We'll Miss You, Ernie

Even though we knew that Ernie Harwell’s passing was coming, it doesn’t make the sadness go away any quicker. For a man to be so beloved not only in his adopted hometown of Detroit, but around the country shows how well he was liked. Ernie told MLB Network’s Bob Costas in his last interview that he wasn’t bitter about the cancer that would eventually take him away from us, “I knew God was in charge and whatever happens, happens for the best. I really have a lot of serenity and great support from my wife family and friends. It’s been so far a fairly easy task to accept it.”

I still hearken back to the days when I was a kid and would listen to the radio to see what stations I could find. In fact, I mentioned this on Twitter on Saturday. During hot summer nights, I would listen to the Red Sox with Ned Martin and Jim Woods, then find the New York stations to listen to the Yankees broadcasts with Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer and Bill White. If I couldn’t hear the Yankees, I’d go to the Mets to hear Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy call the games. Then I would hear the Orioles broadcasts on WBAL with Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell. Sometimes, I could hear WSB and pick up the Braves broadcasts with Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Ernie Johnson, Sr. (yes, EJ’s dad) and John Sterling. There would be nights I could hear the Cleveland Indians on 3WE and the Reds with Marty Brennaman on WLW. When the Phillies went to the old WCAU Radio, I could listen to Harry Kalas, Andy Musser, Richie Ashburn and Chris Wheeler rotate innings for the Philadelphia team.

On humid nights, signals from Chicago would come in strong and I could listen to Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall call the White Sox and Jack Brickhouse call the Cubs on WGN.

But the one constant that I could pick up was WJR out of Detroit, clear as a bell on 760 AM. And I would listen to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey call the games from Tiger Stadium. The press box was so close to the field, you could hear the ball hit the bat so clearly.

Ernie just had this manner of description that made the game come to life. He had a friendly voice and you felt he could be one of your neighbors. With the announcers calling every game on your radio, it was if they were part of your family. Familiar voices coming on the same time every night from the same station, it was no wonder that when Ernie was inexplicably fired by the Tigers and Bo Schembechler in particular in 1992, fans practically revolted. The wrong was righted a year later when Ernie returned, but Tigers fans never forgave Bo for the deed.

My love for baseball was enhanced by listening to games on the radio and hearing the great announcers boom into my room on the 50,000 watt stations from across the country. Their signal could reach 38 states and go into Canada.

There aren’t many of the old school baseball announcers left, those who have spent most of their careers with one team and have spanned multiple generations. Vin Scully of the Dodgers comes to mind and interestingly enough, Vin joined the Brooklyn Dodgers to replace Ernie who went to the New York Giants. There’s Marty Brennaman still calling games for the Reds on WLW. Dave Niehaus has been with the Seattle Mariners since their inception in 1976. Jerry Coleman is still with the San Diego Padres, however, he’s on a reduced schedule and only doing color analysis. Jerry Howarth of the Toronto Blue Jays like Niehaus has been with his team since 1976.

And in this century, we’ve lost Jack Buck, Chuck Thompson, Harry Kalas, Skip Caray and now, Ernie. Thank goodness, we still have some of their best calls immortalized on tape and Tigers fans can hear Ernie’s call of the 1984 World Series in perpetuity.

MLB.com has created a tribute page for Harwell that contains stories, tributes and videos.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal shares some of his thoughts on Ernie’s passing.

Vin Scully remembers Ernie as only he can.

MLB Network broke into regular programming to run this segment on Ernie.

Justice B. Hill at Real Clear Sports gives thanks to Ernie.

Michigan native Tim Cary says Ernie helped to fill his summers.

The Detroit News has statements from Tigers ownership and management on Ernie Harwell.

John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press says Tigers manager Jim Leyland was saddened to hear of Ernie’s death.

John has reaction from all over Michigan, the baseball community and beyond.

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com recalls his one encounter with Ernie.

I’m sure there will be more stories and tributes to Ernie on Wednesday. I’ll be sure to bring them to you.

One last note, MLB Network will re-air Bob Costas’ interview with Ernie Harwell conducted last November. It will be seen Wednesday at 4 p.m. East/1 p.m. West.

The highlights of the interview include the following:

ON HIS HEALTH

Back in July, the doctors gave me six months to live, give or take a few months. I’m hoping to reach my birthday on January 25 but I’m pretty sure I won’t make the baseball season. But you never know as the Lord works wonders.
I’m not overwhelmed by the circumstances. One of the doctors said, “If you were my father, I’d say, don’t do anything, just relax and wait for the inevitable.” But I had great peace about that and closure to it and I knew God was in charge and whatever happens, happens for the best. I really have a lot of serenity and great support from my wife family and friends. It’s been so far a fairly easy task to accept it.
On Returning to Comerica Park on September 16
That was a great event for me. First of all, I addressed the team, which was a real honor. Jim Leyland had the whole team around. And after a couple innings, they sent me out there with a microphone and I said a few words of farewell. It was very heartwarming for me to see the way people felt about me.
The old voice hasn’t changed that much in 50 years and I thank mainly the genes, the good health the Lord gave me, and the fact I enjoyed the job so much. I never looked at it as work. It was something I got great pleasure out of; Getting to know the people in baseball, traveling with them, and being a part of that great Major League Baseball fraternity.
ON SUPPORT FROM FANS
I don’t think there’s any reason for this response except that I was the Tiger announcer. I showed up and did the best I could. I tried to be myself and my whole philosophy was the game was the main thing and don’t ever interfere with the game. People tune in to what the Tigers are doing. No matter whose doing the game, they’re going to tune in.
ON BEING A LOCAL MLB ANNOUNCER
I do feel like those people out there were my friends and I hope I was their friend. It is a unique association that you have with your listener. I really appreciate the fact that they’ve taken interest in me. I don’t know that I deserve that. All I tried to do was be myself. I wanted to broadcast the game that I thought I’d like to hear as a listener. I tried to give the score as often as I could. I let the play take over and fill in with anecdotes or historical information that maybe nobody else came up with. There were going to be some people who like you and some who don’t like you and you have to accept that when you start out. 
On moving from the segregated South to Brooklyn in 1948
It was a little strange seeing a black man play against white competition. I accepted it and Jackie Robinson became a very good friend of mine. I played cards with him, played golf with him, rode the train with him. It’s the most exciting and most eventful thing that’s happened in sports history, the breaking of the color line by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
On leaving Baltimore IN 1960 and taking THE job WITH THE DETROIT TIGERS
So I made the jump and it was probably the best move I ever made because the people in Michigan have really been super. They’re great fans, it’s an original franchise, and they have a great passion for baseball.

RIP, Ernie. You will be missed.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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