Mitch Albom Abuses Responsibility as Author, Self-Critic and Salesman of “Ernie”

If I were you I wouldn’t read this.

Really, stop now. If you go on, you’re going to be annoyed, one way or the other. You’re likely going to disagree with my premise, and thus take me to be a spoiler, a blasphemer, and a cynic. You’ll be angry. On the slight chance that you might agree with my take on the new “Ernie” show debuting in town this summer, you’re going to — like me — suffer a profound pain in your rear end. So either way you’ll lose.

If you read the Sunday column of “Ernie” author Mitch Albom about this play — a column in which the writer of the play reviews his own work, and finds it admirable — you were left with two similar options to those I mention above. Either you were moved to near tears, or were at least left eternally grateful to good old Mitch, for his selfless “giving back” to our community by immortalizing the life and career of Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell in this — if we are to take the author’s word on it — wonderful new play.

Or, if you’re negative and sarcastic enough to agree with my reaction to that column — and this piece is a reaction to that column, since –unlike the author, who appears to like his play quite a bit — I have not read the play nor seen it in rehearsals for its June opening … you already have a pain in your posterior.

To further qualify myself as a cynic and negative SOB, I plan not to see the play “Ernie,” based on the Sunday column of its author who praised it to high heaven — did I mention? — in his lugubrious Free Press rave. In plain words, I just refuse to be manipulated any further than I already have. Reading Sunday’s Free Press was enough.

Now make no mistake. I too liked Ernie Harwell. If you’re looking for teary moments and gooey sentiment, I once even spent a day at Ernie’s home with … honest to God … Santa Claus in tow and with … honest again … Ernie’s wonderful wife Lulu baking chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen and then serving them to the guests. I doubt that the scene is featured in the new play “Ernie,” which Mitch Albom reviewed in the Free Press with raves Sunday, but given the elements … Ernie, Santa Claus, the smell of cookies wafting through the house, served by the graceful Miss Lulu … it sure should have been.

Let me quote the author, at the beginning of his four-star socko review of himself: “It was Ernie’s idea. I was visiting with him and his wife Lulu in their home in Novi, in what would be Ernie‘s final autumn on Earth. His friend and attorney Gary Spicer was there and since Ernie was too modest to bring it up, Gary did.

“ ‘We were wondering if you‘d consider writing a play about Ernie‘s life.’ “

“Ernie quickly looked at the floor and shyly mumbled something like ‘Only if you feel it’s worthwhile” — but how could anything about Ernie not be worthwhile?”

Okay, Mitch … I’ll bite. This play about Ernie, your already well-received play about Ernie, might not be worthwhile. There, I’ve said it. And, if it was Ernie’s idea, how come his attorney was pitching it to you? And if Ernie was “much too modest to bring it up” and looking at the floor and shyly mumbling … why the hey did he invite you and his attorney to his home to discuss the play in the first place? Was he some kind of masochist? And what is this “something like” deal? Couldn’t you quote him exactly? You make it sound like he was in absolute agony … contemplating his own idea.

Or were you just there to have cookies? Very strange.

In these days of overwhelming media manipulation of those of us dull and unfortunate enough to be stuck out in the audience, the manipulatees handled by the manipulators, it’s time to say “enough” to those in the media with the power to massage our lowest common instincts via their immense power in the be-all world of modern communications.

I’d like to think that Ernie, real-life humble guy that he was, would hate this kind of media BS and shameless manipulation. Would see this for the sleight of hand that it is.

In the old days, an author may have written a play. An objective critic would review that play. A newspaper columnist, finding the play worthwhile, might encourage you to see the play. In Sunday’s case, we had an author writing a play, we had that writer then function as his own critic in raving about the play. Then he put on his gaudy columnist garb and heartily recommended we storm the box office to take in the master work called … “Ernie.”

“It was Ernie’s idea.” Right. But he was too sincere and humble to even bring it up. Thank God his attorney and good old Mitch were there to employ ESP and pick up on Ernie’s unspoken concept. The keen “idea” of a sick and dying man in his 90s.

Oh, by the way. The author/critic/PR man who wrote “Ernie” was quick to point out Sunday that the play “premieres at the City Theatre in Downtown Detroit. All Michigan actors. Michigan director. Michigan crew.” Well, hell then, it HAS to be good, right? I mean, good old Mitch wouldn’t cynically — there’s an odd word to apply to him — manipulate us into attending this play, into loving this play, because the actors, director, crew, popcorn sellers, and valet parkers are all from our tri-country area. Would he? ‘Cause there’s a message for the rubes — if respect for a dying lovable old man won’t rope ’em in, try some patriotism. These are OUR people putting this charade on. Resist it and plunge us all further into recession. We dare you.

