“Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”
a remembrance of Ernie Harwell

by Bruce W. Biesenthal

The door opened, and he stood there, wearing nothing but long-legged pajama bottoms. His hair was thin and his face showed every year he had spent in the sun.

Read the article House By The Side of the Road

And then he spoke. It was the voice. The voice. Deep, distinctive, sonorous, smooth.

I knew the voice well. I had heard it through my childhood. I heard it through the car radio as we would drive along the suburban roads outside Detroit. I even heard it muffled by a pillow, as I tried to hide my green plastic transistor radio as I listened to the Tigers on those warm Michigan summer nights.

And there he was. Standing before me in all his glorious humility.

“Come on in“, he said. And made me feel welcome.

I had asked for an interview for TheGoal.com, and the Tigers were playing in Seattle, where TheGoal.com is based, so we arranged to meet. I expected him to suggest a restaurant or the hotel lobby – places I had met with other ballplayers.

Instead, Ernie had said, “Why don’t you just come to my room and we can talk a few minutes?”

And there he was. And he invited me in and made me feel I was somebody he’d like to talk with.

I sat on the edge of the bed, and he sat in the chair. Next to the chair was a pile of books – books he had already been reading that morning. The Bible was open. And there was a copy of Oswald Chamber’s classic – “My Utmost for His Highest.”

Of course, I blathered about hearing his voice through my green transistor radio. I’m sure he had heard similar things thousands of times before. But he smiled, and nodded and said, “Thank you for listening.”

And the interview began. We talked about many things. Ernie had been rather unceremoniously dismissed as the Tiger’s broadcaster in the early 90’s. We talked about that. We talked about his beginnings in the business. We talked about the players who impressed him. We talked about the difference between radio and TV. “Radio is the game,” he said. We talked about the state of the game of baseball itself.

And we talked about God.

Unlike those who wag their holy fingers and become zealously righteous, Ernie wore his faith as a mantle of grace and service. “God is good. He is in control. I can only serve.” I wrote the words down even though we were taping the interview. I knew those words were the credo of his living.

“God is good. He is in control. I can only serve.”

I kept my notes from that interview, and the transcription of the tape.

I knew this day would come and I would want to read the things that Ernie had said. I’ll share some of them with you now – the random things we talked about. I’m tempted to put his words in red, but Ernie would not appreciate that.

- I had asked Ernie which character in baseball stood out the most for him. His answer was Frank Tanana. “He turned his life around.”

- And while Ernie pointed to Willie Mays as the best all-round player he had seen, he almost mentioned he felt fortunate to be there when Brooks Robinson made his debut. He also talked about Babe Ruth and his instincts for baseball.

- He remembered the time, traveling with the Dodgers, when he called the game from the right field stands. And he talked about the difference between travel by train and today’s charter flights.

- Ernie compared the difference between radio and television to the difference between a book and a movie. With a book, the reader creates the scenes. With a movie, the director gives his vision for how it looks. In the same way, with radio, the listener creates the images that mesh with the words. The listener can “see” Jim Northrup chasing down a ball or Sherm Lollar blocking the plate. Ernie believed in parsing his words judiciously. He simply announced the action, and allowed the listener to create the scene.

- I asked him about his beret, or fisherman’s hat, which he often wore. His answer was to the point – “I’m a little bald and my head gets cold.”

- Ernie reminisced about the place baseball held in society in the 30’s and 40’s. He said baseball, boxing and horse racing were the three major sports. “Baseball has continued to hold its place,” he said, “although it’s chipped around the edges.”

- We talked about what it takes to be a superstar. Ernie said, “Well, first of all, it takes a little God-given ability, but, after a point, it’s dedication, hard work and having a passion for what you do. If you’re going to be a champion, act like one.”

-The conversation turned to his goals. He said, “My goal is to show up and do the best I can.”

- Ernie also had marital advice, and since he was married to his sweetheart Lulu for almost 70 years, his words are worth listening to. “There has to be mutual trust in a marriage. She has to trust him and he has to trust her. And you can’t let distance wreck a marriage. You have to sit down and talk.”

- He used his well-worn line – “I have more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan”, referring to the songs he had written that were performed by artists such as B.J. Thomas, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Homer and Jethro, et al.

- We talked about the place of Christianity in the game, and Ernie said things were much different now than in 1948. “In 1948, I don’t think I ever heard anyone stand up and say they had given their life to Christ. Players were church-goers, but there were no meetings, no organizations, no chapel. I used to tell people my religion was the church closest to the stadium.”

- When asked how someone has a relationship with Jesus, Ernie said, “A fellow has to surrender his life to Jesus. He has to know he’s a sinner and we’re all sinners and we can’t do anything on our own. The more you think you can do it on your own the less successful you’ll be. He has to say, ‘Lord, I can’t do this myself. I’ll trust You for everything.’”

- He listed his favorite Bible passages as Romans 8:28, Psalm 139 and Psalm 143.

And there was so much more. I have all the notes. I have the tape of the interview. And I will treasure them.

Oh, yes. I asked one more thing. I asked Ernie what He would like to hear God say to him on the day that he passed this life into the next. Ernie said, “I would want to hear Him say to me, ‘Come on in. Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

Indeed.

Well done, good and faithful servant.