A Life In Baseball
Ernie Harwell was born in Washington, Georgia, on January 25, 1918, and died on May 4, 2010, in Novi, Michigan. He fell in love with baseball at an early age, and he dreamed of becoming a sports reporter. He landed his first job as a sports reporter in the middle of the 1930s, while still a teenager. That first job was as a reporter for the Sporting News, and his beat was the minor league team the Atlanta Crackers. This was the start of a newspaper career that continued even after his retirement from broadcasting in 2002; he later had a regular column in the Detroit Free Press.
Harwell attended college at Emory University, and while in his final year there, in 1940, he landed his first job as a radio broadcaster. "I got into radio by mistake, he later told the Detroit Free Press's John Lowe. This first job was as the sports director, and indeed the entire sports department, at station WSB in Atlanta, Georgia. Included in his duties were broadcasting games for the Atlanta Crackers. Getting this job was a major accomplishment for Harwell, who had initially been handicapped by a speech impediment.
At that time, radio sportscasters would broadcast in studios separate from the baseball field. This meant that, instead of calling the game as they saw it unfold, they had to recreate the game based on written descriptions from wire reports. Consequently, Harwell, and his colleagues at the time learned to fill in a lot of details to bring the game to life for listeners. Details that, according to present-day ESPN announcer Jon Miller, are often lacking in current radio broadcasts. "The actual
description," Miller told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Chuck Finder, "giving the count, if the guy is left-handed or right-handed, where did he go to field the ball—did he go right, did he go back—those are things lacking in radio broadcasts now. And those are the fundamentals. People need to see what's going on, not just a rough outline of it."
To these "fundamentals," Harwell himself added "wearability," as he said on the Web site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "You're visiting so many homes for three hours every day or night that you have to be yourself." Harwell also decided early on that he would not use his broadcast booth to cheer for his team, something many other sportscasters did. "I don't denigrate people who do it," he explained on the Detroit Tigers Web site, "I think you just have to fit whatever kind of personality you have, and I think my nature was to be more down the middle and that's the way I conducted the broadcasts."
Harwell married his wife, Lulu, in 1941. Then, after the United States entered World War II in 1942, Harwell joined the Marines. He served in the Marines for four years before returning to civilian life as a radio broadcaster.