Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Baseball Announcers: More Than Just A Voice

Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell waving to the crowd i i

Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell waves to the crowd during the calling of his final game between the Tigers and the New York Yankees in Detroit in September 2002. Harwell recently announced he has inoperable cancer. Paul Warner/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Warner/AP
Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell waving to the crowd

Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell waves to the crowd during the calling of his final game between the Tigers and the New York Yankees in Detroit in September 2002. Harwell recently announced he has inoperable cancer.

Paul Warner/AP

Harry Kalas died just before the season began.

His casket was placed at home plate in the Philadelphia ballpark.

The Phillies have been wearing a patch with his initials all year. The emblem was purposely sewn just above the heart.

Ernie Harwell is dying. A couple of weeks ago, a Detroit Tigers game was stopped in the third inning, the better for Harwell to have full attention when he addressed his loving admirers. The whole packed house rose and chanted his name with love.

Kalas and Harwell, of course, never wore a uniform. They were merely announcers, or better, what we call "the voice of..." In a visual world, they've been but oral, something that harks back to the cracker barrel, to the campfire. They — now pay attention to the vernacular verb — "call." They call a game. And after a while, the voices like Kalas and Harwell somehow become so familiar, even comforting, that they don't just bring you the game. Rather, the game brings you them.

The Tigers and Phillies would come and go — players, managers, names, numbers. But Harry Kalas was always there to talk to you in Philadelphia; Ernie Harwell to speak to you in Detroit.

For his valedictory when he retired in 2002, Harwell thanked his listeners for "taking me to the cottage up north, to the beach, to the picnic, your workplace and your backyard."

Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium in July 2002 i i

Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas died in April after narrating 39 seasons of Phillies games. George Widman/AP hide caption

itoggle caption George Widman/AP
Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium in July 2002

Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas died in April after narrating 39 seasons of Phillies games.

George Widman/AP

Baseball voices go with you. They are not just on the air, but they are in the air, most every summer's day, for months on end. And almost every team has a voice that is identified with the team.

Baseball is more languid, with time for storytelling. A pastime — but not really the national pastime anymore. It's the local pastime now. Football is the national game, on the networks, with people watching impersonally from all over.

By contrast, baseball is a bunch of neighborhoods, where each distinct voice can be heard, most every day. That's why fewer folks care about the baseball playoffs. Once their home team is eliminated, they eliminate baseball from their mind.

In the whole history of sport, has anybody tuned into any game because of the announcer? No, you tune into the game for the game or for your team.

Kalas, though, was the Phillies, and Harwell was the Tigers, and so, as there is a home team, they were a home voice.

As the media grow more and more fragmented, as fewer fans read the sports pages or watch the sports guys on the local newscasts, announcers like Kalas and Harwell should become more and more singular.

In a cacophonous world, how comforting to hear someone we know speak to us as "the voice of..."

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford