Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 9/21-27: 4-2

This week: 9/28-10/1: MIN; 10/2-4: CWS

Goat of the Week

Curtis Granderson.

MMM has been riding Grandy all year long, and with good reason. This is easily his worst season, statistically, of his four full big league campaigns. Ironically, it was also the first season in which he became an All-Star.

It was hoped that MMM's venomous words would light a fire under him, as it has with so many other players who've been filleted in this space.

But Granderson, heading into the season's final week, is still muddling along around .250 with a distinct inability to hit left-handers---whether they're of Cy Young quality or just up from AAA.

There are flashes---like what he did to the White Sox on Saturday---but nothing that's sustained for any length of time. In that way, Grandy is like a microcosm of the Tigers' offense as a whole.

Speaking of time, it's running out. The Tigers need a big week from Granderson, if they want to clinch the division without it going down to the last day.

Dishonorable mention: The offense in general---again---which wasted Eddie Bonine's no-hit bid on Friday night in Chicago.

Hero of the Week

OK, so Miguel Cabrera listened to MMM and its alter ego, Greg Eno, who waxed Miggy in a column last week about not carrying the team, like great players do.

Cabrera lit up the Indians and, to an extent, the White Sox last week, edging over 100 RBI for the sixth straight season---or, for his entire career, so far.

Cabrera took the scolding personally, apparently. That's OK; we're glad to help!

Honorable mention: Righthander Rick Porcello, who's quieting any talk about hitting a rookie wall and/or wearing down, with a strong September.

Quick scouting reports: Twins and White Sox

This week marks the biggest regular season series in the ten-year history of Comerica Park.

The Twins are in town, for four huge games---games that will either keep the Twins in the AL Central race, or catapult the Tigers to their first divisional title in 22 years.

That's all.

It'll be fun at the "new corner"---Montcalm and Woodward---as every inning, every at-bat, every pitch will weigh significantly. This is what it's all about.

The Twins, sans Justin Morneau, are on an 11-2 run, pulling from six games back to two.

Others are contributing, big time. Mike Cuddyer is the biggest bat right now. He has six homers and 18 RBI in his last 13 games, filling in for Morneau at 1B. Denard Span has been swinging a hot bat, too.

And there's always Joe Mauer to worry about, too.

Beware Carl Pavano, too---who's been able to vex the Tigers as both an Indian and as a Twin. He pitches on Wednesday.

The White Sox, who've had a miserable September, nonetheless took two of three from the Tigers in Chicago over the weekend, but the Chisox always play the Tigers tough---home or away.

The Tigers would be best served to have the division mostly sewn up by the time the White Sox arrive in Detroit. You know manager Ozzie Guillen will pull out all the stops to try to deny the Tigers an on-field celebration in front of his team.

Under the microscope

Granderson, as mentioned above, must come up big this week---especially in spacious CoPa, site of so many of his past doubles and triples. If he does, and Placido Polanco keeps up his strong September, then the Tigers' offense will take on a whole new dynamic down the stretch.

If Curtis "does his thing," it will go a long way toward clinching the division.

There's just something about the Tigers' offense, a certain je ne sais quoi, when the Nos. 1 and 2 guys are getting on base and wreaking havoc. That has been missing for alarmingly long stretches of time this season. If it returns this week, get ready to celebrate.
Bottom line: MMM wanted to see the Tigers enter these four games with Minnesota with no less than a two-game lead, and that's exactly what they have.

Why is that so important?

The Twins now almost have to win three of the four games in Detroit to have a fighting chance. A split is great for the Tigers; it would keep their lead at two with three games to play. The magic number would be down to two.

If the Tigers, who've played so very well at home all year, can just hold serve and nullify the Twins with a 2-2 record in "the series," then they're almost assured of winning the division.

Of course, it would be even better to get greedy and win three, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 6

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!


Friday, September 25, 2009

'84 Tigers Turned Pennant Race Mine Field Into A Walk In The Park

A lot of them will be there, standing on the Comerica Park field, not the place of their glory but still right smack dab in the city of their faithful.

Darrell Evans says he'll be there. Alan Trammell, too---excused from his duties as Chicago Cubs bench coach. Kirk Gibson, as well---appearing with the consent of his employers, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The old white-haired manager himself, Sparky Anderson, has submitted his RSVP.

