For a boy growing up in central Michigan in the 70’s and 80’s, the voice of Ernie Harwell was more familiar to me than any of my elementary teachers. He was there every summer. When the Montague clan gathered at Sleepy Hollow State Park outside of St. Johns, MI, we always had food, fishing, and Ernie Harwell’s voice calling the Tigers game over the radio. He was part of our family. He was there in the magical summer of 1984 when the Bless You Boys (including my hero, Lou Whitaker), rolled to a World Series championship. My dad remembers Harwell calling the day games of the ‘68 Series through PA system of Owosso High School. He was there in that decade known as the 1990’s when the Tigers were very, very bad. For this kid who grew up a Tigers fan, Ernie Harwell and baseball are inseparable.
Ernie Harwell would start every spring training by quoting from the Song of Songs: “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” (2:11-12) The spring of 2010 will likely be the first time in over forty years when the Tigers gather in Lakeland, Florida without Ernie Harwell. Last summer, Ernie Harwell was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. My dad, sister, brother-in-law, and best friend were there when he gave this farewell address at Comerica Park a few months ago:
After his diagnosis, Ernie Harwell has faced impending death like few others. In an interview with Bob Costas set to air next week, Harwell says this: “I’m not overwhelmed by the circumstances. One of the doctors said, ‘If you were my father, I’d say don’t do anything, just relax and wait for the inevitable.’ But I had great peace about that and closure to it, and I knew God was in charge, and whatever happens, happens for the best.”
As a pastor, I’ve walked with people through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Rarely do you see this sort of confidence in the sovereignty of God. And while Harwell will always call himself a baseball announcer rather than a theologian, his trust in God’s care is exemplary.
The Apostle Paul writes these words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Thanks, Ernie, for making baseball great with your great calls. And thanks for making God’s name great with your great faith and hope.
“In my almost 92 years on this earth, the Good Lord has blessed me with a great journey.” – from Harwell’s farewell speech on September 16, 2009