merely dictating his ramblings into a recorder, I think there's a better way to handle the material that forcing some poor (lucky?) intern to transcribe the whole thing. Namely, podcasting. As lovely as that column is, wouldn't we all rather hear Ernie Harwell than read him?

I know I would.

Shyster said...

Most definitely, Mr. Thursday.