I just learned that long-time Detroit Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away this evening at the age of 92. Harwell was a major part of my childhood. Before the days when nearly every baseball game was broadcast on television, I used to lay in my bedroom and listen to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey call Tiger games on WJR — sometimes with the radio tucked under the pillow. Ernie’s voice was familiar, cordial, and entertaining. As a young boy listening to the games I used to wonder how Ernie knew where everybody was from (when a foul ball was hit into the stands, he would say “that one was caught by the man from Saginaw” — or some other surrounding city). It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that he was simply making this up. (In Ernie Harwell’s audio scrapbook, he says that he used to have fans say to him, “hey, let a man from Gross Pointe catch one today” or whatever city they were from.)
Ernie Harwell had a profound impact on my childhood. For a time, I wanted to be a baseball announcer — in large part because of Ernie. Sitting here quietly I can still hear the crack of the bat and the noise of the crowd behind the natural sound of Ernie’s voice.
At the conclusion of Ernie’s last broadcast, he said the following:
The Tigers have just finished their 2002 season and I have just finished my baseball broadcasting career and it is time to say goodbye, but I think goodbye’s are sad and I’d much rather say ‘hello’. Hello to a new adventure. I am not leaving folks. I’ll still be with you, living my life in Michigan, my home state surrounded by family and friends. And rather than goodbye allow me to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of your family. Thank you for taking me with you to that cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your workplace, and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers. Now I might have been a small part of your life, but you’ve been a very large part of mine and it’s my privilege to share with you the greatest game of all. Now God has a new adventure for me and I’m ready to move on. So I leave you with a deep sense of appreciation for your loyalty and support. I thank you very much and God bless all of you.
Today, God has another new adventure for you Ernie. Wherever you are, I hope you are at peace and that you are watching the Tigers. Thank you for the memories.