Thursday, September 17, 2009

A somber celebration in Detroit

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Buster Olney

Ernie Harwell will chat with his extended family tonight, from a baseball field in Detroit, and Al Kaline has a pretty good idea of what he will say. The words will not be bitter or angry, Kaline knows, and the words will not be sad.

Which is not to say that there won't be tears shed in Comerica Park tonight, in the third inning, when Harwell is expected to speak. Harwell is 91 years old and is terminally ill. He has cancer, and doctors have advised against surgery.

Harwell has been broadcasting baseball since 1943 and worked for the Dodgers, Giants and Orioles, among other teams. But Harwell's home since 1960 has been in Detroit, and it is there where he has resided in the living rooms and kitchens, in cars and on the stoops, and in the imaginations of baseball fans. He has been a constant, through economic busts and booms, through seasons of frustrations and in the championship summers.

When things were going badly, or when things were going well, Kaline marveled, Harwell has always been a constant, always the same. "Even-keeled, and upbeat," Kaline said on the phone Tuesday evening.

Kaline first met Harwell when he was a player, and after Kaline ended his career on the field and joined Harwell in the broadcast booth, he came to know him well. He came to know about Harwell's songwriting, about his preference for radio over television, because Harwell has always appreciated painting pictures with words for listeners, with precise description.

Al and Louise Kaline shared dinners with Ernie and Lulu Harwell, shared a cruise to the Bahamas, and in recent years, when Kaline started attending Sunday morning chapel at Comerica, he has listened to Harwell speak, about the Bible, about living a good life. He likes hearing Harwell's voice -- always assured, filled with wonder and curiosity and an optimism for what might be.

"I'm sure there is no really perfect man," Kaline said. "But Ernie comes as close to anyone as I've ever met. He has made me a better person, just by being around him.

"He is by far the most loved person who has come this way."

So this is what Kaline expects tonight. "There are going to be a lot of tears," he said. "There is going to be a long standing ovation."

Kaline chuckled.

"Probably longer than the commissioner would like." Because the game will be delayed.

But the guess here is that the commissioner will understand, and so will the umpires and the players on both sides. "The pitchers will just have to get extra time to warm up," said Kaline.

Harwell will speak, and Kaline expects that the announcer will say something similar to what Harwell said to him directly. "He said, 'We all have a day we're going to die, and mine must be coming up,'" Kaline recalled, 'and I'm ready for the rest of the journey.'"

Tonight will be spectacular, Kaline is sure. "Because it will make people understand even more what an exceptional person Ernie Harwell is."

Buster Olney

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Smithsonian to present Lasorda portrait

Former Dodgers skipper to be honored on 82nd birthday
By Rhett Bollinger /

Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda received yet another honor as it was announced Wednesday that the his portrait will be presented at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Lasorda, who is also the Dodgers' special advisor to the chairman, will see the portrait unveiled in a ceremony on Sept. 22, Lasorda's 82nd birthday, in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium.

The portrait is a part of the tribute to his 60 years with the Dodgers and his life in baseball. The portrait, measuring 60 by 50 inches, was painted by Everett Raymond Kinstler and will be on view in the museum's "New Arrivals."

"I am proud and honored by this very special recognition," Lasorda said in a statement. "I have been honored many times in the past, and am appreciative of them all, but to be included in the National Portrait Gallery is very special, and very humbling."

The Smithsonian is no stranger to baseball-related art, but to be included in the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection an individual must be of national significance. And that candidate must first be approved by the Gallery's curators and historians, the director and deputy director, and then voted on by the Portrait Gallery's Commission for inclusion in the permanent collection.

Lasorda, though, passed through the approval stage and now will join other Dodgers stars who have their picture in the collection: Don Drysdale (1962), Leo Durocher (1947 & '63), Walter Alston (in a gelatin silver print with Casey Stengel and Dwight Eisenhower, 1956 and with Casey Stengel, 1956), Sandy Koufax (1963), Gil Hodges (with John Reardon, Ed Fitzgerald and Charles Edwards, 1947), Branch Rickey (1945), Jackie Robinson (1947, '49, '83), Wilbert Robinson (1930) and the 1955 Dodgers team photo (1955).

Lasorda has long been an ambassador of baseball, as he has met seven United States Presidents and traveled to 23 countries to promote the sport. He has also visited 40 U.S. military bases around the world to give motivational speeches.

Lasorda is also just one of four skippers to manage the same team for 20 years or more, as he managed the Dodgers for exactly 20 years, winning two World Series titles along the way in 1981 and 1988. Lasorda was then elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in his first year of eligibility in 1997.

Lasorda sat for his portrait with Kinstler, who has painted more than 1,200 portraits of well-known personalities and public figures, at Kinstler's National Arts Club studio in New York City in June.

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays American icons whose lives tell the American story. The National Portrait Gallery opened to the public in 1968. The museum's collection of more than 20,000 works includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and new media.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Clemente hopefuls embody best in ball

Fallen Hall of Famer remains role model for current stars

By Mark Newman/
09/02/09 8:00 PM ET

They raise money and supplies for children in need, fight to cure diseases, deliver medical supplies to impoverished areas, match strikeout totals with money for military troops, establish scholarships, offer support groups for cancer survivors and quietly sacrifice their time in myriad other ways to help make the world a better place.

