Late broadcasters missed as new season nears
Game won't be the same without Santo, Niehaus, Harwell, others
Another spring beckons, but this winter will not be bade farewell by the words that marked the passage of the last fifty.Ernie Harwell's seasonal overture to Grapefruit League openers still echoes in our ears: "For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." For lo, now Harwell is past, and his voice is no longer heard in our land. Nor are other voices that for so many years heralded the arrival of another spring, another game, another afternoon or night of enthrallment. The palettes of verbal artists go dry. The brush falls from the voices that nightly painted such vivid portraits, you could smell the grass and feel the baseball's stitches. "Oh, NO!" Ron Santo would exclaim when an ill befell the Cubs, and now we chorus that cry. "Oh, my!" Dave Niehaus would shout when the Mariners did something he couldn't believe, and we still can't believe we will never again hear that terse exultation. "That one is lo-o-o-ng gone!" Harwell would bid farewell to Tigers home runs, and they're all gone and we can't get past the final farewell. Also in 2010, Rory Markas of the Angels. The year before, Harry Kalas. The year before that, Skip Caray. So patches of weeds pock the emerald lawns they described. The sky is not cloudless, and sunshine doesn't flood the fields. Those shadows creep ever closer. On the North Side, never have the confines been less friendly. And our virtual embrace of Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Dick Enberg, Marty Brennaman, Milo Hamilton and Jaime Jarrin has never been tighter. Perhaps no longer are they the soundtracks of generations, the sandmen who gently closed the eyes of kids pressing transistors to their ears under the covers. Technology passed them by, cable and smartphones whizzing by them on the information autobahn. But technology also paid them a debt, Internet streams making them more accessible to more people than ever before, fanning their popularity and their appreciation. Santo, Niehaus, Harwell and Markas were constants in the lives of people who now brave another season without their chaperones. Chicagoans counted on hearing Santo when they tuned in the Cubs, just as fans in Seattle have never tuned in the Mariners and not heard Niehaus. They were like sunrise, dinner-time telemarketers, David Letterman. At the appointed time, they were always there. And when they suddenly aren't, forlorn listeners pour their hearts out. The bonds between their mouths and baseball fans' ears is remarkable, and the loss is heavy. They spoke to and for the fans. Radio is provincial. You root for the same outcome on both ends of the microphone. At times of great deeds, when you can't be at the ballpark cheering your head off in person, you channel the announcer, who is losing his own. Santo, Niehaus and Harwell were our eyes, and also our megaphones. They are also timeless. Their words will continue to resonate and to inspire new waves of announcers who brilliantly perpetuate the tradition. Long after Terry Cashman musically waxed about how "I Saw It On The Radio," the imagery remains vivid. Fans are known to tune in to the audio broadcasts even of games they are watching on muted televisions -- because the radio announcers still give them a better picture than the HD they are looking at. Baseball's leisurely pace is a gift to the play-by-play man. And what Santo, Harwell and Niehaus did with it was their gift to us. The chaperones from adolescence to adulthood are gone. We will have to take it from here, on our own. There will other new seasons filled with hope, other springs. They just won't ever be the same again.