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L E’s Stories – “Voice Of A Tiger” – The Ernie Harwell Story

One of the many things that we are proud of here at ImaSportsphile is our ability to showcase the many broadcasting / sportscasting legends that have evolved since radio and television have been involved in sports broadcasts during the post-World War II years…..as we delightfully pay homage to the folks that have brought the world of sports into our homes and our hearts…..and typically we have chosen our   “featured sportscasters” from the thousands upon thousands of sports broadcasts that we have in our video museum….for there are many to choose from….cuz we hope to get to them all…..however, every now and then I find myself deciding to pick a sportscasting legend who doesn’t have any obvious links to Bone Daddy, our video library, sports in Texas or anything having a relationship to this web page…..but rather because of the lasting imprint that a particular sportscaster had on a team, its fans, any sport or stadium, a city or a state in which that team played….and there are very few stories that equal the lasting impressions of folks who loved Ernie Harwell…..who was the voice of the Detroit Tigers….for whom Ernie Harwell was the play-by-play sportscaster from 1960 to 1991….and then again from 1993 to 2002…..and that stat alone of spending 42 years “behind the mike” for the Tigers…..which makes Ernie Harwell deserving of this story being written in his honor.                                                                                                               

MLB – 1943 To 2002 – Special Film – The Ernie Harwell Story

Ernie Harwell (January 25, 1918 – May 4, 2010) was an American sportscaster….who was known for his long career calling play-by-play of Major League Baseball games…..with a total of 55 seasons called…. while 42 of them were with the Detroit Tigers….when Harwell called the action on radio and/or television. In January 2009, the American Sportscasters Association ranked Harwell # 16 on its list of Top 50 Sportscasters of All Time.                                                                                                                                                    

MLB & Music – 1999 – Detroit Tigers Special – “Tribute To Tiger Stadium” – With Legendary Tigers Broadcaster Ernie Harwell Making The Call

Ernie Harwell grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, working in his youth as a paperboy for the Atlanta Georgian…. with one of his customers being writer Margaret Mitchell.  Harwell grew up as an avid baseball fan from an early age….while becoming visiting team bat boy for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association at the age of five….and never had to buy a ticket to get into a baseball game again.  At sixteen he began working as a regional correspondent for The Sporting News.  Harwell attended Emory University….where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity…..and helped edit The Emory Wheel…..which was the school newspaper….when after graduating, Harwell worked as a copy editor and sportswriter for the Atlanta Constitution.  In 1943, he began announcing games for the Crackers on WSB radio…..after which he served four years in the United States Marine Corps.

  

MLB – 2015 – Digging Detroit Episode 7 Special – “The Ernie Harwell Collection”
 

The Crackers were a Class AA team, two rungs below the major league level….nonetheless, Harwell had achieved considerable notoriety due to the Crackers airing their games on WSB….which was a 50,000-watt station that reached much of the eastern half of the United States at night…..as WSB was much like KMOX in St Louis, MO…..which BD could pick-up on his transistor radio at night out in Midland, Tx …..as KMOX was a 50,000-watt radio station that reached all the way to the plains of West Texas.  Brooklyn Dodgers general manager and part-owner Branch Rickey was impressed enough with Harwell that he believed he would be an appropriate substitute for longtime Dodgers announcer Red Barber…..who was recuperating from a bleeding ulcer…..so Rickey traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Crackers in exchange for breaking Harwell’s broadcasting contract…..which is still today in 2020, the only known instance in baseball history where a player was traded for a broadcaster.                                                                                          

MLB – 1960 To 2002 – MLB TV Special – Official Tribute To Detroit Tigers Broadcasting Legend Ernie Harwell

Harwell broadcast for the Dodgers through 1949….for the New York Giants from 1950 to 1953….as well as  the Baltimore Orioles from 1954 to 1959…..as Harwell was the lead broadcaster on Orioles broadcasts on WCBM-AM and WMAR-TV in 1955….while working alongside Chuck Thompson…..but the next year Thompson moved on to Washington D.C. to broadcast the Senator games until returning to the Orioles in 1962. Also early in Harwell’s career, he broadcast The Masters golf tournament….as well as pro and college football.

