A warm, fuzzy feeling and a short, sharp shock

May 9, 2010

USA/The past week in baseball gave some fans a warm glow about their relationship with the game, and sent shivers down the spines of others worried about unruly fan behavior and the aggressive reaction to it.

The passing of 92-year-old Ernie Harwell, who broadcast Detroit Tigers games for 42 years, brought an outpouring of affection from fans, while the tasering of a teenager who disrupted a Phillies game with a frolic in the outfield raised disturbing questions about ballpark security.

Footage of the Philadelphia policeman firing the electrical charge to drop the trespasser to the ground seemed to be everywhere you looked on television and the Internet.

It raised a national debate about security for the players from the fans, and for the fans from overzealous officers.

In the days before the Internet, the approach of the media was to look away from on-field interruptions by fans. TV cameras would cut away so as not to reward exhibitionists with two minutes of fame on the home screen.

Radio announcers would quickly chastise the act and steer the subject back on course.


Staying the course was what cemented the bond between broadcaster and fan, something that Harwell nurtured during his long friendship with Detroit fans.

A broadcaster becomes the faithful companion of the fan — there at every game, through thick and thin. Sharing information and knowledge, sharing the joy as well as the frustration.

With a dignified Southern accent and gentility that conjured images of summertime chats from the rocker on a shady front porch, Harwell was synonymous with baseball in Detroit.

More than any other American game, baseball lends itself to radio.

The languid pace leaves acres of space for a broadcaster to use for description, discussion, reminiscence and sometimes for silence to allow the live sound of the game and the crowd to paint the picture.

In Detroit, fans lined up and filed by Harwell’s casket at Comerica Park for more than 17 hours of a public viewing.

The Detroit Free Press reported that the last member of the public to visit was Glen Miller, 48, of southwest Detroit. “His charismatic voice was what I always grown up listening to, his southern drawl, the way he pronounced the game was special,” Miller said. “Whether you were black/African-American, whatever race, that hospitality Ernie brought to the Tigers was the greatest thing I remember about Ernie.”

“Heaven just got the best announcer ever,” Miller said.

Some of Harwell’s familiar lines, courtesy of the Free Press:

The called third strike: “He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.”

The fans boo a decision: “Some of the umpires who paid to get in disagreed with that call.”

The manager allowing a pitcher to work out of a jam: “He has decided to ride the rapids with the incumbent.”

The home run call: “That ball is LONG gone!”

PHOTO: A memorial is left on the fence of the site where Tiger Stadium once stood in memory of Ernie Harwell, the long time Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster, in Detroit, Michigan May 6, 2010. Harwell died Tuesday of cancer at age 92. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

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