Ernie Harwell has terminal cancer

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This is about the worst news I could have woken up to this morning:

Ernie Harwell, the treasured voice of the Tigers for all those years,
has incurable bile duct cancer. In comments to the Detroit Free Press
on Thursday, he said he won’t undergo surgery.

“We don’t know how long this lasts,” Harwell, 91, told the Free
Press. “It could be a year. It could be much less than a year, much
less than a half year. Who knows? Whatever is in store, I’m ready for a
new adventure.”

I know he’s 91 so it’s not like this is some gobsmacking tragedy, but I can’t overstate how important Ernie Harwell has been to my life.

I was a nervous kid, afraid of the dark and afraid of going to sleep myself.  My parents let me turn on the radio at night as I went to bed and the talk, rather than the music, made me feel better.  The voice that gave me the most comfort was Ernie Harwell’s voice on WJR, which I latched onto before I even truly realized it was describing a baseball game.

Ernie put me to sleep most spring and summer nights for several years, teaching me about baseball in the process. He also taught me that I could enjoy it just as much if I could not actually see it, which I can’t help but think is the reason why I enjoy writing up the “And That Happened” recaps every day. I don’t see hardly any of the games I describe, but just because I don’t see them doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story to be told. Information and flavor to be teased out.

Maybe you always have a thing for your first love, but I think I’m being objective when I say that I have never encountered a better baseball broadcaster than Ernie Harwell. How lucky that I had him putting me to sleep when I was four years old as opposed to someone else.  Would I have even been a baseball fan if it was John Sterling’s voice on the radio? Given that I was first tuning in for the delivery and not the product itself, I kinda doubt it.

Ernie had his fastball until the end. FOX brought him out during the 2006 ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees and let him do an inning or two. He stepped in as if it was still his full time job, and didn’t miss a beat.  I recall that whoever FOX kept in the booth with him — I want to say McCarver, but it could have been Zelasko or someone — wanted to talk to him about his history and other such fluff, condescending to him, really, the way people often do to the elderly. Ernie seemed annoyed and deflected the person’s attempts to wallow in nostalgia, obviously wanting to keep the focus on the game. Where it should be.  And he did. And it was wonderful.

Baseball will never see his like again.

Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.