How much is there to say about the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the Pirates last night that hasn't already been said many times this year? (And for once, you can't blame the bullpen.)
The Cubs left 12 men on base, including RISP in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th innings -- five men left on in the first two innings alone. And even though two HR were hit, by Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto, those inconveniently came with no one on base. Soriano homered in his fourth straight game; if he can do so again tonight, that would tie the team record of five, held by Hack Wilson, Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa.
Ryan Dempster made one mistake -- serving up a home run ball to Ryan Church in the sixth with a man on, which put the Pirates ahead to stay. Dempster threw another nice game and even had two hits of his own. Sean Marshall was the only reliever, and he threw an uneventful eighth inning -- thus, the pen should be very well rested going into tonight's game.
Where, we hope, there will actually be some hits with runners on base. Aramis Ramirez's struggles have gotten so bad that Lou is considering moving him down in the lineup, moving Alfonso Soriano up. That might be a mistake -- Soriano's been hitting so well batting sixth, why mess with it?
As the headline notes, the Cubs may have lost a game last night, but the loss to baseball and, in fact, all of humanity from the passing of Ernie Harwell yesterday is much greater. More thoughts after the jump.
Why does the death of Ernie Harwell touch us all so much? Harwell wasn't connected with the Cubs in any way, yet all of us who are baseball fans mourn his passing in a deep and heartfelt way. I posted this story last night in a comment, but it bears repeating: in 2001, when the Cubs played the Tigers in interleague play, I went to sit in my car -- the only place I could pick up WJR, the Tigers radio station, in those pre-MLB Audio days -- just so I could hear Ernie call a Cubs/Tigers game on the radio. His reputation was that great among baseball fans.
Why is this so? Because when a man like Ernie Harwell spends so many years broadcasting for a team, he becomes part of fans' daily life. You sit in your home, in your car, perhaps in your office, listening to him call out the daily rhythms of your team, and though you don't know him personally, he becomes a radio friend. For those who did have the good fortune of meeting Ernie Harwell, every single story I have read notes that he treated everyone he met the same way, whether baseball superstar or ordinary-man-on-the-street. This, perhaps more than the baseball broadcasting, is why he was so universally admired. That admiration led to his becoming the first active broadcaster to be given the Frick Award by the Hall of Fame.
But that isn't why Tigers fans protested so loudly when he was forced out of the radio booth by then-team president Bo Schembechler in 1991 (this had to be one of the most mind-numbingly idiotic decisions in sports broadcasting history). New ownership returned Ernie to the air in 1993 and he retired on his own terms in 2002. The protests came because Tigers fans had lost a friend, a part of their lives; Schembechler, a former football coach, had no idea what that sort of thing means to baseball fans.
As Cubs fans of several different generations, many of us here have felt the same way about Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray, and Vince Lloyd. As good an announcer as DeWayne Staats was, many of us felt similarly betrayed when Cubs management forced Lloyd to retire from play-by-play in 1986, when he wasn't even 70 years old (Ernie Harwell, after his return, worked until he was 84). Perhaps some of you feel the same way about Pat Hughes and his solid broadcasting style and gentle nature in the booth -- he's now in his 15th year at WGN radio, and one of the nicest people I have ever met. I hope he stays there as long as he personally wants to -- he does an excellent job and, like so many great broadcasters, helps define summer for me and many of you, and as broadcasters like Brickhouse, Caray, Lloyd did for Cubs fans of earlier generations.
In this day of instant gratification and job-hopping, there aren't very many of these broadcasters left -- Vin Scully (though he does mostly television now); Bob Uecker (and you saw the outpouring of love for him recently when he underwent heart surgery); Denny Matthews with the Royals, perhaps Rick Rizzs (Mariners), and several who have also recently passed away: Tom Cheek (Blue Jays), Harry Kalas (Phillies), Bill King (Athletics), Bob Murphy (Mets), Herb Score (Indians), and Joe Nuxhall (Reds).
Men like that, and those from an earlier generation (Jack Buck, Bob Prince, Herb Carneal, among others) are more beloved by fans of their teams as some players, because they become part of our daily lives.
None was greater than Ernie Harwell. The phrase sounds cliched, but he truly was not only a giant of broadcasting, or baseball, but as a human being. Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press writes that Ernie is:
... arguably the most popular figure in the history of our state simply by dong the same gentle thing over and over, simply by being there, by remaining consistent, pure, good and true, even as things around him became anything but. Ernie stood out because he stood still. He was reliable as a rock. A soul in a void. A heart in a sometimes heartless world.
"Beloved" isn't too strong a word to use to describe someone like that. Farewell and godspeed, Ernie Harwell.