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Local News

Sunday, 9 May, 2010 2:12 AM

Fans say their final goodbye to late Tigers Broadcaster Ernie Harwell

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Fans pass by Ernie Harwell's casket during a public viewing at Comerica Park on May 6, 2010 in Detroit.

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

DETROIT -- Ernie Harwell was much more than just a radio broadcaster. He was a legend. Harwell touched the lives of baseball fans all over the country. He spent most of his career as the play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Tigers on 760 WJR-AM. The radio station's signal can be heard over most of the United States and Canada in the evening, as far south as Florida. Harwell was born on January 25, 1918 in Washington, Ga. His heart stopped beating for the last time on May 4, 2010 at his home in Fox Run Village in Novi, Mich. He died of incurable bile duct cancer, after deciding against surgery or other treatment of the condition.

"Ernie always had a way of relaxing me," said Jay Anderson of Detroit. "At the end of the day, I'd get home and hear the ball game on the radio. Ernie was just a great storyteller. He made me feel like things were going to be alright no matter what. He was like an adult version of Mr. Rogers. If Ernie was talking, everyone was quiet. You just felt comfortable. He had a much greater depth of knowledge than broadcasters. Ernie would remember a single A baseball player from 1922 that he read about one time in a newspaper. He always seemed to have that information on hand."

Harwell grew up in Atlanta and was a newspaper delivery boy for the Atlanta Georgian. He later became the visiting batboy for the Atlanta Crackers. By the age of 16, he was a regional correspondent for The Sporting News. The late broadcaster attended Emory University, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He helped to edit The Emory Wheel student newspaper there. Harwell served as a copy editor and sports writer for the Atlanta Constitution. In 1943, he began announcing games for the Crackers on WSB radio after serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I loved the man," said Jill Woodward of Howell, Mich. "When I think of baseball, I think of Ernie Harwell and his voice on the radio for many, many years. I really liked how he treated baseball. He respected it, he respected the people. It was more of a passion rather than a job."

In 1948, Harwell was traded for a player when the Brooklyn Dodgers traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Crackers in exchange for breaking Harwell's broadcasting contract. He was sent to Brooklyn to substitute for Dodger announcer Red Barber, who was hospitalized at the time. Harwell did play-by-play for the Dodgers through 1949, then went to do it for the New York Giants from 1950 to 1953 and the Baltimore Orioles from 1954 to 1959.

"He was a wonderful man, I remember listening to him on the radio as a kid," said Tony Keith from Ann Arbor, Mich. "I used to have my transistor radio and listening to him in bed until hopefully the Tigers won. He had his very earthy down-home southern drawl. He had all the great expressions. He was just a quality guy. He was my favorite over the years. I followed the Tigers since about '57. The only time I actually met him, I was at Tiger Stadium and had my father-in-law with us and he wasn't getting around too good at the time. We took the elevator up and Ernie joined us in the elevator. That was pretty special. I think this is a wonderful tribute to a very good man."

By 1960, he became the voice of the Detroit Tigers. Harwell worked with Ray Lane from 1967 to 1972 and then Paul Carey from 1973 to 1991. His contract was not renewed after 1991 when WJR wanted to go in a "new direction." From 1994 to 1998, he announced Tigers games on television. In 1999, Harwell resumed full-time radio duties with the Tigers and was teamed up with Jim Price until 2002. He called one game during a Wednesday Night Baseball telecast on ESPN in 2003. Harwell was a guest announcer for an inning of Fox's coverage of the All-Star Game in 2005. He also wrote occasional columns for the Detroit Free Press.

"I loved to hear, 'it's looooooooong gooooone,'" said Diane Franciosi from Brownstown, Mich. "He was the best, he can't be replaced. I would have loved to have met him in person. I know he's done a lot of charity. But I never had that opportunity. What a great tribute to a wonderful person. We couldn't give him a better send-off here in the city of Detroit. I walked down on my lunch and just wanted to come by and pay tribute. Ernie's the best, we're going to miss him and rest in peace."

Ernie Harwell's public viewing took place from 7 a.m. to midnight on Thursday, May 6 at Comerica Park. Fans lined up along two sides of the ballpark to see the late radio broadcaster. The line went quickly as most fans only had to wait about 30 minutes to see Harwell. The casket was open and the late broadcaster was wearing a cap. There were many historical photos located next to the coffin. A total of 11,176 fans came to see Harwell during the public viewing. There was a large postcard available for fans to leave messages, which will be given to Harwell's family.

"He was Mr. Baseball, fantastic, a very compassionate man," said Joani Cartolano from Clawson, Mich. "When my girls were younger, we went to spring training in Florida. He let them come up to the booth and signed their glove and everything. They have that memory to this day. It wonderful they're giving us an opportunity to say goodbye. We're going to miss that voice."

The main branch of the Detroit Public Library is featuring a special exhibit with historical artifacts used by Harwell through May 15. Some of the artifacts being displayed are Harwell's 1968 World Series ring, seats from Tiger Stadium and a mock broadcast booth. The Detroit Historical Museum has also put its Ernie Harwell collection back on display through May 30 in its Round Hall.

Source: Wikipedia.org, detroithistorical.org and www.detroit.lib.mi.us.

 

 

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Fans are waiting to enter the public viewing of the late Ernie Harwell.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Detroit Tigers President, CEO & General Manager Dave Dombrowski shakes hands with fans as they walk past the casket.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

An Ernie Harwell fan and Dombrowski

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing walks past the casket of Ernie Harwell.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Fans autograph this poster for the family of Ernie Harwell.

 

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