Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Remembering Ernie Harwell

As the third NHL playoff game between the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks got underway earlier this evening, Ryan and I were saddened to learn that Ernie Harwell had passed away in the afternoon (May 4). The renowned major league baseball broadcaster had been battling bile duct cancer since September 2009 and opted against receiving treatment. But up until his death at 92, he kept up regularly with exercise. He was slated to receive the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting on Wednesday at Fordham University (May 5). More from The Detroit News.

If you're from Michigan, there's no way you haven't heard Harwell's friendly delivery calling one of his many Detroit Tigers games during his 42 years with the franchise. My childhood visits to the former Tiger Stadium are still so vivid, but those days of hearing WJR (760 AM) pouring out of my Dad's stereo in the garage and in the car are just as memorable.

But if you love baseball, Ernie Harwell is a legend. Major League Baseball would not have been the same without him. He's a part of Michigan history, Detroit history. He's a part of my Dad's history -- he's been listening to him since Harwell came to Detroit in 1960, and also had a chance to meet him and shake his hand during a game in the mid-1980s.

Hearing his voice always reminded me of a more innocent time ... perhaps it was because I was just this kid growing up in Flint, Michigan during the GM-driven 1980s. He was a total class act and his spirit and sincerity will be undoubtedly missed. Baseball lost a good guy today. Detroit lost a good guy today. We lost a good guy today.

RIP.

Some Ernie Harwell History

- Harwell battled a speech impediment as a child growing up in Atlanta.

- He was a paperboy for Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind.

- He is the only announcer to ever be traded for a player. When broadcasting for the Atlanta Crackers baseball team in 1948, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey needed a quick substitute for ailing announcer Red Barber. The Crackers let him go and Harwell headed to Brooklyn in exchange for Dodger catcher Cliff Dapper.

- In addition to writing four baseball books, Harwell was a songwriter. Some of his songs have been recorded by Detroit's own Mitch Ryder ("One Room World"), B.J. Thomas ("I Don't Know Any Better"), and Johnny Mercer ("Sing, Sing, Sing Every Song").

- Harwell only missed two games in his career; one when he attended his brother Davis' funeral in 1968 and two, when he was inducted National Sportscasters' Hall of Fame in 1989.

- After announcing Detroit Tiger games for 31 years, former Tigers President Bo Schembechler (also the famed University of Michigan football coach) fired him after the 1991 season. Fans were outraged and Harwell was brought back two years later by owner Mike Illitch.

- When he was away from the Motor City, Harwell headed west to announce games for the California Angels for one season. (This one is for Matt K.)

- Harwell's final broadcast for the Detroit Tigers was Sept. 22, 2002.

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