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.

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

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Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."

Carlos Rodon slated for MRI, could start season on disabled list with bicep tightness

Carlos Rodon slated for MRI, could start season on disabled list with bicep tightness

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Rodon was scratched from a Friday start with tightness in his upper left bicep, and it could land him on the disabled list to start the 2017 season.

General manager Rick Hahn said on Friday that the team's initial exam of their third-year starter was "positive." But the White Sox intend to be extremely cautious with Rodon, who is headed to have an MRI instead of starting against the Oakland A's in Mesa. Hahn said Rodon also is likely to have a second opinion early next week.

"We're going to err on the side of caution here, even if it winds up costing him his first couple starts because we're slowing down the schedule now by scratching him," Hahn said. "It's too early to speculate how long we're going to be without Carlos. I hate to speculate, but since we are slowing down his schedule by having him miss the start today, the odds are probably that he starts the season on the DL. But again we'll know more after he takes his further exams."

Rodon informed the White Sox he felt some tightness in his bicep on Thursday, at which point they examined him. The team's exam suggested Rodon has no structural damage, Hahn said.

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Free of worry, Rodon requested to make his start against Oakland, but the team declined and opted for a second opinion. Zach Putnam will start and pitch one inning instead.

With the intent of helping him reach the 200-inning mark this season, the White Sox took a slower route with Rodon this spring, similar to the way they handled Chris Sale last year.

Rodon went 9-10 with a 4.04 ERA in 28 starts last season, striking out 168 batters in 165 innings.

Rodon has done most of his work this February and March on back fields and in simulated games. He made his first Cactus League appearance against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday and struck out five in four scoreless innings. He allowed one hit and walked one.

Hahn said the injury could land Rodon on the DL to start the season as the White Sox intend to make sure the left-hander is healthy and prepared to return.