It was a sad Tuesday evening at Nationals Park as broadcasters, players, writers and coaches reflected on the passing of legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. For nearly 50 years, Harwell was the voice of the Tigers cementing his place in baseball history and earning the esteemed Ford C. Frick Award in 1981.
Harwell, a soft spoken story-teller, was truly one of a kind. Though the Georgia native possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, he impressed fans, players, coaches and executives with his kindness and authenticity.
“He was a big part of my life,” said an emotional Steve McCatty. A Michigan native, McCatty said Harwell’s passing was like losing a member of his own family. “Ernie would say Vinny [Scully] was the best, but for us in Detroit, there was nobody as good as Ernie.”
There is no doubt about that; Harwell is iconic in Detroit. He will lie in repose at Comerica Park later this week where fans can pay their respects to Ernie and his family.
“I remember that he came to my locker when I was in Detroit and we’d sit down and talk about things,” said Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez. “It’s sad to hear news like that especially for guys like Ernie. He’s like the Bible of baseball. He spent so many years as a broadcaster in Detroit. Everybody in Detroit and everybody that knows him is going to miss him a lot. He was a great human being.”
As a broadcaster and a writer, Harwell always found the perfect words to describe the game he loved. His Cooperstown speech in 1981 is about as eloquent a description of the national pastime as one could ever write and it’s just a glimmer of the genius that was Ernie Harwell.
Some of his most memorable calls are “that one is long gone,” “he stood there like a house on the side of the road as he watched it go by,” “two for the price of one,” and for foul balls, he’d name a random Detroit suburb for the lucky fan taking home the special souvenir.
“As a youngster dreaming of being a big league broadcaster, I used to love to pull in WJR in Detroit on a clear night just so I could listen to Ernie,” said Nationals radio broadcaster Dave Jageler. “He was the consummate professional at painting a clear picture of the game and filling in the details with a story and all in a perfect radio voice.”
Jageler and his radio partner Charlie Slowes spent much of Tuesday’s broadcast reminiscing about Harwell memories and describing what he meant to baseball.
“He was a baseball treasure, a legend and as genuine as they come,” Slowes added. “His relationship with Tiger fans is something any play-by-play announcer could only hope to achieve.”
Though he retired from play-by-play in 2002, Harwell stayed active in baseball. He visited the ballpark, made speaking appearances and fought hard to preserve parts of old Tiger Stadium.
In September of 2009, the Tigers honored Harwell with an emotional tribute. Diagnosed with cancer earlier that year, Harwell gave his formal goodbye to the fans thanking them for their support.
“He loved this game, Tiger fans adored him and fans all over baseball will miss the classy man from Georgia with the golden voice,” said MASN’s Bob Carpenter.