Peterson: Nothing like Harwell on the radio

There was a time, not so long ago, when a person could tune in the old family radio and hear the down-home baseball announcing of Ernie Harwell.

The late Harwell’s broadcasts of the Detroit Tigers ranks right up there with some of the fonder memories of my youth.

Like fishing one of the many “jump across” creeks that were so abundant a half-century or so ago.

On any day, you could fish those creeks and fill your creel with a number of colorful speckled trout.

And you were so inclined, you could cook up a meal right there on the banks of the creek. It would be hard to describe how good those fish tasted on a warm summer day.

Of going bird hunting on a cool fall afternoon when the colors were so vibrant they took away your breath.

And if you didn’t bring down a ruffed grouse or a speedy woodcock, it didn’t matter so much. You were walking on old railroad trails or the logging roads put in by the oldtimers who made their living in the woods.

Listening to the Tigers was a custom handed down from generation to generation.

My late father talked often about listening to the radio accounts of Tigers legends like Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Tommy Bridges and Mickey Cochrane in the 1930s and early 1940s.

But tuning in to the broadcasts of Ernie Harwell on a cool evening was hard to beat.

You had the option of sitting on the front porch or elsewhere to listen to his comforting tones. There was usually a jug of homemade root beer on hand. Or maybe something a little bit stronger as you grew older.

Unlike today’s announcers, Harwell didn’t openly root for the home team. Of course, he wanted them to win, but he didn’t make it as obvious as some of the “homers” you hear today.

Possessing a soft southern drawl (he hailed from Kentucky) he skillfully wove the story of the game around its characters.

There was background on Charlie “Paw Paw” Maxwell, the famous Sunday afternoon hitter. And Al Kaline, the modest, softspoken kid from Baltimore who won a batting title at age 20.

Or “Storming” Norman Cash, who hit  an  astounding .363 in 1961. The colorful Cash, a real character, might have used a corked bat that dream season. But no Detroit fans cared a whit about that.

Of course, he was famous for telling us a batter “stood like the house beside the road” and a took a called third strike.

Now that I’m old and a great grandfather, I can at least look back on  those days, and be thankful I had the chance to live through them.


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