 

MLB – 1960 To 2002 – Detroit Tigers Special – A Tribute To Legendary Sportscaster Ernie Harwell

Harwell joined the Tigers’ broadcast crew in 1960….while replacing Van Patrick….as George Kell, who had begun calling Tigers games with Patrick the year before, and had previously played for the Orioles in 1956–57 while Harwell was announcing their games, was instrumental in bringing Harwell to Detroit. “George called and said, ‘I recommended you and the Tigers asked me to get in touch with you.'” Harwell said. “I came and that was it.”  Harwell shared TV and radio duties with Kell through 1963….then with Bob Scheffing in 1964.  He began working radio exclusively in 1965, teaming with Gene Osborn for two seasons….and then with Ray Lane from 1967 to 1972…..and then in 1973, Paul Carey replaced Lane and joined Harwell to form the Tigers’ best-known and longest-lasting radio team….which lasted until the end of the 1991 season…..as Harwell garnered a large following outside of Detroit because the Tigers aired their games on WJR, a 50,000-watt station that reached most of the eastern half of North America at night.                                                                                                                                                                                   

MLB – 1943 To 2002 – ESPN Baseball Special – “Ernie Harwell Remembered”                                                                       

On December 19, 1990, the Tigers and WJR announced that the station wanted to go in a “new direction” and that the 1991 season would be Harwell’s last, as his contract was “non-renewed” (Carey then announced that he had already planned to retire after the 1991 season, and that the decision was unrelated to Harwell’s contract situation.)   Fans across Michigan and throughout the baseball world were outraged….but the ballclub and the radio station (who eventually wound up blaming each other for the decision) stood firm…..stating “[Harwell’s situation is] not going to change no matter how much clamor is made over it,” said team president Bo Schembechler. The situation caused outrage so much that some made threats of violence against Schembechler.  Some, such as Mitch Albom, blamed the situation causing as much negative feeling as it did on WJR executive Jim Long…..who was the one who pushed the quick, no severance pay removal of Harwell. The movement in favor of keeping Harwell was so strong that even billboards in favor of his remaining were put up.  Rick Rizzs was hired away from the Seattle Mariners to replace Harwell in 1992, teaming with Bob Rathbun.  Harwell worked a part-time schedule for the California Angels in 1992. The following year, the Tigers were purchased by Mike Ilitch….who made it one of his first priorities to bring Harwell back…..so in 1993 Harwell teamed with Rizzs and Rathbun on the WJR broadcasts….while calling play-by-play of the middle innings in each game.  From 1994 to 1998, Harwell called television broadcasts for the Tigers on PASS Sports and later WKBD-TV….then in 1999, he resumed full-time radio duties with the team….while swapping roles with Frank Beckmann….who had replaced Rizzs in the radio booth following the 1994 season…..as he teamed with analyst Jim Price….and continued in that role even as the team’s radio rights changed from WJR to WXYT in 2001.  During spring training in 2002, Harwell announced that he would retire at the end of the season….with his final broadcast coming on September 29, 2002…..as Dan Dickerson, who had joined Harwell and Price in 2000, took over as the Tigers’ lead radio voice.                                                                                                                             

MLB – 1984 – WJR Radio With Ernie Harwell – Detroit Tigers Vs Chicago White Sox – Featuring Jack Morris Pitching A No Hitter

Harwell’s broadcast for the Giants of the third and final game of the 1951 National League tie-breaker series against the Dodgers, which ended with the pennant-clinching “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run by the Giants’ Bobby Thompson, was carried nationally on NBC television.  Harwell helped broadcast two All-Star Games (1958, 1961) and two World Series (1963, 1968) for NBC Radio….plus, numerous ALCS and ALDS for CBS Radio and ESPN Radio….and the CBS Radio Game of the Week from 1992 to 1997.  He also called the 1984 World Series locally for the Tigers and WJR.                                                                                    

MLB – 1951 – NLCS Final Game Special – NY Giants Vs Brooklyn Dodgers – “The Shot Heard Around The World” – With Red Barber + Ernie Harwell

