Why We Miss Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell was a gem of a man.  An accomplished poet, inventor, musician, devoted family man, Christian, mentor…..and yes, a pretty good baseball broadcaster as well.  4 years after he passed away, we miss him today as much as ever.

I covered a lot of ballgames in the mid-90’s, as a 20-year-old college broadcaster at WFUV Radio at New York’s Fordham University.  I’d take the D Train from Fordham Road down to Yankee Stadium, catch a pre-game meal, take in batting practice on the field, watch the game and then collect interviews for use on air.  For a college-aged sports fan, there was nothing better.

During one of my first assignments, I sat in the Press Lounge, preparing to eat my breakfast before the Yankees’ 1:00 game a few hours later.  As I jabbed my fork into my scrambled eggs, a hand tapped my table and a gentle voice asked,
“Would it be okay if I sit and eat with you?”  It was Ernie Harwell.

I contained my shock and excitement long enough to invite him to sit and join me.
Over the next half hour he shared a lot – tales, advice, insight and perspective on the sports broadcasting industry.   Much like the great Marty Glickman, he seemed intent on learning my story and sharing his willingness to help.  We had a great breakfast and he even passed me his phone number, in case I needed a tape critiqued in the future.  Did I?  You bet I did.

Later that season, while broadcasting in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays farm system, I sent Ernie a tape and asked for his thoughts.  Soon thereafter we spoke at length on the phone, and he laid out some concrete, real-world ways I could improve.  He ended the call by saying, “Rick, just keep on keeping on!”

Today I counsel young sportscasters, and one main theme I constantly try to drill into their head is to take every opportunity to learn from a successful mentor.  Ask for insight and most of the time they will provide it to you.

In a day where much of our sportscasting culture is wrapped up around ego-boosting soundbytes, catch-phrases and clichés, its refreshing to think back to a man who was never too big to give back.  

We all miss Ernie Harwell much more than we realize.