Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for nostalgia

A Great One Passes

The most indelible memory I have of growing up in Michigan was listening to Detroit Tiger games late at night throughout the summer. I’d be in my bed with the window open and possibly a slight breeze blowing in. The lights would be off and my transistor radio was under my pillow — so I could listen to the games even though my parents had long earlier told me to go to sleep. If it was a West coast game and well past midnight local time, I often fell asleep with the voices of the game playing in my dreams.

The voice I remember most clearly for all those games – I probably listened to 100’s of them — was of Ernie Harwell. He was the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 40 years. Ernie passed away today, May 4, 2010. He was 92 years old.

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As America seems to regularly produce, his life story is one of rising to great heights and reaching potential not clearly evident at the start of his life.

He was born in 1919 in Washington, GA a younger contemporary of Ty Cobb, also of hot, flat and sparsely populated area of rural south Georgia. It is interesting he would end up, as Ty Cobb did, with the Tigers. Where Ty Cobb was ornery and remembered as a difficult man. Ernie Harwell was almost completely the opposite.

He was born with a severe speech defect. Through therapy and forcing himself to participate in debates and classroom discussions, he had overcome the handicap by the time he graduated from Emory University.

Harwell’s big break came in unusual fashion.

Brooklyn Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber became ill in 1948, and general manager Branch Rickey needed a replacement. After learning that the minor league Atlanta Crackers needed a catcher, Rickey sent catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta and Harwell joined the Dodgers. It is the only time a player was traded for an announcer in major league history.

Through his challenges with his voice, growing up in rural and relatively poor south Georgia, and needing a break as lucky as the one he got with the Dodgers, it is amazing he ended up making a living with his voice, doing so at the highest level of excellence. And what a voice it was. I don’t think I’ll ever forget its sound. And I hope I don’t.

He announced in September 2009 that he’d been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the bile duct. He took the news with characteristic poise, saying he planned to continue working on a book and other projects.

“Whatever happens, I’m ready to face it,” Harwell told The Associated Press on Sept. 4.

“In my almost 92 years on this earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey,” Harwell said at a microphone behind home plate when honored by the Tigers at a home game immediately after he announced his cancer diagnosis. “The blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan.”

On Tuesday, Senator Carl Levin said this on the floor of the U.S. Senate: “All of Michigan will miss the sound of his voice telling us that the winter is past, that the Tigers had won a big game, or that they’d get another chance to win one tomorrow. We will miss his Georgia drawl, his humor, his humility, his quiet faith in God and in the goodness of the people he encountered. But we will carry in our hearts always our love for him, our appreciation for his work, and the lessons he gave us and left us and that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren.”

Perhaps one of the greatest facts about Ernie was that he was married to his wife, LuLu, for 67 years. I’m sure she misses him more than any of us possibly can.

But for me, I know I will miss that voice. God Bless You, Ernie Harwell.

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Do it your way

A little while back I read an article about Brett Favre, quarterback now for the Vikings but for most of his career the star of the Green Bay Packers. It was a very personal profile. More recently there was an article about Ringo Starr, who will soon turn 70. Ringo of course was the drummer for the Beatles. (Trivia: he was not the original drummer! Do you know who was?). After reading both I had similar reactions and thought I’d write about it.

Both clearly had much potential – potential that was fully and famously revealed by each in their own unique ways.

They were similar in some respects: both grew up in families and surroundings of modest means. Ringo perhaps more so but Brett didn’t have any silver spoons either.

They had different influences though. Ringo said Liverpool was rough and at times violent and unsafe. But he has clear memory of loving and kind people, in his family and from his neighborhood growing up.

Brett had an excessively tough father who was his high school football coach and life long (tor)mentor. His father was critical and unforgiving well into Brett’s adult life and professional career. In one famous incident, he criticized his son’s play and abilities despite Brett having the best year of his career and having just won the league Most Valuable Player award for the 3rd time.

What does this say about revealing one’s potential? It doesn’t matter if you are loved or ridiculed and it helps to start out by growing up poor and then striving hard enough to be successful beyond expectations?

I don’t think so. Something else that they had in common seemed more like the key.

Brett did not have good football passing mechanics. In fact they were unusual and not very pretty. What he possessed was an unusually powerful arm and knack for improvisation, and he could throw the ball farther and more accurately than any rival. He said he simply loved throwing the football. Always had and still does. It is what drives him to compete despite recently turning 40 – and compete at a level that nearly took him to yet another Super Bowl in 2010. He listened to – and focused intently on – this love he had.

Ringo was not a classicly great drummer. Many have said he was the “weakest” Beatle, musical talent-wise. Of course he’s competing with the greatest song writing duo in modern music history (Lennon and McCartney) and a multi-talented artist (George Harrison) so it might be fair to cut him some slack. It’s like saying Dimaggio was only the 4th greatest baseball player – behind Ruth, Williams and Aaron.

But Ringo said he loves drumming. Always had and still does. He has for many years since the Beatles broke up put together a series of touring bands he’s called the All Starr Band (usually packed with contemporary greats from the 60’s and 70’s such as Joe Walsh, Dave Stewart, Gary Wright and Edgar Winter, and from more recent times such as Ben Harper, Joss Stone, Don Was and Benmont Tench). The reason why all these great musicians want to play in his All Starr bands is because Ringo is so fun to play music with. He brings out the best in them because his drumming is there to complement and enhance – not overshadow – his band mates’ playing and singing. He’s considered a pioneer of this style. I’m sure John, Paul and George felt this when they were writing, creating and playing all those great Beatles tunes together. His love of drumming and the role it plays in making great music with great musicians drives him, despite the fact that he is soon going to turn 70 years old.

What’s the lesson? One is a common one: do what you love and follow your passions. Potential and success are often revealed if you do. An important corollary seems to be: don’t worry if how you do what you love is “flawed” or “different” somehow. If Brett and Ringo had let that stand in the way, think of all the potential greatness we would have missed.

Car nostalgia

The definition of nostalgia is “a fond longing for the past”. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently there was an article named Cars We Love To Hate. Now, the words “fond” and “longing” as part of the definition for nostalgia might be a stretch but I did feel quite nostalgic when reading this article.

Perhaps because of the seven cars featured, I drove three of them as a teenager and as a college student: the Chevy Vega, the Chevy Corvair, and the AMC Pacer.

Notwithstanding that the first car my Dad let me drive was made infamous by Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” screed, these cars did exactly what was needed: get me from point A to B, cheaply and with pretty decent reliability. The fact that I became a bondo “artist” with all of these cars (partly due to Michigan weather and road salt, partly due to cheap nature of these cars) also doesn’t ruin my recollection. I probably see these cars (plus my mom’s lovely AMC Hornet, my sisters’ AMC Rambler and Ford Fairlane — a great car!) as part of my character and shapers of my life philosophy:

Be happy with what you have (for others have worse or nothing at all), take care of that which you’ve been given, and if want something better then work hard, save and persevere until you reach your goals.

Did I say these things to my mom and dad back in the late 1970 and early 1980’s when I drove these jalopies? Doubtful. But through the lens of time — and the fact that my youth was “celebrated” in the AJC article, certainly served to improve my memories.

How about you? Any stories to share?