Dear Mr. Harwell,
I am reluctant to admit that I have spent most of my life being barely aware of your existence. I remember there being a bit of a ruckus when you got fired by a college football coach, and that everyone was happy when the guy from Little Caesar\’s hired you back the next year. But that was about it; beyond that, you were a trivia fact that rattled around my brain like so many others do. The second video ever played on MTV was Pat Benetar\’s \”You Better Run.\” Minnesota became a state in 1858. And Ernie Harwell was the voice of the Detroit Tigers.
Then I saw Bob Costas interview you on the MLB Network last November. I was mesmerized. You were the most humble, grateful person I\’d ever heard. You told us that people didn\’t ever love you, they loved baseball. You said you were thankful for what baseball had given you, and, unlike everyone else, you clearly meant it. You were also at such peace with the knowledge that you had limited time remaining before you succumbed to cancer; you were much more at ease talking about it than Costas was asking about it.
After watching, I did a little more research on you. I was pleased (but not surprised) to find that you took a minimalist approach to broadcasting baseball games, preferring anecdotes to statistics. You always wanted to be sure that you didn\’t become more important than the game. You never would have said \”Prior is strong enough to make sure the exterior distractions don\’t get in his task and focus.\” (h/t to Leitch.) I\’m guessing I know how you feel about Sabermetrics, but you were always poised enough not to sound ignorant about it.
I\’m lucky enough to have my own version of Ernie Harwell– the late Herb Carneal. I was lucky in the same way many people from Michigan were lucky to have a constant voice telling me about baseball throughout my youth. (Let\’s leave John Gordon out of it.) So, I understand why people appreciate you, and how they feel like they know you. I spent more time with Mr. Carneal growing up than anyone else outside of my immediate family, and know how close I felt to him.
In closing, I want to tell you: thank you. With all of the hubris and hot air in sports (and the world) today, it was refreshing to see your humility. On several occasions since I saw your interview, I\’ve reminded myself to temper my ego, my ambitions, and be thankful for what I have. I also wish you comfort in the upcoming days and months; you will be missed, but not forgotten.
Thank you for your time.