White Sox

Harwell Gone, but not Forgotten

169079.jpg

Harwell Gone, but not Forgotten

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
3:16 PM

By Chuck GarfienCSNChicago.com

I knew he was sick. I was aware his time was short. And yet, it still came as a shock when a producer uttered the words in the newsroom last night.

Ernie Harwell died.

Of the many words in the English language, those are three that will always cause a lump in my throat.

I didnt know Ernie well. But then again, what made the longtime Detroit Tigers announcer so special was that everyone felt like they knew him. For 42 years, his gentle, syrupy voice with that smooth Georgia accent filled the state of Michigan with a baseball soundtrack that told the story of the Detroit Tigers.

During that time, his stories could become a part of your own story, thanks to a voice that left such an impression, it would travel deep into your memory bank and never leave, reminding you of life moments -- both big and small -- and the sound of Ernie in the background.

My introduction to him came when I arrived in Traverse City, Mich., for my very first sportscasting job. I went to this remote spot in Northern Michigan not knowing anyone. But I did know baseball. And very soon I became quite acquainted with this fellow coming out the speakers of my car radio making this below-average baseball team sound like they were dancing the Nutcracker.

His style had a presence and grace to it that was the complete opposite of the two men I grew up listening to in Chicago, Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. If these three legends ever formed a rock band, Jack and Harry would be at the front of the stage singing vocals and lead guitar, Ernie would be in the background playing bass.

And doing so with a smile as wide as Michigan. Besides the voice, thats what you remember about Ernie. The smile. It was always there.

As I drove from town to town, covering stories in distant parts, Ernie was always there too, talking about bad Detroit Tigers baseball, but acting as a companion on long, lonely trips through the darkest roads of Northern Michigan.

If I visited there today, something tells me I could still hear his words echoing off the trees.

After working in Traverse City for 18 months, I returned to Michigan six years later for a job in Detroit, where I would get to meet the man who I used to travel with so much.

He often wore a baseball cap or beret and liked to bury both his hands in his back pockets as if he was digging for arcade tokens.

The kid in him never left.

And while my job at the ballpark was to cover Tigers players like Bobby Higginson, Tony Clark and Jeff Weaver, whenever Ernie would come around, I always just wanted to follow him.

He was usually the more intriguing story.

One day I asked him if he would sit down with me for an interview. At first, the ever-humble Ernie said something like, It must be a slow news day. But he politely agreed to chat about his career and told stories that he had recounted for years, but delivered them as if they had just happened the night before. Not because the camera was on, but because Ernie truly cherished all of the fortune that occurred in his life, and enjoyed sharing it with others.

One of my favorite Ernie stories is how he got his first job as a sportswriter for the Sporting News in 1934. Living in Atlanta, he wrote a letter to the editor saying that the newspaper didnt have a good correspondent covering the Atlanta Crackers, Ernies hometown baseball team. He felt like he could do a better job.

The editor asked Ernie to mail him some of his work and if it was good enough, hed be hired. Sure enough, Ernie passed the test, and was offered the job. However, Ernie neglected to share one important piece of information.

He was still in high school.

In 1943, Harwell became the play-by-play announcer for the Crackers. How rare was he? Five years later, he would be traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Cliff Dapper, becoming the only announcer in the history of the game traded for an actual player.

Ernie later called games for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles before coming to Detroit, where he broadcast Tigers games for 42 years.

Along the way he would be known for many catchphrases.

When a visiting player would be called out on strikes, Ernie would say, He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by.

When a patron would catch a foul ball in the stands, youd hear, A fan from Ypsilanti will be taking that ball home today.

But my all-time favorite was Ernies home run call.

That one is lonnnnnnnng gone!

And now, Ernie is too.

Gone, but never forgotten.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Luis Robert does things that make you say wow

0307-luis-robert.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Luis Robert does things that make you say wow

Luis Robert has been a big story in the Arizona Fall League. He recently had a 14-game hitting streak and was named the AFL Player of the Week. Chuck Garfien went to Arizona for a firsthand look at one of the White Sox top prospects. On the podcast, Garfien first speaks with Robert’s minor league hitting coach Charlie Poe. Then he talks with Mike Ferrin of MLB Network Radio about Robert as well as the White Sox reported pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

03:24 - Poe on Robert’s 14-game hitting streak 

04:30 - Robert’s new favorite English word to say 

07:25 - Why Poe compares Winston-Salem manager Omar Vizquel to Prince 

09:10 - Why other top prospects stop what they’re doing whenever Robert comes to the plate. 

11:00 - Mike Ferrin talks about his impressions of Robert

18:00 - Can the White Sox sign Harper or Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

White Sox free-agent focus: J.A. Happ

White Sox free-agent focus: J.A. Happ

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

The White Sox need starting pitching. So why not take a cue from the fine folks at Jewel and think local?

J.A. Happ is an Illinois native and attended Northwestern, and he’s a free-agent starting pitcher coming off a mighty fine season in 2018. Following a midseason trade to the New York Yankees, he posted a 2.59 ERA in 11 starts. While his numbers vastly improved after he left the Toronto Blue Jays, he finished the 2018 campaign with a career-high 193 strikeouts. In addition to last year’s success in the Bronx, he had an ERA under 4.00 in each of the three seasons prior, playing in Toronto in 2016 and 2017 and splitting time between the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.

What Happ doesn’t seem to be, however, is a long-term option. He just turned 36 years old, meaning he likely doesn’t align with the White Sox rebuilding timeline and the planned opening of the team’s contention window.

What Happ could do, however, is serve as a bridge (however long) to that future, a future where Michael Kopech is recovered from his Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease has reached the major leagues. You could certainly do much worse than Happ when it comes to finding a one- or two-year fill-in, and the White Sox were reportedly "working to sign" Happ during last week's GM Meetings in Southern California.

Happ would also serve as a veteran presence and potential mentor for the team’s young pitchers, the kind of role James Shields filled last season. Rick Hahn discussed the importance of that role last week.

“Having someone in there who provides a level of stability for the rotation and dependability every fifth day has some appeal that you would allow young players to go through some of the growing pains that are inevitable in their development,” Hahn said. “Having someone who can play that veteran, mentor role who can help teach guys whether it's from a game prep standpoint ... or any level of alteration with certain pitches, which is where James had the biggest impact in the minors.

“Having a guy who can play that role has appeal. It's not just what a guy can do between the white lines, it's what a guy can do for you in the clubhouse, is part of this equation.”

Happ might not stoke fans’ imaginations in the same way fellow free agents like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel might. But he’s a more realistic option that would allow the White Sox to continue to develop a homegrown rotation of the future.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.