We always knew that when he passed away, Ernie Harwell would
qualify for sainthood in the state of Michigan.
But let me state a fact up front - Ernie Harwell was not a great
baseball announcer, at least in the modern sense. If you have listened
to Ernie over the decades as much as I, you know he made more than his
share of on-the-air mistakes. Some must have been highly embarrassing
Ive heard him state this one more than once, Theres a pop-up on
the infield and its going, going, gone for a home run. Somehow,
though, the gaffs made him seem even more likeable a regular guy,
not a smooth and polished talking machine.
Also, Ernie used his words sparingly his extended pauses
sometimes caused me to check my radio to see if it was still powered
on. In todays broadcasts, you rarely hear a moment of silence by the
games announcers mostly mindless jabbering just to fill in the
If Harwell wasnt the slickest announcer in history, why the big
fuss about him? For one thing, we embraced Ernie because he represents
the idyllic days of youth. A co-worker mentioned to me that she
remembers the contentment of Harwells soothing, Southern drawl
describing Tigers games while her dad worked around her childhood home
every summer. She may not know Al Kaline from Allan Trammell, but
Ernie Harwells voice has the power to stir something inside of us
for me that something makes me feel good.
Ernie was an original. As a baseball historian, he entertained us
with his stories in the early days of the game about colorful
characters such as Ty Cobb and Wahoo Sam Crawford. During Tigers
games Harwell coined sentences like, Mantle stood there like the
house beside the road and watched that one go by for strike three. Or
Gibson gave the umpire the ol family-look after that pitch. Or a
woman from Livonia grabbed that foul ball how did he know where she
When the memorial to Harwell was held at Comerica Park
recently, sports analysts criticized some fans for being disrespectful
by photographing him as many thousands passed by. Well what do you
expect when a figure as beloved as Erie Harwell is laid to rest in an
open coffin? There will always be knuckle-heads who dont know any
Ernie wouldnt appreciate any controversy attached to his
passing. Even when the Tigers fired him 20 years ago, he never
criticized the organization or anyone for being dumped so
unceremoniously. He remained silent on the subject though it was
obvious that his sudden dismissal pained him deeply. Eventually he was
reinstated when Mike Ilitch bought the team a few years later.
The outpouring of love for Ernie Harwell at his passing is
mostly because he was a great man. He is famous for being kind and
thoughtful to everyone. When I interviewed him about 15 years ago, I
was a nobody from an unfamiliar newspaper - yet, he gave me as much
time as I needed. We talked about baseball for a long time, so long
that I had to excuse myself in order to get other work done. Everyone
Ernie has encountered has similar stories to share.
We usually refer to Harwell simply as Ernie - like a favorite
uncle. Maybe that is the best explanation of why the accolades for
Harwell just keep coming and have been beyond what any other sports
icon in Michigan may ever receive.
Ernie Harwell seemed like a member of the family.