Harwell Gone, but not Forgotten

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Harwell Gone, but not Forgotten

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
3:16 PM

By Chuck GarfienCSNChicago.com

I knew he was sick. I was aware his time was short. And yet, it still came as a shock when a producer uttered the words in the newsroom last night.

Ernie Harwell died.

Of the many words in the English language, those are three that will always cause a lump in my throat.

I didnt know Ernie well. But then again, what made the longtime Detroit Tigers announcer so special was that everyone felt like they knew him. For 42 years, his gentle, syrupy voice with that smooth Georgia accent filled the state of Michigan with a baseball soundtrack that told the story of the Detroit Tigers.

During that time, his stories could become a part of your own story, thanks to a voice that left such an impression, it would travel deep into your memory bank and never leave, reminding you of life moments -- both big and small -- and the sound of Ernie in the background.

My introduction to him came when I arrived in Traverse City, Mich., for my very first sportscasting job. I went to this remote spot in Northern Michigan not knowing anyone. But I did know baseball. And very soon I became quite acquainted with this fellow coming out the speakers of my car radio making this below-average baseball team sound like they were dancing the Nutcracker.

His style had a presence and grace to it that was the complete opposite of the two men I grew up listening to in Chicago, Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. If these three legends ever formed a rock band, Jack and Harry would be at the front of the stage singing vocals and lead guitar, Ernie would be in the background playing bass.

And doing so with a smile as wide as Michigan. Besides the voice, thats what you remember about Ernie. The smile. It was always there.

As I drove from town to town, covering stories in distant parts, Ernie was always there too, talking about bad Detroit Tigers baseball, but acting as a companion on long, lonely trips through the darkest roads of Northern Michigan.

If I visited there today, something tells me I could still hear his words echoing off the trees.

After working in Traverse City for 18 months, I returned to Michigan six years later for a job in Detroit, where I would get to meet the man who I used to travel with so much.

He often wore a baseball cap or beret and liked to bury both his hands in his back pockets as if he was digging for arcade tokens.

The kid in him never left.

And while my job at the ballpark was to cover Tigers players like Bobby Higginson, Tony Clark and Jeff Weaver, whenever Ernie would come around, I always just wanted to follow him.

He was usually the more intriguing story.

One day I asked him if he would sit down with me for an interview. At first, the ever-humble Ernie said something like, It must be a slow news day. But he politely agreed to chat about his career and told stories that he had recounted for years, but delivered them as if they had just happened the night before. Not because the camera was on, but because Ernie truly cherished all of the fortune that occurred in his life, and enjoyed sharing it with others.

One of my favorite Ernie stories is how he got his first job as a sportswriter for the Sporting News in 1934. Living in Atlanta, he wrote a letter to the editor saying that the newspaper didnt have a good correspondent covering the Atlanta Crackers, Ernies hometown baseball team. He felt like he could do a better job.

The editor asked Ernie to mail him some of his work and if it was good enough, hed be hired. Sure enough, Ernie passed the test, and was offered the job. However, Ernie neglected to share one important piece of information.

He was still in high school.

In 1943, Harwell became the play-by-play announcer for the Crackers. How rare was he? Five years later, he would be traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Cliff Dapper, becoming the only announcer in the history of the game traded for an actual player.

Ernie later called games for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles before coming to Detroit, where he broadcast Tigers games for 42 years.

Along the way he would be known for many catchphrases.

When a visiting player would be called out on strikes, Ernie would say, He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by.

When a patron would catch a foul ball in the stands, youd hear, A fan from Ypsilanti will be taking that ball home today.

But my all-time favorite was Ernies home run call.

That one is lonnnnnnnng gone!

And now, Ernie is too.

Gone, but never forgotten.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Todd Frazier still able to laugh off most embarrassing Little League story ever

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Todd Frazier still able to laugh off most embarrassing Little League story ever

When it comes to hitting homers and driving in runs for the Chicago White Sox in 2016, Todd Frazier is No. 1.

But ask the third baseman for a favorite story about being a baseball player, and he won’t hesitate.

It’s the time he was on the field in a middle of a game---and he went No. 2.

“It was a 10-year-old tournament. Final game. Winner goes to the sectionals. I’m at shortstop,” Frazier explained to CSN Chicago. “I don’t know what I ate. I had the bubble guts all day long. The next thing I knew, I was in trouble.”

Before we get to the dirty details of the Frazier detonation, the original goal of this story was to ask White Sox players about their memories growing up playing baseball.

As the hero of the Toms River East All-Star team that won the 1998 Little League World Series, Frazier probably has enough memories to fill a book.

In the championship game alone, he went 4-for-4 with a leadoff home run. He started that day at shortstop, came on to pitch in relief and threw the game-winning strikeout that gave Toms River a 12-9 victory over Japan for the title.

All the great stories from that magical season have already been told.  This is one from two years earlier that Frazier has been saving for years.

“I s— in my uniform," Frazier said. "I’m not ashamed to admit it."

With quotes like that, I think I speak for every Chicago media member that the White Sox should sign Frazier to a lifetime contract.

And it only gets better.  Or in Frazier’s case, much worse.

“We had a bases loaded jam, and the next thing you know, I couldn’t hold it in,” Frazier recalled. “I didn’t know what to do, to either run off the field or not. So I just let it go, man. Diarrhea all through.”

Frazier’s messy situation came at a terrible time: They were in the final inning of a huge playoff game. Winners move on, losers go home.

Suddenly, Frazier didn’t care about any of that. He needed to go to the nearest bathroom, quickly.

But instead of escaping the field with a victory and his dignity, Frazier’s internal crisis was about to be magnified.

