Roberts, Harwell left their marks on friends, game

Posted May 09, 2010, at 10:37 p.m.

They came from a different era, yet their humanness made them timeless.

Two baseball Hall of Fame members passed away this week. They were friends, the kind whose passing causes one to pause and consider — their lives and your own.

Robin Roberts was a pitcher most noted for 14 of his 19 major league years with the Philadelphia Phillies.

His career took off when he tried out for the Michigan State baseball team and the coach asked him what position he played. Robin told the story this way.

“I said, ‘What do you need.’ They said pitchers. So I said, ‘Well, I’m a pitcher.’”

That was so beautifully Robin.

He was a quiet, gentle man, but with a ferocious competitive instinct. He had a gentle chuckle and smile that were constants. He loved baseball.

He served on the boards of directors of the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Assistance Team. Robin never really retired from the game. He just kept giving.

I served with Robin on the BAT board, and he never stopped the effort to convince current players of the need to give to less fortunate members of the baseball family.

That was as natural as breathing to him, and he wanted others to understand the satisfaction that brought.

Fellow Hall of Fame member Johnny Bench said of his passing, “He gave so much of his time and intellect to the game and the players. He will be missed for his smile and wit. His passing hurts so much.”

Yes it does.

“Well, Gary, what do you think?” That was the hello from the voice of the Tigers, Ernie Harwell. He asked because he cared.

The greeting was delivered with that southern lilt that became the trademark of his broadcasts. A gently flowing creek with sandy banks and pools of sky blue water, that’s what his broadcasts were to me.

When I was first on the MLB scene, Ernie came to me in Detroit to say hi. “Anything you need, you just let me know,” he said. He meant it.

Like Vin Scully and Jack Buck, their status in the game was not a reason to stay aloof. Rather, it was a reason to give back.

He delivered the consummate rocking chair broadcast of a baseball game. That voice just floated out of the radio. It made you want to close your eyes and just soak in the words and the images they created.

One fan who stood in line in Detroit to pay respects to Ernie this week told the New York Times, “He was like family to us, to everybody here. It was just very important for me to be here; there was no one like him.”

For Ernie and Robin, their careers can be examined in numbers, but not their lives. Both rose above the game to be seen as individuals whose worth came from within.

Two soft spoken, baseball- loving gentlemen, Robin and Ernie, now sit where the games never end. Heaven will be a little quieter so as not to miss a word either says.

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