They'll all be there, and more, when the Tigers honor the 1984 World Series champs on Monday, prior to an all-important tilt with the Minnesota Twins. It's the Silver Anniversary of their mugging of the baseball world. If you're approaching middle age, like me, then you're ready to protest---wanting your 25 years back.

It's interesting that today's Tigers will go out after the pomp and circumstance on Monday and take on the Twins in a game with pennant implications, for a couple of reasons.

One, the Tigers' magical 1984 season began with the Twins---the Tigers sweeping them in Minnesota, long before the Metrodome began vexing them.

Second, the '84 Tigers didn't really have to play any heart-stopping, nailbiting games in September---at any time of the month, let alone in the season's final week.

If it wasn't for the Toronto Blue Jays' gallant effort, the Tigers would have had the AL East sewn up by Memorial Day. And that barely qualifies as an exaggeration.

You know the story of the '84 ride. A 9-0 start, which became 16-1, which turned into 26-4, which had even the oldtimer baseball people scurrying to the record books.

But the Tigers weren't done sprinting from the gate.

After another ten games, the Tigers' record was 35-5---a won/loss mark that is as famous in these parts as other storied baseball numbers like 61 and 715 and 56 and 511.

Thirty-five and five. It rolls off the tongue now, even to those too young to recall when the Tigers made a mockery of their competition.

But the Blue Jays were playing at well above a .600 clip, and in doing so were able to at least keep the Tigers on their radar.

Still, the Tigers' divisional lead was generally swaying back and forth between eight and twelve games most of the summer. Occasionally the Jays would get within seven, and there was cause for panic.

The 2009 Tigers mustered a seven game lead a few weeks ago and certain keyboard mashers like yours truly declared the race over with.

It's all relative, huh?

I'm glad the Tigers are honoring the 1984 heroes, who authored a season that we may never see again. A wire-to-wire lead, that unworldly 35-5 start. A no-hitter by Jack Morris. An 11-pitch at-bat by Dave Bergman on Monday Night Baseball, before a walk-off home run---against the Blue Jays.

And on and on.

I remember the Tigers, too soon, acknowledging the 1968 champs after just 10 years, in '78. Mickey Stanley was still an active player, to show you. It was nice and all, but ten years is gone in a flash.

Twenty-five years motor by, too, but it is a Silver Anniversary, so it's time.

The 1984 Tigers thrilled, they amazed, they made folks proud to be Detroiters.

The 2009 Tigers have caused most people to run for the Pepto-Bismol.

Both will be, when the dust settles, divisional champs. After that, who knows?

So take some time out on Monday---whether at the ballpark or watching from home---to give a nod to some ballplayers who made an entire baseball season a breeze.

Bless You, Boys!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 9/14-20: 3-4

This week: 9/22-24: at Cle; 9/25-27: at CWS

Goat of the Week

The Metrodome, pure and simple.

Oh, and Jim Leyland.

The Dome jumped up and got the Tigers again on Saturday, as left fielder Don Kelly lost a harmless (HA!) fly ball in the lethal combination of white lights/white dome roof/white baseball, opening the floodgates for the Twins in the 8th inning of a game the Tigers were leading, 2-1.

So the Dome gets blamed, but so does Leyland.

Why on Earth did he have the rookie Kelly in left field, in that situation and in that stadium?

It's been whispered before about Leyland---that he sometimes places players in positions to fail. Yes, more veteran outfielders than Kelly have lost balls in the Metrodome's roof, but don't you feel better with a guy who's played there many times before?

Dishonorable mention: The offense in general, which labored to score runs all week---contributing mightily to the Tigers' losing two of three to the Royals at home.

Hero of the Week

OK, who had Nate Robertson in the "Tigers pitcher most likely to be the 'x' factor down the stretch" pool?

Good ole Nate saved the Tigers' rear ends on Sunday, twirling five terrific innings, allowing just two runs and striking out six. A loss would have drawn the Twins to within one game. Instead, the Tigers left town with a small but not tiny three game cushion.

Robertson, since returning from his injury and rehab assignments, has been mostly brilliant as a spot starter, rescuing the Tigers with quality starts and providing for them, essentially, what they thought they'd get from fellow lefty Jarrod Washburn, their prized trade deadline acquisition.

