A big local-news talker dropped Friday morning, and bear with me, because I’m going to try to make my comments about it universal. So here goes, the first five grafs:
Former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell had a Hall of Fame career and a marriage to match.
Friends and strangers alike marveled at the love he and his wife, Lulu, shared for almost 70 years.
But their fairy-tale family included a large dose of heartache, most of it unseen and much of it unseemly.
Oakland County court records show that for years, the couple’s four children have been beset by infighting and impatience for their inheritance from parents often unable to say no.
The children point fingers at family lawyers. The lawyers point back with allegations of unpaid bills, missing money and alleged mistreatment of Lulu, who battled dementia for years before dying March 1 at age 99. She was more or less broke.
It’s hard to overstate what a beloved figure Harwell was in Detroit. Mitch Albom, no stranger to lavish print-smooching, can hardly restrain himself when he writes about him. Of course, like another dead old man, Harwell has been good for Mitch’s bottom line — he wrote a play, “Ernie,” that runs every year through baseball season at a theater across the street from the ballpark. I saw it a few years back; it’s not terrible, but Mitch only paints in primary colors, and only pretty-pretty ones. The play works for what it is, a nostalgia-wallow that makes everyone cry, then time for a beer before the first pitch. (Almost everyone cries, that is; this was me.)
To give you a taste of how he handles all things Harwell: His column upon Lulu’s death earlier this month may out-Mitch even Mitch.
And like I said, Harwell was beloved.
He had a Georgia drawl and an easy patter, plus a bottomless well of folksy expressions he could summon at the crack of a bat. (No, I’m not going to look them up for you; that’s what the internet is for.) Plus he did seem, from all accounts, to be genuine and modest and charming. He was one of those personalities made for a time when baseball was coming out of the transistor radio on the back steps as you washed the car.
But even though he is routinely called a saint, no mortal actually is a saint. Everyone has flaws. Everyone. What’s more, our flaws are what make us interesting — the tension between light and dark, how we reconcile the two. If I were teaching feature writing, I’d do a whole unit on how to balance the good stuff with the less-good stuff, how to ask about it, that sort of thing. How to add, with words, what the Italians call chiaroscuro, the shadows that give the light dimension.
Conversely, this is also something to remember when considering straight-news stories, especially those about people who have suffered a misfortune: There are no perfect victims, either. When you find yourself detaching from the plight of a person screwed over by a corrupt system because she worked as a stripper or smoked weed or whatever, you’re forgetting what the greater sin is.
The Harwell marriage, so recently aired in Lulu’s obituary, was close and loving and long-lived. Assuming this story is correct, it also gave the world what seem to be four terrible children, or at least three. While Ernie left a tidy estate, it was hardly substantial, and he devoutly wanted his widow cared for after his death. That was expensive, and ate the money one bite at a time. But his children? One nickel-and-dimed his elderly mom to cover his own financial failings. One billed her conservator for “caregiving,” 24 hours a day, whenever he traveled to Michigan to visit her. Another was emotionally abusive. The fourth seems a cut above the rest, but who knows.
From the tweeting around this, I get the feeling this was an open secret among sports journalists. And yet, this appears to be the first reporting on it. That’s…not good. But also not surprising.
The weekend is nearly upon us, but I still have some work to do, so best get to it.
So much to blog about, but who has the time? Manafort, Fox News, all of it. Let’s stick with this, headlined, “Melania chooses spaghetti.” In which we learn a Fox host referred to FLOTUS as “Lady M” throughout their interview, a very strange thing.
Supposed to rise well above freezing Saturday. Here’s hoping. Have a good weekend, all.