This year’s passing of former Detroit Tiger radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell has brought sadness to the entire baseball world. It is now time to look back on his life and what he meant to everyone touched by him.
Most Tiger fans have wonderful memories of Ernie and are now sharing those reflections and anecdotes. Maybe as a kid you stayed up late hearing him broadcast games from the West Coast. This was probably done despite your parent’s orders to “turn that radio off and get to sleep”.
Potentially that same little radio was also smuggled in to school. In a manner most clandestine, the device could be used to hear Ernie call an afternoon game at your desk.
Throughout Ernie’s career he received countless awards while earning respect of nearly every colleague and fan. Possibly the biggest award was his 1981 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As for fan loyalty, Metro Detroit quickly came together when Ernie’s contract was not renewed in 1991. The entire region was soon awash with signs, buttons, bumper stickers and t-shirts all with messages supporting Ernie.
With everything considered, what really made Ernie so beloved and successful? He was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about baseball, but so are many others. He was a very talented radio personality with a strong work ethic and pleasant demeanor. Although uncommon, others possess those same traits as well.
I feel what set him apart was combining those aforementioned qualities with understanding the game was bigger than him. That humility is what I believe quickly won him respect of the baseball world.
He always recognized the need for doing everything to the best of his abilities. As time went on he probably could have survived on his reputation alone. It is likely fans would have forgiven him had he forgot a name or statistic once in awhile. Luckily for everyone, Ernie never let this happen.
Instead, he brilliantly portrayed the game and used his knowledge of baseball history to enlighten the game for listeners. Stories Ernie told about experiences in the game were always amusing and captivating. However, those anecdotes were also always relevant to present day.
Ernie was witness to many changes in the game during his career. He saw such transitions as: designated hitters, exponential growth in salaries, expansion, inter-league play and free agency.
Many other broadcasters and media personalities took this opportunity to complain and pine for the “good old days” of baseball. However, Ernie did not use his position for that. Instead he understood that the game’s beauty had not diminished and called each game just as he did the one before.
Once again fans may have understood if Ernie had become somewhat cynical toward baseball. But he continued doing his job and that element never entered his work. In a sport that often fears change, he successfully embraced it and yet still stood for tradition.
Since Ernie’s 2002 retirement his Detroit replacements have done a fine job. Today Jim Price and Dan Dickerson’s voices can still bring a game to life. For most of us though, summer nights are no longer the same without Ernie. The sound of his voice was synonymous with baseball season in Detroit.
Baseball has lost a legend that will be forever missed. We know there will never be another broadcaster like Ernie. Many will try but nobody will duplicate what he did.
Thank you Ernie for bringing so much joy to all of our lives and may you rest in peace.