They are more than Major League Baseball players.

They are Roberto Clemente Award nominees.

Voting is under way through Oct. 4, as fans help decide which of 30 club nominees will win this prestigious annual award presented by Chevy -- given to the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. Wednesday marks the eighth annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially recognize local club recipients of the Roberto Clemente Award.

The award is named for the 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The award perpetuates Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current-day players who truly understand the value of helping others.

"I would like to congratulate and thank each of the 2009 club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award for their exceptional play on the field and dedication to their local communities," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball and Chevy have continued this joint partnership in honoring one of the game's greatest players and a remarkable individual. For the 30 players representing their clubs, it is a great achievement being mentioned alongside Roberto Clemente and they have represented Major League Baseball with honor."

Fan balloting lasts a month, and the fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced before Game 3 of the World Series, a long tradition that continued when Albert Pujols of the Cardinals won it last fall.

You might be there in person the same night that the 2009 winner is announced, because voting fans are automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to Game 3 of the Fall Classic. It will be at a National League ballpark to be determined later.

Each club determined its nominee, and if you are one of those 30 nominees, then your credentials cannot be summarized in a brief way. Read the individual articles about each nominee on their respective club sites here, and then help decide this important honor.

"Giving back, that's the key, I think, to being a professional athlete," Red Sox nominee Kevin Youkilis said. "There's a lot of stuff you can do by just taking a little bit of time to help some causes and create awareness in the community."

Youkilis, who just celebrated the second anniversary of Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids, along with his wife Enza, described the feeling of being able to help a child in need:

"It's better than coming to the ballpark a lot of times and winning ballgames. ... Winning here is a great thing, but when you can win the hearts of kids and see the difference you're making in a child's life and maybe helping him grow up to be a great person in life or do something great, that's a lot better feeling then what we do in our jobs here."

Perhaps the truest hallmark of the average Roberto Clemente Award nominee is the selfless love reflected in the words of Paul Maholm, who plays for the same Pirates organization that has Clemente's statue outside its gates. Maholm works with the support group Gilda's Club in honor of his mother, who in 2005 lost a lengthy battle with colon cancer:

"I don't think I do a whole lot," Maholm said. "But I guess in some people's eyes it just goes a little further."

Rangers third baseman Michael Young -- whose many community endeavors includes a longtime role with "Wipe Out Kids' Cancer" -- said his second consecutive nomination "means everything to me. First of all, it's not a reflection so much of my work but my wife Cristina and family. My family deserves all the credit.

"But to be nominated for an award named after Roberto Clemente -- one of the great humanitarians in all of sports -- is humbling. Not only is he a Hall of Fame player, but respected for the work he did off the field. It's tough to put into words."

Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista, who uses his offseasons for community service by traveling throughout the U.S. and Latin America to deliver baseball equipment and medical supplies, and speak to kids of all ages to stress the importance of education and determination, said just being nominated "is a great honor," and to actually win it would be one of the best things that ever happened to him.

"It would be a great honor for anything," Batista said, "but especially satisfying for a Latino player. I remember talking to [Albert] Pujols about it. He won it last year and we agreed that it probably means more to us than other people because of who Roberto Clemente was.

"There have been a lot of great Latin players, but no one did what he did."

Maybe this is the year that Barry Zito's popular "Strikeouts For Troops" project leads to the ultimate community recognition within the national pastime. The Giants' pitcher founded this endeavor in 2005 to provide aid and comfort to wounded troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who are recovering in military hospitals nationwide, and he has raised about $2 million in contributions from more than 65 Major Leaguers, fan donations and special events.

The list of players who have thrown their support behind Zito includes some of the game's biggest stars, such as Pujols, Jake Peavy, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia. It's a "team" that has grown slowly but steadily each year.

"We didn't want to be a flash in the pan," Zito said. "We just wanted to build up slow momentum. War or no war, it's just great to help these men and women. Even after the war's over, whenever that day comes, we still want to keep this going."

Johan Santana was knocked out of Cy Young Award consideration when his season ended early, but he has a chance for an honor just as big -- if not bigger. The Mets' ace from Venezuela formed the Johan Santana Foundation, which provides funding for programs that focus on education and healthcare in his baseball and offseason homes. He would love to be the Mets' fourth winner of this award, joining a list that includes Gary Carter in 1989, Al Leiter in 2000 and Carlos Delgado in 2006.

"I made a promise to myself," Santana says, "that when I made it to the big leagues, that I would take care of the people who took care of me when I was young."

Padres nominee Adrian Gonzalez is heavily involved in his San Diego community, and he said it is something he would have done even had he not reached his current level of stature as a pro athlete.

"I wouldn't say it's my responsibility. It's something I think we decide to take upon," Gonzalez said. "It's something that the Bible specifically says to go out and be a servant and try to do everything you can to help out. It's not a responsibility, but it's something we definitely take seriously."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.