The Tigers needed Robertson to stifle the Twins as much as possible, while hoping to scratch out enough offense to snatch a victory. And Nate did that, followed by some stellar bullpen work from Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, and Fernando Rodney.

Honorable mention: Justin Verlander, who deserved a much better fate on Saturday.

Quick scouting reports: Indians and White Sox

A few weeks ago, when the Indians came to town, MMM warned folks about them.

The Tribe was on a 35-game run in which they actually had won more games than the Tigers during the same stretch.

Beware, MMM said.

The Tigers swept them out of Detroit.

But no team is without some danger in the final two weeks, when it's an accomplishment to win any game, regardless of opponent.

The Indians, since that sign of life, have sunk back into the morass of bad baseball.

But the Tigers often play, on the road, as if they're in that same morass.

As for the White Sox, the Tigers are likely to get a look at starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who was acquired in July but who wasn't able to pitch for weeks due to injury.

Peavy made his White Sox debut on Saturday and reported nothing more than general soreness after the 73-pitch effort. Peavy was returning from a three-month absence due to an ankle injury.

The White Sox probably didn't think they'd be on the brink of elimination by the time Peavy got around to pitching for them, however.

But that's where the Chisox are---on life support. They're seven games behind the Tigers in the loss column, and the magic number to eliminate them is down to seven.

The White Sox do have six games left with the Tigers, and they pretty much have to win them all to have any shot at a miracle finish that would make the 1964 Phillies collapse look like child's play.

Under the microscope

MMM says keep a close eye on Edwin Jackson.

The Tigers' hard-throwing starter is showing signs of breaking down, and at the worst possible time.

Maybe the Tigers expected too much from Jackson after his wonderful first 2/3 of the season. Regardless, he's just not the same pitcher. Yet an Edwin Jackson at 75% is still better than a lot of big league starters.

The Tigers need Jackson, big time---especially in the playoffs, where power pitching and pounding the strike zone is at a premium.

Watch EJ. Very closely.

Bottom line:
The win on Sunday was a huge one for the Tigers. Not only did it mark the difference between leading the division by one game or three, it now puts the Tigers in a position where the "clock is their friend," so to speak.

If this was a football game, the Tigers would need to just keep the ball on the ground, make a couple of first downs with safe passes, and drain the clock.

They can grab a couple of first downs by sweeping the woeful Indians. Winning two of three would be alright, too. The Tigers' magic number to clinch is 11.

The goal?

Make the Twins need to win three of four---or all four---of their games in Detroit next week.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 11

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 9/7-13: 1-5

This week: 9/14: TOR; 9/15-17: KC; 9/18-20: at Min

Goat of the Week

The bullpen sprang its first major leak of the season.

The Tigers are still 64-0 when leading after eight innings, but on Saturday, Fernando Rodney surrendered a tie-breaking two-run home run to Aaron Hill as the Tigers lost their season-high fifth straight game. The Blue Jays rallied from a 6-3 deficit to win, 8-6. The game also featured a game-tying wild pitch by the usually reliable Brandon Lyon.

The losing streak, coming on the heels of a six-game winning version, was largely due to the bullpen getting all sieve-like. Everything that went right during the winning streak went wrong in the five losses to the wretched Royals and almost-as-bad Blue Jays.

Guess that's why they're called streaks, eh?

The bullpen, as a group, is last week's Goat.

Dishonorable mention: Curtis Granderson, who continues to sully the leadoff position with atrocious at-bats, especially against lefties.

Hero of the Week

The Tigers found themselves on Sunday in that position of needing a win in the worst way---a place they haven't been in a while.

So they got a big start from rookie Rick Porcello, who helped his team get back on the winning track.

It's hard to say that a game is a "must win" when you have a five-game lead in the division in mid-September, but the Tigers really needed to win Sunday. Losing five straight to the likes of Kansas City and Toronto was not on the menu.

Porcello put an end---at least temporarily---to the nonsense by vexing the Jays, limiting them to two runs and four hits in six innings.

This time, the bullpen didn't goat everything up, and the Tigers had themselves a much-needed win.

Honorable mention: Rookie catcher Alex Avila, who continues to impress with his short, compact, powerful swing, and who has done more to inject the Tigers' offense with some punch than anyone ever expected when he was called up from the minors rather unexpectedly. Five homers in 48 AB for young Avila---not bad at all.

