Ernie Harwell’s HOF Induction Speech and His Definition of Baseball

On August 2, 1981, Ernie Harwell was honored with the Ford C. Frick award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  It’s the highest honor the baseball world can bestow upon an announcer — and Mr. Harwell was the fifth announcer to join the Hall of Fame family.

harwell_ernieNot surprisingly, Ernie gave one of the most memorable speeches the Hall of Fame has ever heard.  The text of the speech is included below along with a slide show video that includes audio footage of the speech’s climactic ending: Ernie Harwell’s poetic Definition of Baseball:

Thank you, Ralph Kiner and thank you folks for that warm Cooperstown welcome. This is an award that I will certainly cherish forever. I praise the Lord here today. I know that all my talent and all my ability comes from him, and without him I’m nothing and I thank him for his great blessing. I’d like for you to meet my very best friend and she is my best friend despite the fact that this month we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, Lulu Harwell. Lulu, will you stand up please. My son, Bill, right next to her, his wife Diane, their youngsters, my son, Gray, his wife Sandy, and their three youngsters, and my daughters, Julie and Carolyn.

I’m very proud of this award, but I’m even more proud of my family. You know the life and times of Ernie Harwell could be capsuled I think in two famous quotations, one from a left handed New York Yankee pitcher and the other one from a right handed English poet. The Yankee pitcher, Lefty Gomez, once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good. ” And the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, once wrote in his epic poem Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Well, I know that I’m a lot luckier than I’m good. I’ve been lucky to broadcast some great events and to broadcast the exploits of some great players.

When I went to Brooklyn in 1948 Jackie Robinson was at the height of his brilliant career. With the Giants I broadcast the debut of Hall of Famer Willie Mays. When I went to Baltimore the great Brooks Robinson came along to replace my good friend George Kell at third base. Kind in my 22 years at Detroit it’s been a distinct privilege to watch the day by day consistency of Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Yes, it’s lucky that I’ve been there and I’ve been at some events too.

I want to tell you about one that Ralph mentioned Bobby Thomson’s home run October 3rd. I felt a little sorry for my Giant broadcasting partner that day, Russ Hodges. Ole’ Russ is going to be stuck on the radio, there were five radio broadcasts and I was gonna’ be on coast to coast TV and I thought that I had the plum assignment.

Well, as you remember it turned out quite differently. Russ Hodges’ record became the most famous sports broadcast of all time, television, no instant replay, no recordings in those days, and only Mrs. Harwell knows that I did the telecast of Bobby Thomson’s home run. When I got home that night after the telecast she said to me, she said, ”You know Ernie when they turned the camera on you after that home run I saw you with that stunned look on your face, and the only other time I had ever seen it was when we were married and when the kids were born.”

That other saying, I’m a part of all that I have met, I think that would have to begin with my wonderful parents back in Atlanta when I was a youngster five years old I was tongue tied. They didn’t have much money, but they spent what they had sending me to speech teachers to overcome the handicap. I know that a lot of you people who have heard me on the radio probably still think I’m tongue tied, but through the grace of God officially I’m not tongue tied any more.

Also I’m a part of the people that I’ve worked with in baseball that have been so great to me, Mr. Earl Mann of Atlanta, who gave me my first baseball broadcasting job. Mr. Branch Rickey at Brooklyn, Mr. Horace Stoneham of the Giants, Mr. Jerry Hoffberger in Baltimore and my present boss, here’s to the greatest ever, Mr. John Fetzer and Mr. Jim Campbell. I’m also a part of the partners that I’ve worked with and there have been so many great ones, beginning with Red Barber and Connie Desmond at Brooklyn and continuing on to my present partner WJR’s Paul Carey.

But most of all, I’m a part of you people out there who have listened to me, because especially you people in Michigan, you Tiger fans, you’ve given me so much warmth, so much affection and so much love. I know that this is an award that’s supposed to be for my contribution to baseball, but let me say this I’ve given a lot less to baseball than it’s given to me and the greatest gift that I received from baseball is the way that the people in the game have responded to me with their warmth and with their friendship. Yes, it’s better to be lucky than good and I’m glad that I’m a part of all that I have met. We’re all here with a common bond today. I think we’re all here because we love baseball.

Back in 1955, Ralph referred to this, I sat down and wrote a little definition of baseball to express my feelings about this greatest game of all. And I know that a lot of things have changed since then. Especially in this strike filled year but my feelings about the game are still the same as they were back then and I think that maybe yours are too. And I’d like to close out my remarks for the next couple of minutes with your indulgence to see if your definition of baseball agrees with mine:

Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm.  A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his (Babe Ruth’s) 714 home runs.

There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago.  That’s baseball.  So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson.  Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex.  A game of inches.  Every skill is measured.  Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed.  And then becomes a statistic.

In baseball democracy shines its clearest.  The only race that matters is the race to the bag.  The creed is the rulebook.  Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.

Baseball is a rookie.  His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream.  It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September.  Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.

Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby.  The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, and an over-aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

Baseball just a came as simple as a ball and bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.

Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World’s Series catch.  And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals.  That’s baseball.  So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front”, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.

Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown.  This is a game for America.  Still a game for America, this baseball!  Thank you.

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About Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas is the original founder and owner of Detroit Athletic Co. He enjoys free-lance writing as well and his articles have appeared in The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, Crain's Detroit Business and The Wall Street Journal.