Here’s how valued Ernie Harwell was.
Ernie was the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers. He passed away yesterday way too young at 92. But in 1948 he was broadcasting for the Atlanta Crackers minor league team. Red Barber, the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers took sick and the Dodgers needed a replacement. They had heard good things about Ernie so they called the Crackers to see if they might release their announcer. The Crackers said okay but they had a need too. A catcher. So for the first and only time in history, an announcer was traded for a player. Cliff Dapper went to Atlanta and Ernie Harwell traveled north to Brooklyn.
And he stayed in the big leagues – for nearly 60 years. From 1960 on he was the beloved voice of the Detroit "Ti-guhs" (as he called them in his rich baritone twang).
Here’s all you need to know about Ernie. I first met him in 1989. I had just completed a season of calling minor league baseball and had arranged with the Angels to use an open booth to record a demo tape. They were playing the Tigers that night and I met Ernie. He thought my story was interesting and asked if I would be his guest on the pre-game show. Are you kidding? It was an HONOR. The gift for appearing was a pair of shoes from some local Detroit shoe store. I told Ernie I didn’t plan to be in Detroit anytime soon so he was welcome to give the gift certificate to someone who could use it.
Four innings into the game he finds me in my booth and wants to know my address and shoe size. Two weeks later a pair of shoes arrived. That was Ernie. With all that was going on around him, he was concerned about me getting shoes.
Ernie was a true Southern Gentleman. And one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. I cherish the fact that he and I have always stayed in touch. I’m going to greatly miss trading emails with bbpeach.
I once asked Ernie if he saved his old scorecards. Among the many milestones he’s seen and called was Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” in 1951 (he did the game for NBC TV). Ernie said that yes, he’s kept them all – from his years with the Dodgers, Giants, Orioles, and Tigers. I don’t know where they are but what a treasure – pretty much the history of baseball for the last seven decades.
Ernie was once asked the difference between announcing baseball on TV and radio. He said, “On TV I provide captions for pictures. On radio nothing happens until I say it happens.” What he neglected to mention was that his elegance and love of the game elevated what happened from just baseball to warm summer nights with your dad, weekend cookouts, and the best of America.
Farewell dear friend. Thanks again for the shoes. I wish I could have walked a mile in yours.