Tigers Baseball Outsider

a thinking fan's perspective

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thank You Mr. Harwell

This morning I am listening to a ball game on the radio.

Nothing new.

Except that this game is the 2002 season ender between the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Roy Halliday vs. Mark Maroth. The game itself means nothing. But it is very special all the same.

It's the last game broadcast by legendary hall of fame announcer Ernie Harwell.

Ernie Harwell passed away peacefully at home last week, with his family around him, after battling the cancer he was diagnosed with last summer.

But if you're a Detroit Tigers fan, you already knew that.

As I listened to the radio this last week, or read the baseball news – the stories of how great a human being Mr. Harwell was are flooding in.

Thousands of them.

And all those stories, being told by the common man, those that he worked with in the media, or those that knew him as a friend from working with various organizations and charities – all have the same common theme.

He was kind. Thoughtful. Genuinely interested in every person he came in contact with. And not just in passing, but he kept everyone met in mind. And the stories of all the nice things he did are just too numerous to count.

The common sentiment is that Ernie Harwell was the kind of person that everyone should be.

He asked for nothing. He gave everything.

And he was genuinely loved.

Think of all the people in the public eye that you have ever heard of.

Then name me one person of whom no one ever had not one bad thing to say about them.

Count them on your fingers.

My bet is that when you're done counting – only one finger was necessary.

Ernie Harwell.

I never met Mr. Harwell. I wish I had. But our paths never crossed.

But I feel like I knew this wonderful man. His voice is one of the first voices my ears ever recognized.

The Tigers game, when I was a boy, was always on the radio.

His voice filled the living room of our house in Jackson, Michigan when I was little. It was in the car as we made the drives to wherever we were going. It was on our boat when we were sailing.

And while that voice was one that so vividly painted the picture of the events unfolding on the field, more importantly to me was the gentlemanly kindness of the voice. The love.

The love for baseball.

The love for the Detroit Tigers he whom he announced.

The love for Tigers Stadium which now sits as a pile of rubble on the corner of Michigan and Tremble.

The love for the community of Michigan, his adopted home.

He spoke to the little child in us all. The little boy in me. He spoke to me as a grandfather explaining the game as it unfolded sitting next to his grandson from a seat along old Tiger Stadium's third base line behind the Tigers dugout.

I loved that voice.

It was the voice of kindness. It was the voice of faith. It was the voice you could trust. When you heard Ernie Harwell's voice, you felt good. Safe. You felt like you were a part of what was going on.

After Mr. Harwell retired from announcing in 2002, after some forty two years of announcing Tigers baseball, we all missed him.

Don't get me wrong. I think very highly of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price, the current radio announcers of the Tigers today. But in 2006, as the Tigers were progressing through the playoffs, Ernie Harwell came back to announce an inning or two of a couple playoff games. And we all remembered how special it was to hear that voice tell us how the game was unfolding on the field.

And now I am listening to Mr. Harwell one more time.

A pitching duel with no score in the eighth inning.

"I know it's thought that fans like to see home runs", Mr. Harwell commented, "but I don't think fans like them as much as people think. I think a double or a triple is much more exciting, watching all the players in motion on the field, rather than a guy lumbering around the bases after hitting the ball into the seats."

Who can argue that point? Not me.

Who else would refer to the Tigers players as 'the Detroiters'.

Or explain to fans when a ball is fouled into the stands that "that ball was caught by a young man from Kalamazoo". We all thought somehow Ernie knew that boy.

As the eighth inning winds down, Ernie speaks to Jim Price to say "I know that there has been a bit too much ado made over me as this season winds down …"

Not possible.

Norman Rockwell couldn't paint the feelings that Ernie Harwell brings to one listening.

The cadence of his speech – tinted with the remnants of a Georgian drawl.



And now absent except for the recordings, and the echoes in our memories.

The Tigers lost that game. And the next season the Tigers tied the record for the most losses in Major League Baseball history.

"I don't like goodbyes, so instead let me say thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your family", said Ernie in his closing comments to end the final broadcast.

No, Ernie. Thank you.

Thank you Mr. Harwell. You taught me so much as a boy – purely by your example. And you mean so much to me – and to millions like me.

I know they have a press box at that field of dreams. And I know that all on the other side of life have just seen Heaven enhanced – because now they can stick the radio under their pillows at night, and listen to Ernie call the play by play.

I can hear him now.

Photo credit Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

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