May 05, 2010

A Tiger to Admire

Ernie Harwell died at 92 yesterday.  He was the radio broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  By all accounts he was a great guy, unflailingly polite and upbeat, a true inspiration.  He was married to the same woman for 68 years.  I didn't grow up in Detroit and don't have a personal connection to Harwell, but I would like to post his famous "My Definition of Baseball" speech, which he first delivered in 1955.  It is a reminder of the days when baseball was America's Pastime.  And even though Harwell was lauding baseball, I think he was also reminding us why we love sports, any sport.

One criticism of Harwell's speech though, and I know he was a devout Tiger, but if you are going to trumpet the color-blindness of baseball you might not want to reference the racist, vicious, hate-mongering Ty Cobb in your valedictory.
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 (Babe Ruth's) 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, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

Baseball just a came 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 baseball! Thank you.

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