An ambassador of summer: Ernie Harwell (1918-2010)


Ernie Harwell (1918-2010) Click on the picture to watch Ernie's final goodbye to Tigers fans last fall.

Forgive me this day as I write this without getting misty-eyed.  For those who do not follow baseball, or sports in general, Ernie Harwell passed away Tuesday evening from a year-long battle of terminal cancer.  Harwell was the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers.

Check that.  He was the voice of Michigan, Detroit, the Tigers, and baseball. Baseball has been blessed with individuals who were ambassadors of this sport of sticks and balls, mitts and grass.  Harry Caray, Buck O’Neill, Casey Stengel, Satchel Paige, and Jack Buck exemplified baseball.  It is difficult to now realize that Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, may be the last great announcer that is tied to one team for over 30+ years.

Ernie Harwell was Michigan.  One voice, one team, equaled a marriage unbroken in sports.

Vin Scully became the voice of the Dodgers after Harwell left to call the Giants.

For my generation (Generation X and Millennials), watching sports on television is a common routine that is always taken for granted.  Ask them if they have ever listened or considered listening to a game on radio, the common response is “it’s too boring” and “it’s better on television.”

It’s a generational thing.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But, for an “X-er” like me, listening to a baseball game, football game, or a basketball game on radio is special.  Listening to play-by-play on radio, you imagine yourself being there and seeing in your mind what is going on.  Growing up in Eastern Iowa made it quite easy for me to hear the great voices of baseball. Television makes it easy to see what’s happening.

I ran across listening to Ernie Harwell one night on WJR, after listening to Harry Caray called another Cubs’ heart-breaker on WGN.  For a long time in Waterloo, no radio station in town carried a MLB team broadcast.  It wasn’t until later when I was in college that KWLO picked up the Twins for one season.  Today, KCNZ has been carrying the Cubs for several years now.

Jack Buck and Harry Caray when they were the 1-2 punch on the Cardinals' broadcast.

Just as it was fun to listen to Harry, Jack, Herb, Marty, and Bob, Ernie had a grace about him when he was behind the microphone.  I was listening to the voices that poured like honey through the ionosphere of amplified modulation radio, telling us the stories that kept us up late at night, when sugar plum fairies should be dancing in our sleepy heads.

The best person to pay homage to Ernie Harwell in his own way, is Vin Scully.  Here is Vin’s tribute, mixed in with calling the play, as he is so eloquent in doing.

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