“Coach actually said, ‘Todd, let’s go. It’s your turn to pitch.’ So I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I walk up there gingerly. I get to the mound," he said. "I took one warm-up pitch and that was it. The umpire came out and said, ‘Dude, there’s some kind of stench going on here.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I smelled the same thing when I came out.’ We’re all laughing.”

Not for long.

Thrust into this pressure situation as a relief pitcher who ironically had already relieved himself, with the fate of his team resting in both his pitching hand and his soiled underwear, the proverbial s— was about to hit the fan.

“First pitch, the guy hits a bases clearing triple (to win the game). I was elated. Everybody else was crying,” Frazier said. “I run to the Porta John. My dad is laughing at me.”

Cackling as his son raced to the facilities after a heart-breaking little league game speaks to the offbeat sense of humor embedded in the Frazier DNA.

And yet, this ludicrous moment was almost topped by what happened next.

“I had to ask my dad if he had an extra pair of clothing. Lo and behold, I’m wearing my 6-foot-8 dad’s jeans going home.”

Little Frazier was about 5-feet at the time.

‘I’m like, ‘Dad, let’s get out of here. Let’s not even shake hands. I don’t care about the (second place) trophy. Let’s get out of here.”

It might come as a surprise, but Frazier is not the first baseball player to pollute his baseball pants during a game. A well known major leaguer who will remain nameless said he once did it during an actual major league game.

It’s so embarrassing, who would let the world know about it, especially in today’s age of athletes being so guarded with the media, trying to control the message (and bowels), in the attempt to hide their imperfections?

Clearly not Todd Frazier. We applaud him for it.

“It’s a classic,” he said laughing.  “Now it’s out of the bag, so we’ll see what happens."

In the 20 years since that fateful day, Frazier has made sure this never happens again.

“I’ve always had a bottle of Pepto (Bismol) with me just in case. We've even got them inside the clubhouse here, so I'm good to go.”

Carlos Rodon, White Sox shut down Mariners in series finale

Carlos Rodon, White Sox shut down Mariners in series finale

Carlos Rodon continued his best stretch of the season on Sunday afternoon.

The White Sox pitcher earned his fifth consecutive quality start in the team's 4-1 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field.

Rodon had another impressive day, finishing the game with six innings pitched while allowing one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out six.

In his last five starts, Rodon is 3-0 and has allowed only six runs (five earned) while tacking on 26 strikeouts. He lowered his season ERA to 3.91.

"Carlos is really evolving. As he goes along he just seems to be getting better, there's more confidence there," manager Robin Ventura said. "He's learning a lot about himself as well, going through these. He gets extended somewhat, he's in there for a while, he's seeing these guys the third time around, which is good for him.

"He has the stuff to be able to do that and continue to do that, really. The future's really bright for him."

Though four runs were scored, it was mostly a quiet night for the White Sox offense, which finished the game with five hits. The team had two hits in the first seven innings and the remaining three came in the eighth.

The White Sox opened the scoring in the fourth inning with a single by Justin Morneau, which scored two.

Adam Eaton left the game in the fifth inning with a bruised right forearm after the White Sox outfielder was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning. X-rays were negative and he remains day-to-day. J.B. Shuck replaced him in center field.

"He got hit in the forearm and he couldn't hold on to the bat," Ventura said. "As of right now, he's just day to day."

The Mariners got on the board in the sixth thanks to a solo homer by Robinson Cano, his 30th of the year, to cut the lead in half.

On his 100th pitch of the day, Rodon was removed in the seventh after allowing back-to-back singles to lead off the inning.

"As a competitor, I want to be in that situation," Rodon said. "I didn’t want to come out. But when you’ve got a manager who has done it for awhile, he knows the game of baseball, he knows what he’s doing, obviously it worked out there. You put your trust in him and leave it to your teammates, let them do it.

"You’re up 2-1, you want a quick inning, you want another hold in that seventh. Didn’t really want to dip into the pen that early. I’ve been trying to stay in the game longer. Just a little frustrated. I want to be competitive, I still want to be out there. But hats off to my teammates once again for digging me out."

The White Sox bullpen shut down the Mariners the rest of the way in the final three innings. Chris Beck, Dan Jennings and Nate Jones combined for two scoreless innings.

In the eighth, Melky Cabrera legged out an RBI triple for the White Sox to pull ahead, 3-1. An RBI single from Jose Abreu, who was hit by a pitch twice, made it 4-1.

David Robertson closed out the ninth and earned his 33rd save of the season, which ranks third in the American League.

The White Sox are 63-66 on the season and have won six of their last eight. As it stands, the White Sox are 7.5 games out of a wild card spot and 10.5 behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians.

The White Sox picked the perfect time to heat up if there's any shot of them playing October baseball, with 27 of their last 33 games being against division opponents. 

"Anything’s possible," Morneau said. "It’ll take a lot but we do it one day at a time one game at a time. If we kind of prepare the way we need to prepare and go out there and do everything we can to win that day. If you look at the big picture it seems pretty overwhelming, but if you go out there and just try and do what you can everyday I think we’re still alive.

"We kind of control our own destiny."

White Sox: Adam Eaton is day-to-day with bruised right forearm

White Sox: Adam Eaton is day-to-day with bruised right forearm

Adam Eaton left Sunday's White Sox-Seattle Mariners series finale early with a bruised right forearm.

The White Sox outfielder was hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth inning in his second time at the plate. X-rays were negative.

"He got hit in the forearm and he couldn't hold on to the bat," manager Robin Ventura said after the game. "As of right now, he's just day to day."

Eaton remained in the game to field in the top of the fifth, but was replaced by J.B. Shuck for his next at-bat in the bottom of the inning.