Friday, May 07, 2010

Radio voices of baseball, part 2

Spencer Michlin, who suggested we share the James Moore piece about the late Philadelphia Phillies radio voice Ernie Harwell in the previous blog posting, shares his own thoughts as follows:

My thoughts on why he was important are identical to the reasons I think baseball and radio--and, especially, baseball on radio--are important.

Football and basketball might as well have been created for television right down to the shapes of the playing surfaces.

Basketball moves so fast that it’s difficult to describe fully as its happening. Radio announcers barely have time to do more than follow the ball, and in their breathless efforts to do that, have no chance to discuss the strategy of each fluid move and, certainly, no ability to discuss the beauty of the moves themselves.

Football works a little better on radio, but, even though the stop and start nature of the game allows the announcers to discuss strategy, it’s just so much more exciting to see the plays as they unfold.

But for me, if you can’t be at the ballpark, it’s better to listen to baseball on the radio. The game is so much bigger on the screen of your imagination than in HD, and it’s the announcers who make it so.

To this day, you can walk down a street in the Bronx and follow a Yankees game from radios on stoops and near windows without missing a play. Kids across the country still stay up past bedtime surreptitiously listening to their favorite team and keeping a box score by flashlight. A solitary car trip at night is made better by the calm and excited voices of men riding the ionosphere skip from a thousand miles away, describing the action on a diamond you’ll never see in life, a battle between two teams you don’t even care about--except on that one night.

Much has been overblown about baseball’s role as a part of our national fabric, but I say that—even beyond the game itself--baseball on the radio has, for generations, brought together the city and the farm, the forest and the harbor. Each game is its own story and voices like Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, Red Barber, Mel Allen, and Harry Caray have been among America’s finest storytellers.

And let’s throw in Jack Graney of the Indians (this is more than being polite—when I was a kid in the early 50’s, my Dallas Eagles were a farm team of the Indians, and for many summers I’d listen to Graney describe the exploits of Avila, Boudreau, Doby, Feller and Easter.) Across America, this experience, varied only by the heroes involved, is part of who a great many of us are.

As for Harwell himself, James Moore describes his voice and impact better than I ever could:

“He was resonant and reassuring without being intrusive. Listeners heard confidence and kindliness as a subtext to his descriptions of baseball games. We thought we knew Mr. Harwell but he definitely knew us. Harwell understood that there was an almost sacred connection between fans and their teams and he always gave us reason to believe in happy outcomes…

“Mostly though, the Tiger’s legendary broadcaster sounded like summer.”

-- Spencer

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