Ernie Harwell delivered the play-by-play of more than 8,500 major league baseball games over 55 years. Harwell belonged to a generation of announcers who started calling baseball on radio before television was the big thing. He was as familiar as the Detroit Tiger players to fans listening through the speakers of transistor radios or car radio speakers. From 1960 to 2002, Ernie Harwell was the voice of the Detroit Tigers. More than that, he was part of your lives and part of your family.
Ernie Harwell died Tuesday, May 4 2010, at his home in Novi, Mich. He was 92.
My family moved to Detroit when I was eight-years old. A kid, fresh of the boat ( a plane actually), from England, it wasn't long before I learned about baseball. From then on, it was Al Kaline, Harvey Kuene, Charlie Maxwell, Red Wilson and Chico Fernandez. And from a transistor radio tucked under my pillow, it was George Kell and Ernie Harwell.
Summers back then were all about baseball. You listened to it, you played in the street, and when you weren't doing that you swapped baseball cards. It was what we did.
You see, back then, baseball was something you could still believe in. It was YOUR team and they were YOUR players. Sure, there'd be the occasional shocking trade here and there... but it was still just a game. You had a heartfelt allegiance... a sense of belonging and a vested interest in your team and your town. The game didn't flaunt the "show" or big business. It was a game. And it felt good to be part of the team... your team.
When the Tigers moved from Tiger Stadium at "the corner," Free Press sports writer Mitch Albom described it best. Albom noted how at that last game, as people stood watching the subdued ceremonies, the faces in the crowd told the real story. It wasn't about the wins or losses, or the pennants or even the old time players that made their way onto the field. It was about family. It was about the time spent with your dad and your family. It was all about those trips to the ballpark and the time you spent together.
Ernie Harwell was part of it all. When you huddled around the radio, he was your eyes and ears. Ernie was the voice of the Detroit Tigers. He was a Detroit Tiger longer than anyone. His passing is much more than "the end of an era."
I'm quite sure there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of us sharing in the loss of Ernie Harwell and feeling its true meaning. Man, I wish I was eight years old again... just so I could hear him one more time. I only hope he knew what he meant to us and how much he brought to our team, our city and our lives.
On September 27 1999, the last game was played at Tiger Stadium. In his closing closing remarks Harwell gave his final goodbye: "Tonight, we say good-bye. ... Farewell, old friend Tiger Stadium. We will remember."
At 8:19, the scoreboard was shut off. At quarter to nine, a final team picture was taken, and by 9 the stands were empty. As the last of the fans left, a sign was hung on the famous right-center field overhang which read: “Today, there is crying in baseball. So long, old friend."
R.I.P. Ernie... “Today, there is crying in baseball. So long, old friend."