Quick scouting reports: Royals and Twins

Break up the Royals!

They handled the Tigers, three straight, last week in Kansas City. Some payback would be nice, and would start to assure the Tigers---and their fans---of the division title.

The Royals have some youngsters trying to show off for 2010 and beyond, they have Billy Butler (.303), and they still have Zack Greinke---he of the 2.19 ERA and Cy Young contention. Greinke is scheduled to pitch against the Tigers this week.

The Twins?

Ahh, the Twins---those untrustworthy fellows. Their ineptitude has prevented them from gaining any real ground on the Tigers, particularly during Detroit's losing streak. They're just not good enough to sustain a serious run.

Or are they?

Don't count them out until the mathematicians say it's safe. It's getting close to that point, but we're not there yet.

You're familiar with the names: Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, Span.

The Twins have them, but they're not putting together good stretches of baseball right now.

The Tigers play Minnesota six more times this season. The Twins pretty much have to win all six to have a shot.

But the math isn't official yet, so don't count them out.

Don't EVER count the Twins out.

Under the microscope

MMM put Nate Robertson under the scope last week and the guy re-injured himself.


So at the risk of jinxing anyone else, MMM is putting Magglio Ordonez under the microscope.


Maggs has the makings of an "X" factor down the stretch. He would seem to have a lot to prove. His batting average has been inching toward .300. He's experienced. He's been mostly invisible all year---certainly less visible than his contract situation, which has been discussed ad nauseam.

It might just be a gut feeling that MMM has, but watch Ordonez closely down the stretch.

Just a hunch.

Bottom line:
Monday night on "The Knee Jerks", MMM said that the Central race was over and done with. That declaration was made because the Tigers were on a six-game roll and the lead was seven full games.

Then the Tigers promptly went out and lost five in a row to two teams going nowhere.

But the race is still over, MMM thinks.

This week's bottom line? The Tigers need only break even down the stretch. They don't need to play out of their minds.


You'll hear that nonsense a lot from now on. But seems to me when you start doing that, start lowering expectations, then you get into a "try not to lose" mode, instead of a "lower the hammer on them" mentality.

The Tigers have a six-game advantage in the loss column, which should be next to impossible for the wacky Twins and Chicago White Sox to overcome.

The Tigers ought to just put this thing to bed and make a statement going into the playoffs.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 15

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!


Friday, September 11, 2009

There's No Such Thing As A "Laugher" To The Big League Manager

Sparky Anderson was miserable.

Sleepless nights. Constant worry. Fear of being strung up on the center field flagpole at Tiger Stadium (no joke). Ghoulish thoughts of bitter disappointment.

Yep, the Tigers' 1984 World Championship season almost wrecked the team's manager.

The '89 season of 103 losses almost wrecked him, too, when Sparky took a few weeks off during the season due to mental exhaustion. Read: "I ain't never lost no 100 games before."

But 1984? It was nearly poison to him.

It was before a game in Detroit during that wire-to-wire '84 campaign when Sparky, speaking candidly to a reporter, pointed to the famous, in-play flagpole in deep center field.

"See that pole? They'll be hanging me from it if we don't win this thing."

The Tigers sprinted out to that legendary 35-5 start in 1984, and by the All-Star break pundits were declaring the AL East race, and maybe the MLB race, over with.

Those kind of expectations made the '84 season one of Sparky's least favorite---indeed, maybe the least favorite, in terms of fun---that he's ever managed.

He said so in his book, They Call Me Sparky, which came out in 1998.

The Tigers were in first place from Opening Day until October, and no one really threatened them. The poor Toronto Blue Jays played well over .600 ball for much of the year, but they were constantly 8-to-11 games out, it seemed.

That kind of lead, with those kinds of expectations, can drive managers batty.

Anderson didn't do as much smiling in 1984 as you think

For the record, Sparky called the 1987 team his favorite.

"They weren't nearly as talented (as 1984's team)," Sparky wrote. "That '87 team had no business winning anything."

The '87 Tigers---minus catcher Lance Parrish, who fled to Philadelphia as a free agent---started 11-19 and things didn't look good. But they went 87-45 the rest of the way, which included a thrilling final week to overcome the Blue Jays on the final day of the season.