Well, if you don’t see that … the manipulation that is … if that “All Michigan” pitch doesn’t set your truth detectors into high whine … then I’m sure you despise this column. And me. And we … speaking for me and this column … surely deserve it. To question anything about the wonderful Ernie, not to mention all Michigan actors, is surely blasphemy of the worst sort.

Just try to remember, please … as you polish a rock to improve your aim in our direction … it’s not Ernie I’m objecting to here. Nor the idea of a play devoted to him, though that’s another whole — and highly debatable –concept. No, here’s the rub: Having the ear of the public via mass media is a gigantic responsibility. The few fortunate enough to have unfettered power through modern communication, those who can now command our attention and toy with our thoughts, owe their public honest, objective … and selfless … commentary on the issues and people of our times. NOT an overflow of blather and promotion and congratulations and tributes to themselves. The public can decide who is noble, and who is not. What is worthy, and what is not.

“Ernie,“ the play, is bathos. There’s my review, simple and short, without even going to see it. So how would I know? I can tell that by the author’s self critique, and his shameless salesmanship. I won’t see the play, but I can bet there’ll be a scene … as the plot begins to sag … when a grizzled old gent in a Detroit Tigers uniform shuffles onstage and begins to speak in double-talk and double negatives and inane observations. At that point the audience will be expected to rise as one, and the name “Sparky!” will escape their lips, as yet another departed old man, also not around to defend and explain himself, will be tossed into this feel-good circus act. If that ain’t in the show, then I don’t know my man, our author.

As to that author’s, that columnist’s, that salesman’s duty to the public via the gift he’s been given in the form of powerful access to his readers — I say again it is a holy responsibility, a calling and gift of the highest sort. I rarely see that gift being selflessly employed, being used in true service to that public anymore.

I didn’t see it Sunday in the Free Press.

17 replies on “Mitch Albom Abuses Responsibility as Author, Self-Critic and Salesman of “Ernie”

  • SpartansElite

    Mitch jumped the shark years ago, when he faked his story about the MSU players. That was a huge mistake, and yet he still has the nerve to judge people. And funny how it seems like he writes less and less about sports, yet he takes the time to write about something he’s personally involved in.

    Reply
  • Paul Massaron

    Tom,

    I liked your blog on Mitch. You said things I thought when I read Mitch on Sunday but in calmer and better put together words and phrases. Thanks.

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  • Piper

    Albom writes soft, preachy, fluff that reads like a very bad Lifetime TV movie. Starting with Tuesdays with Morrie, an idea that he swiped from someone else. Ditto the Five People You Meet in Heaven, probably the sappiest piece of fluff ever written.

    There are some people who love that stuff. Give me hard, edgy journalism and literature any day. Albom just isn’t my cup of tea.

    You’re spot on with your criticism of Albom reviewing his own play. For years I’ve scratched my head when I read a book review done by a FRIEND of the playwright or author. There’s a conflict of interest. In this case, Albom reviews his OWN WORK. To use a sports phrase he’ll understand, “FOUL!”

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  • Dan

    I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Harwell and spending some time with him and Lulu. It’s one of my favorite moments in my years working at the Hall of Fame. I also saw Ernie in Detroit and at his home and the ballpark. He was kind and courteous.

    I find it hard to believe that Ernie would want so much attention paid to him like this. He was a humble man, and very private. Maybe he did want this for some reason, but it seems out of character.

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  • Steve Thomas

    One of the things that saddens me about Detroiters of late is their meager acceptance of anything that is spoon-fed to them by the media or the corporate Gods of this town. It has somehow become locally unpatriotic to question or critique the offerings of the masters.

    Mitch Albom has willfully embraced the role of Big Fish in a shrinking pond — and he exudes an overwhelming arrogance and a self-proclaimed genius. Want to know anything? Just ask Mitch. He’ll tell you — and he’ll try his best to make you feel like an idiot if you don’t agree with him.

    The insanity of a person serving as author, critic, and salesman of the same work would be self-evident in any other major city in America. Let’s hope it is self-evident to Detroiters, too.

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  • John

    We need more writers like Tom DeLisle! It is rare in today’s politically correct society, to speak I’ll of our “gods.” Mitch has outworn his job. Stop resting on your past and instead pass the column to a true writer like DeLisle.

