My Summer 2019 Baseball Read

EHarwell-my-life-2001As you may know by now, each summer I try to read a book with a baseball theme – sometimes history, sometimes humor – but always centered on America’s past time and my favorite summer enjoyment. My last one celebrated the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship! That was a great read and kept alive my memory of that historic victory by the “Cubbies”.

This year I am reading a book that is a collection of baseball stories from the pen of sports journalist and long-time Detroit Tigers baseball radio announcer Ernie Harwell. Found in a local thrift store this winter, the book is a 2001 Detroit Free Press publication and titled, Ernie Harwell: Stories from My Life in Baseball. (Harwell wrote a baseball column for the Detroit Free Press for many years and other of his stories have been published also.)

I grew up listening to him on the radio and have fond memories of his lively broadcasting (For example, after a player was called out on strikes, he would declare, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road!”).

This book contains Harwell’s short stories of baseball players, managers, and events and is written in the same lively and interesting style with which he announced the games. They are fun to read. Allow me to share one with you today involving a famous MLB pitcher who had Michigan roots, longed to play for the Tigers as a child, started with them, but was traded and became famous with another team [He is now a TV announcer for MLB.]. Here you go:

John Smoltz was destined to be a Tiger. His grandfather worked on the Tiger Stadium grounds crews. And as a Lansing [MI] sandlotter, John dreamed of the day when he would pitch for the Tigers.

He signed with Detroit on Sept.22, 1985, and began to pursue that dream. Then came the shock of his baseball life on Au.12, 1987.

‘I was in the dugout at Glen Falls [NY]’, he recalled. Somebody handed me two notes. One said, “Urgent. Call your father.” The other said to call Tiger Stadium.’

John called his dad first.

‘Have you heard?’ his father asked?

‘No, what?’

‘You’ve been traded to Atlanta. I saw it on the news.’

‘I couldn’t believe it, ‘ John said. ‘My dream of pitching for the Tigers was over. I called Tiger Stadium and Dave Miller confirmed the trade. Detroit was swapping me for Doyle Alexander. The Braves wanted me to report immediately to Richmond.’

…Since he was 7, Smoltz had loved the Tigers. He heard all their games on the radio. His dad and brothers would drive from Lansing to see the Tigers. His grandfather would interrupt his grounds crew duty, grab John by the hand, and introduce him to team executives Bill Lajoie and Jim Campbell.

‘Someday,’ his grandfather would say, ‘this young man will be pitching for you guys.’

…He was a Tiger for three years until the Alexander trade. Then he became a star with Atlanta.

But he will never forget Aug.12, 1987, and the trade that changed the career of a young pitcher who had been destined to be a Tiger. [pp.20-22]