Following his retirement, Harwell came back briefly in 2003 to call a Wednesday Night Baseball telecast on ESPN…..as part of that network’s “Living Legends” series of guest announcers.  In 2005, Harwell guested for an inning on the Fox network’s coverage of the All-Star Game….which was held in Detroit for the first time since 1971…..as well as an inning on the ESPN Radio broadcast.  For Game 3 of the 2006 American League Division Series between the Tigers and New York Yankees, he provided guest commentary on ESPN’s telecast for two innings…..plus calling an inning of play-by-play on the Tigers’ radio flagship WXYT…..and guested for an inning on ESPN Radio. Harwell also called an inning of Game 1 of the 2006 World Series for WXYT.  Harwell served as a guest color commentator for two Tiger games on FSN Detroit on May 24 and 25, 2007. Harwell worked the telecasts (alongside play-by-play man Mario Impemba) as a substitute for regular analyst Rod Allen, who took the games off to attend his son’s high school graduation. (Harwell had filled in for Allen once before, on a 2003 telecast.)  He also appeared as a guest on an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast in Detroit on July 1, 2007.  Harwell occasionally did vignettes on the history of baseball for Fox Sports Detroit’s magazine program Tigers Weekly.                                    

MLB – 2002 – Detroit Tigers Special Film – “Ernie Harwell’s Farewell Address At Tiger Stadium”                                   

Harwell was known for his low-key delivery, southern accent (Detroit “Ti-guhs”), and conversational style. Some of his trademark phrases such as “That one is long gone!” (His trademark home run call, with an emphasis on “long”)…..as well as “He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by.” (After a called strikeout)…plus “Called out for excessive window shopping.” (Also after a called strikeout)….along with “It’s two for the price of one!” (After a double play)…..in addition to “A fan from [insert a city] will be taking that ball home today.” (When a fan would catch a foul ball)…..then there is “The Tigers need instant runs.” (When the team was behind in the late innings).  Ernie Harwell would also begin the first spring training broadcast of each season with a reading from Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (KJV): “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”                                                             

MLB – 1943 To 2002 – Detroit Tigers Special – “Ernie Harwell Classic Detroit Tiger Baseball Radio Calls”                   

The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named Harwell as Michigan Sportscaster of the Year 19 times….while inducting him into its Hall of Fame in 1989…..then in 1991, Harwell was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.  Harwell was also honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 as the 5th broadcaster to receive its Ford C. Frick Award…..and was elected to the  Michigan Sports Hall of Fame…..and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1998…..among many other honors. In 2001, Harwell was the recipient of the prestigious Ty Tyson Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting….which is awarded by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association (DSBA).  In 2009, Harwell was named the first recipient of the DSBA’s Ernie Harwell Lifetime Contribution Award….which is called “The Ernie”……as the award annually honors an individual from the broadcast industry who has contributed outstanding time and effort to the betterment of sports broadcasting through a lifetime body of work.  Emory University inducted Harwell to its Hall of Fame in 1990.  The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inducted Harwell in 2008.  In 2010 Harwell was named as a recipient of the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award from Fordham University radio station WFUV.  The press box at Detroit’s Comerica Park was officially named the “Ernie Harwell Media Center” following his retirement from broadcasting. The Cleveland Indians also named their visiting radio booth at Progressive Field after Harwell.  The site of Tiger Stadium at one time had a sign on the fence as “Ernie Harwell Park”……but it is not currently or officially a city park.                                                                                                                                                                  

MLB – 1981 – MLB Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony – The Ford Frick Award Is Presented To Ernie Harwell

On June 6, 2013, the Wayne State University Department of Athletics in conjunction with the Ernie Harwell Estate and the Ernie Harwell Foundation announced the establishment of the Harwell Field Project.  This project is an outreach effort to build a baseball stadium in recognition of Ernie and his wife of 62 years, Lula “Lulu” Harwell.  Harwell Field will provide grandstands, press box, team clubhouse and a foyer to recognize the achievements and contributions of the Harwells.                                                                                        

MLB- 1943 To 2002 – ESPN Special – “Ernie Harwell Remembered”                                                                              

