2018-05-10 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Small-town summers


Phil Foley — Staff Writer Phil Foley — Staff Writer Despite the fact he would have turned 100 back in January, it’s hard to imagine that Ernie Harwell’s been gone seven years. It’s harder still to imagine that it’s been 16 years since his baritone voice boomed, “It’s LOOOOOOONG GONE!” out of the radio.

Harwell was the voice of summer when I was a kid.

I was never a huge baseball fan. In the one season of Little League I played, the coach put me so far out in the outfield I was in another time zone.

If there was ever anyone designed not to play the game, it was probably me. And to top it off the sport moves to glacially slow, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open for nine full innings.

Still there was something electric about Harwell’s voice that would have made a description of paint drying exciting.

People didn’t just strike out, in Harwell’s world it was, “Strike three… Mattingly is out… He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by…” And if someone dinged one into the upper stands, it was, “A man from Hamtramck will go home with that one.”

There was something magnetic about that Georgia boy’s voice that compelled you to listen as you walked the muggy tree lined streets of my hometown. In the days before everyone was wrapped in a cocoon or air condition his twang wafted through screen doors and out of open garages where other people’s dads were changing their oil.

“High and inside,” would rise and fall in volume as you passed from one house to the next and it seemed most every house was tuned to the Great Voice of the Great Lakes. The sound of Harvell’s voice was as much summer as the distant smell of charcoal smoke and tomatoes warmed by the sun.

While I wasn’t much of a baseball fan, I was a kid when most of the all-time great baseball voices were on the air. Harry Caray, Vin Skully,

Bob Uecker, Mell Allen, Joe

Garagiola, Curt Gowdy and Red Barber were as much a part of my summer as rock and roll on CKLW and

WRIF.

It’s more than a little distressing to realize that for the youngest pro ball players starting their seasons that all of these names are little more than mentions in a book somewhere.

I guess it’s a reminder that nothing lasts forever and that eventually summer ends.

I still remember the chill I felt the first time my youngest told sagely told his friends in the back of my car that the Beatles song I was listening to was, “a bunch of old, dead guys.”

Mortality and its reminders are something I could do without.

Baseball without Harwell, isn’t baseball. It’s not the baseball of crashing screen doors and smashing Turkish Taffy on the door post of the village market.

Maybe Harwell isn’t baseball after all. Maybe he’s just a touchstone for when life was a Coke, a Twinkie and legs dangling off the mill pond bridge.

In any case, any time I hear a clip of his voice, it’s 85, cicadas are humming and it’s summer in a town so small you can stand in the middle and hit both edges with a baseball.

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