But the 1984 team vexed Sparky something fierce.

Jim Leyland, manager of today's Tigers, alluded to the life of a manager recently. The subject came up after the Tigers had blown a team out---a rarity with their popgun offense.

Leyland rebuffed the notion of the "laugher"---the blowout where a team races to a 10-0 lead, as the Tigers had done on the night in question.

The manager's reasoning?

Much like Sparky's, but in a microcosm.

What if we blow this 10-0 lead? What if we come from ahead?

Nope, Leyland said, give me a nailbiter any day of the week instead of the ill-named "laugher."

Later this month, the Tigers will honor that 1984 team---a quarter century, believe it or not, since their year of glory. The 1984 team that never came close to squandering their division lead, never trailed in either post-season series.

Leyland's team is threatening to make the AL Central race a laugher, that dreaded word.

The lead peaked at seven games last weekend, and is now five-and-a-half. The untrustworthy Minnesota Twins have shaved a game-and-a-half off in less than a week, thanks to the Tigers' inexplicable three-game sweep at the hands of the slapstick Kansas City Royals.

Leyland, no doubt, is worried that his team might come from ahead and lose the division. And there will be no Wild Card awaiting the second place team in the Central, as it was in 2006 when Leyland's Tigers gagged and blew the division in the final month. To the Twins.

The Tigers might be best served to have given their manager no larger than a two or three-game lead, instead of this, ahem, laugher that they created upon September's dawning.

At least there's no flagpole in center field anymore, from which to hang the manager.

Not that the folks around Detroit won't find someplace else from which to do the deed.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 8/31-9/6: 6-1

This week: 9/8-10: at KC; 9/11-14: TOR

(Sorry for the abbreviated post this week, but MMM has to hustle off to a Labor Day BBQ!)

Goat of the Week

This is a first for MMM: NO goats for last week.

How could there be? A six-game winning streak (more on that later), including a three-game sweep in Tampa over the Rays, further ripping the road monkey off the Tigers' backs.

The series in Tampa was filled with clutch hitting, good defense, and solid pitching when it mattered most. The Indians were swept out of Detroit, as they should when one team has something to play for and the other doesn't.

So, no goats last week. There can't be. MMM would come off unseemly if it did that!

Hero of the Week

OK, where to begin?

Brandon Inge, for his ninth inning grand slam on Sunday to give the Tigers the sweep?

Justin Verlander, for more terrific pitching?

Brandon Lyon, for ably stepping in for Fernando Rodney?

The kids from Toledo, pinch-hitting and pinch-running for the cause?

Nate Robertson, for twirling 10 innings since his return in two starts, and only surrendering one run?

Hey, what about manager Jim Leyland, for kicking Joe Maddon's ass in Tampa?

Heroes were abound last week, as the Tigers extended their lead in the Central Division to sven full games over the Twins.

Quick scouting reports: Royals and Blue Jays

This week, the Tigers play two teams going into the toilet.

The Royals have been horrific since the All-Star break, and the Blue Jays recently had a 5-15 streak.

The Royals have Zach Greinke, but that's about it. Their staff has been riddled with injuries, and their offense is virtually non-existent. Now Jose Guillen is likely lost for the season, as if the Royals needed THAT.

The Blue Jays and Tigers haven't met since Opening Week, when the Jays took three of four in Canada. It's another scheduling quirk, like the one the Tigers just encountered by scrunching all seven of their games with the Rays into 10 days.

Under the microscope

It'll bear watching to see how Jim Leyland uses Nate Robertson.

Old Nate is back, and if his first two starts are any indication, he might function as a late-season acquisition from another team.

Robertson should be the fifth starter, as Armando Galarraga hasn't earned that right with his latest appearance.

Robertson's stamina will be watched. He went four innings in his first start, and six in his second.

Oh, and with the return of Nate comes the return of "Gum Time", that rally-inducing breaking out of the bubblegum that worked so well in 2006. It sure worked over the weekend in Tampa, and against the Indians on Thursday afternoon.

So MMM is putting Nate Robertson---actually, the way he's used---under the microscope.

Bottom line:
Last Monday night on "The Knee Jerks", MMM said that if the Tigers could just go on a five or six-game winning streak, they could probably put the division race to bed. The reasoning was that the teams chasing them couldn't keep up with that kind of winning.