On September 3, 2009, Harwell announced that he had been diagnosed with incurable bile duct cancer, and that he, his family and doctors had decided against surgery or other treatment of the condition.  On September 16, Harwell gave a farewell address to fans at Comerica Park between innings of a game between the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.  Harwell sat down for a 60-minute interview on an episode of MLB Network’s Studio 42 with Bob Costas, his final television appearance. The episode premiered November 17, 2009.  In the interview, Costas correctly foresaw the 2009 World Series would unfortunately be Harwell’s last.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

MLB – 2009 – MLB Network Studio 42 Special – With Bob Costas Interview Of Detroit Tigers Legendary Sportscaster Ernie Harwell

Harwell died on May 4, 2010, at his home in Novi, Michigan, surrounded by his wife of 68 years, Lulu, and three of their four children.  He was set to receive the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting on May 5 in New York City.  Harwell considered Scully to be the best broadcaster of all-time. However, in accepting the award on Harwell’s behalf, Al Kaline noted “We Tiger fans respectfully disagree.”  Harwell lay in repose at Comerica Park on May 6. Over 10,000 fans filed past the open casket.  May 10 was declared Ernie Harwell Day at Comerica Park. Several players and broadcasters hoisted a flag in center field bearing his initials, similar to the ones that were also sewn onto all Tigers uniforms. Harwell’s longtime broadcasting partner Paul Carey threw out the ceremonial first pitch that night.                                                                                                                                                                    

MLB – 1943 To 2002 – Fox Metro Sports Special – “Memories of Ernie Harwell” – With Dan Dickerson + Mario Impemba + Mickey York

During my watching these videos contained in this story herewith….it has become obvious to me that Ernie Harwell was as nice and as genuine a man as you could ever hope to know…..as baseball fans all over the Great Lakes area of America have expressed how dearly he has been missed by baseball fans everywhere.  Of all the things I have read about Ernie Harwell…..the following is one of my favorites….as Brian Remsberg said of Harwell a couple of month back….“10 years he’s been gone and I still miss him. I was fortunate enough to intern for the Tigers in 1999 after growing up listening to EVERY game I could from age 6 (1984) on into college. It was amazing to see how this man treated others. He made you feel like you were the important one. My job after the final out on Sept. 27, 1999 was to get Ernie down from his catbird seat behind the plate to the field for the ceremony. He didn’t have a formal role as players came in one by one from center field returning to wherever they played.  I turned and said to him these are the guys you taught me about growing up. The Bird, Al Kaline, Jim Bunning, Gates Brown, Willie Horton, etc. He then proceeded to tell stories about each and every one of them. As long as I live I will never forget that moment.  Ernie Harwell was beyond legend for me and many more Tigers fans.”  If you have taken the time to watch these videos posted in this story herewith…..then I believe you will have become a fan of Ernie Harwell just as I have.  As Detroit Tigers fan Stefan Zonia wrote some years back….I met Ernie at a grocery store when I was 9 or 10 years old. I was there with my dad and I noticed him.  I asked my dad if I could say hello, but he told me not to bother him.  I must have said it loud enough for Ernie to hear because he came over and introduced himself to me.  We ended up talking for about 15 minutes. I remember that day more vividly than almost any other day. I will miss Ernie so much. What a beautiful man.”                                                                                                                                                                     

MLB – 1943 To 2002 – Special Film – “The Definition Of Baseball” – In Memory Of Ernie Harwell

One of the true joys in my life from being in charge of writing the stories that lie within our vintage video museum here at ImaSportsphile, is the opportunity that it affords me to be introduced to some really outstanding HUMAN BEINGS during the process…..and Ernie Harwell is one of them….for this man created a connection to all people with calling what he saw and living what he believed.  If all HUMANS would simply acknowledge, be kind and pay attention to others….as Ernie Harwell obviously did to everyone….the world would be a much kinder place…..for this man was very special…..and I would have never known him….had it not been for ImaSportsphile. 

Music – 2010 – Special Tribute – MLB Umpire Joe West Sings “Ernie Harwell”

 

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