Wives reflect on lives spent with baseball icons.
Lulu Harwell and Josephine Gehringer have a few things in common: Both are in their 90s, have a dry wit, and were married to towering figures in Detroit baseball history. Lulu, widow of sportscaster Ernie Harwell, and Josephine, widow of second baseman and Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, still live in metro Detroit. They spoke with Hour Detroit about their husbands and of lives spent around baseball.
Met Ernie in 1940 at a dance at Emory University. She was the date of one of his fraternity brothers.
Q: What was your first impression of Ernie?
A: He was a very sweet man ... I went to Burnell College, in Georgia. Usually we went to the Emory dances, it was close ... I’ve loved to dance all my life. I didn’t want to be with his fraternity brother, and then I met him. [Pauses.] The other one didn’t like it much.
Q: What did you think of Detroit at first?
A: I liked Baltimore better. ... But I soon learned to know where everything was. [At our house in Farmington] I had a beautiful garden of roses, just roses, about 10 or 15 different plants. And we had this big yard [and] a little pond. Ernie didn’t take to gardening too well. He liked to see the pretty flowers, though.
Q: What do you want people to remember about him?
A: Well, he loved baseball. And he was so at home doing the games, I know he made it interesting to people. He was just a real friendly man ... he was good friends with the pitchers and catchers and the third basemen and so forth. He didn’t put baseball in place of the family, though — he was very good as a father and a husband.
Met Charlie after he had retired from baseball. He would call on her place of work. She had no idea of his career.
Q: How did you meet Charlie?
A: Whenever my boss was busy with another salesman he’d always say, “Well, have Gehringer come in your office.” .... He wasn’t very pushy. ... He offered me some tickets to go to the ballgame ... After that, every date I had was always going to the ballgame. ... In six months we were serious enough to plan to get married.
Q: What was he like?
A: He was a very private person, very modest ... When [people] would see him on the street, they’d say, “Oh, you’re Mr. Gehringer,” and he’d say “no.” He didn’t want all that flattery.
Q: He became the Tigers general manager after you married?
A: That was in ’51. He was general manager for two years. To be a general manager, you have to be tough, you know, and tell people what you think. ... He didn’t want to hurt
anybody. So his temperament wasn’t really suited to do that. He groomed Muddy Ruel. ... Then Charlie went back to his business full time.
Q: He missed his Hall of Fame induction to get married.
A: That’s right, in 1948. We were making preparations to get married. ... In June he got this notice to be inducted. ... He just said he had pressing business and couldn’t show up. He didn’t tell them why. ... After that, he went every year; we went over 40 years to Cooperstown. ... One reporter ... criticized [Charlie] ... [then] found out it was because we were getting married and he apologized. [That was] Shirley Povich. Maury’s father. ... He thought he was getting a scoop and it backfired.
Q: Any players today you especially like?
A: I always liked [Brandon] Inge; we don’t have him anymore. ... He was agile. ... [Miguel] Cabrera’s very good and of course [Victor] Martinez. But, I mean, those guys, you know they’re going to hit. I’m always rooting for the little guy.
Q: How is baseball different today?
A: Today it’s run like a business. When he played there was no TV, or drug problems, or anything. They used to travel by train a lot and their hobby was sitting and playing bridge. ... Today a lot them are looking over their portfolio, checking the stock market. ... Charlie didn’t make that kind of money. ... So after he got through he had to have a job.
Q: How would you want people to remember Charlie?
A: That he was very caring. ... He never had any bad habits. ... He was well liked by his teammates. We were together for 44 years. We had a very happy life. ... Communication is what kept us together. He was easy to live with. He was very immaculate — I didn’t have to pick up after him. .... When he was at home he always shaved and he was dressed properly.