Well, after uttering those words, the Tigers promptly won six in a row, and it looks like the division race is indeed put to bed. The magic number is a measly 20, with about three weeks and some change left.

Perhaps there was no bigger win, in terms of defining a season, than Sunday's comeback in Tampa.

The Tigers could have packed it in, satisfied with winning the first two games of the series. The first batter was retired in the ninth. Then Maddon got cute and started changing pitchers, when Lance Cormier was doing just fine, thank you.

Then the Tigers made Maddon pay for his cuteness.

That four-run rally in the ninth Sunday might be the game we point to as the one that symbolically clinched the division for the Tigers. We'll see.

Tigers' magic number to clinch the division: 20

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!


Friday, September 04, 2009

Harwell ThisClose To Appearing Immortal To Us

If only the rest of us could accept Ernie Harwell's fate as well as Ernie Harwell.

Leave it to Ernie to top us again when it comes to level-headedness and spirituality.

The news that Harwell, 91, the longtime Tigers broadcaster, has a cancerous tumor in a bile duct and that the prognosis isn't terrific, is slowly but surely sinking into the souls of those who've listened to him call Bengals baseball for months, years, decades---whichever category you choose, and in whichever you happen to belong.

"I'm ready to face what comes," Harwell told the Detroit Free Press. "Whether it's a long time or a short time is all right with me because it's up to my Lord and savior."

OK, but what about the rest of us?

Ernie's health is about to decline, perhaps quickly, because once this dreaded cancer gets started it can get downright insatiable until it achieves its purpose.

So who knows how long we have to prepare for the worst?

As foolish as it sounds, there was a time when I was convinced that the comedian/actor/writer George Burns would never perish. He had made plans to play Carnegie Hall on his 100th birthday and there was no reason to believe that George wouldn't be able to honor that commitment.

Burns was once asked what his doctor said about George smoking cigars.

"My doctor's dead," George replied with a wink, gently rolling yet another stogie between his thumb and forefinger.

No one is immortal, of course, but sometimes a person comes along and you think they're going to give that law of nature a run for its money.

Ernie Harwell is one of those types.

It was a crisp spring Saturday afternoon in May, 1976, and my friend Kris Donker and I were hanging out before a Tigers game in front of the lower deck box seats, just behind one of the gates that opened onto the field at Tiger Stadium.

Batting practice had just finished, and the ushers hadn't shooed us away yet. We just stood there, taking in the sights of the stadium, awash in green: grass, seats, facades---everything was so green. This was several years before they re-painted the Stadium in blue, which I never forgave them for.

Suddenly, a distinctive voice drenched in Georgia was heard from behind us.

"Excuse me, fellas. Comin' through!"

We were snapped out of our daydreams by Ernie Harwell, which, as a 13-year-old boy, was one of the very best ways to be woken up from such a state.

Ernie was trying to get onto the field and we two adolescent kids, far from our assigned seats, were in his way.

We stepped aside.

"Thank ya, fellas," Ernie said, carrying a briefcase or valise.

What struck me was that there was absolutely no difference in sound or pitch or delivery between the Ernie Harwell politely asking two boys to move out of his way, and the Ernie Harwell calling a Ron LeFlore at-bat.

I had the good fortune of meeting Harwell several times since then, in my capacity as a cable TV producer/director/host. One of my most treasured possessions is a photo I have of the two of us, snapped circa 1990, arms around each other's shoulders, smiling on the set of one our shows. A friend of mine blew it up to 12" x 18", and the next time I saw Ernie, he signed it graciously.

"Who are those two handsome fellas?," he asked with a chuckle when I presented it for him to sign.

I ought to scan that photo and post it on the Internet, I suppose.

This is beginning to sound like a eulogy, and I don't mean it to be, for Ernie is still among us. But the news of Ernie's cancer is, I'm afraid, the first shoe to drop on a life that we all knew would come to an end but which teased us to think was interminable.

But then again, Ernie himself sounded eulogistic when talking to the Freep.

"I've had so many great adventures," Harwell said. "It's been a terrific life."

Geez, even Ernie is talking about himself in the past tense.

Hold on, Mr. Harwell---you're not "Lonnnng gone" just yet!!

We need time to say goodbye and that just might take forever, so deal with it.