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  • Hunchy

    Personally, I’m waiting for the Lifetime miniseries—nay, “movie event”—about Jim Brandstatter and Robbie Timmons.

    For all his money, Albom should be able to afford a better hairpiece. At least Ernie had the decency to spare us a combover.

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  • kdetroit

    great review of the review. Always like to take a moment to remind anyone/everyone that mitch was one of the first to cross the picket line in the Detroit Newspaper Strike, leaving behind several thousand fellow co-workers who fought for contract for six long years while mitch raked in the dough-re-mi & played media star.

    he showed up at only 1 strike meeting before crossing the picket line. at that meeting he told all of us how he’d just gotten off the phone with the CEO of his newspaper who told him we all needed to stop the strike, get back to work, and someday get justice, aka, contracts. Then mitch went back inside the Freep, sent a letter to his union promising to “help” those of us he betrayed by donating part of his salary to our strike effort. Never happened.

    As crappy as that all was, we enjoyed showing up at all of mitch’s book signings to let the public know how he turned his back on his fellow workers at the newspapers. Don’t think he enjoyed it as much as we did. We made sure folks knew what this guy’s M.O. really was — protecting his own skin, his own job, his own ego…

    thanks Tom DeLisle for expressing the feelings of so many of us who will never forget.

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  • Vic

    Thank you for writing what needed to be written. It’s bad enough that Albom wrote (writes?) fiction presented as fact, thereby making it even harder for other, legitimate journalists to do their jobs. He then compounds the offense by exploiting death at every opportunity. I haven’t read him in years, and I will continue that habit.
    As for Ernie — he was the kindest man I ever met, and was incredibly comforting to me when our paths crossed on one of the most difficult days of my life. More to the point, I was a rank stranger to him that day. He didn’t know me from Adam, but treated me as though I was the only man in the room and what I wanted to talk with him about was the most important thing he had heard that day.

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  • Michael Betzold

    If anything, you are much too kind to Mitch: opportunist hack that he is, shameless exponent of mindless sentimentalism, narcissist extraordinaire. In a word, a leech.

    Humble and generous Ernie was always motivated by the chance to make some modest money for his son’s missionary work. Albom is motivated by pure self-interest.

    And no, you don’t need to see the play to know what it will be like. Pure sap.

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  • gary galloway

    albom is a gnat. should have walked the plank when he fictionalized the MSU players column. The play? Maybe he got the idea from Dick Enberg who wrote a play some time ago about the late Frank McGuire, who after winning a national collegiate basketball championship at Marquette went on to distinguish himself as a sports broadcaster. Enberg is cloaked with integrity. Albom is the jokester writer who wears no clothes.

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  • Paul

    Thank you, Mr. DeLisle, for expressing what so may of us have felt for so long about Albom. “It was Ernie’s idea.” – my arse. What a self-serving farce he is.

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  • Skwerl58

    I’m not a fan of Albom by any means. But the fact that Ernie agreed to this has me wondering if there is motive here not yet discussed. Perhaps Ernie saw this as a way to generate income to ensure his wife’s financial security after his passing?

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  • Karen Bush

    People in the Detroit sports world have had Mitch Albom’s number for some time. Consequently I am not surprised, but I am delighted to see that Mr. DeLisle reacted to last Sunday’s column EXACTLY as many of us reacted, and further that he had the courage to articulate his reaction — brilliantly.

    As a writer and teacher of writing, it galls me to have to cite Mitch for his better-than-average journalism (though I occasionally do because he’s a legitimate Detroit product). I’m far too familiar with the days when our man was just a sportswriter with a Napoleonic complex — a little guy who didn’t fit in, but still managed to condescend to all and sundry at Tiger Stadium.

    The play was Ernie’s idea, Mitch tells us. Maybe it was. But let’s not forget that Ernie, while hardly publicity shy himself, also was the sort of person who often permitted the use of his name just out of kindness. Maybe, just maybe, he simply felt sorry for a man who has a desperate need for adulation.

    Regardless of Ernie’s degree of involvement, I have no intention of seeing the play — or even reading it. Why? It’s simple. People who deal with Mitch Albom when setting up book signings and similar events often hear him greeting people with the question, “Do you know who I am?”

    Yes, Mitch, we do know who you are. You’re the man who just wrote a column that plumbed new depths in the art of self service. You’re the man who is using Ernie’s name to make money by capitalizing on the sentiment of a genuinely grieving sports community.

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  • Esabu

    I like Mitch Album and I worked on his novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”. It is my pleasure to read an author like him.

    Reply

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