The Ernie Harwell Connection

Despite the efforts of many, including Ernie Harwell, Tiger Stadium
began to come down in 2008. Crowds lined the streets of Michigan and
Trumbull to watch, film, and to reminisce about summer days of baseball
games played at The Corner.

I was
one of the them. Moving along the perimeter, I kept trying to get a
peek through the heavy tarp that draped the fence. Occasionally, while
walking down Trumbull to Michigan Avenue, and over to Cochrane, I would find a spot where someone had taken a knife and sliced a hole big enough to see through.

Although
I had been ready for the stadium to come down (and had even started to
embrace the idea), it was difficult to watch its destruction.

Memories
raced through my mind of games with my dad. I recalled games that my
step-son and I watched, and I tried to piece together vague,
flickering  images of my grandfather (Poppy), the proprietor of a parking lot,
guiding cars into their spaces for families going to see the Tiger’s
play ball.

There
was a line of cars serving as foot stools for photographers, and mainly
people trying to grab a glimpse, as I proceeded up the ramp, over the
freeway, for a better look inside the ballpark.

As I
peered into the yard where boyhood heroes once played, I imagined a
game upon the torn field. One voice pierced through the memories. As
the stadium was coming down, I heard the play-by-play of Ernie Harwell
on a sunny, September day when Detroit faced Oakland.

“Well,
this is the big day for the maestro, Denny McLain, Saturday afternoon
at Tiger Stadium, September the 14th, 1968, and Denny will be going for
win number 30.” said Harwell
.

I
chose to envision this game, because two years earlier I paid a
personal tribute to my grandfather on the 105th anniversary of his
birth. (You can read the original post here.)

This had become a field of dreams,  and I watched a Tiger’s team from the past play ball through Ernie’s call of the game.

“Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane at Tiger Stadium, and we’ve got a dandy here. The Tigers need one to tie and two to go ahead.”

My thoughts slowly shifted from the field. I turned my body, and my gaze, toward Trumbull.

I closed my eyes.

There was Poppy, at the foot of the driveway, on the sidewalk, seated in an old aluminum folding chair.

“Denny
McLain has gone eight innings for the Tigers…  and now the Tigers
send up their leading home run hitter, Willie Horton, to see what he
can do about starting something in the eighth inning. It’ll be Horton,
Cash and Freehan – the middle three batters in Mayo Smith’s Tigers
batting order.”

The Tiger’s tied the score at 4, and with one out in the ninth, Willie Horton approached home plate.

Poppy inched toward the edge of his seat.

The
last pitch was thrown to Horton, while Mickey Stanley on third edged
home. Harwell’s voice, thin through the small speaker, set the stage,

“… now the count on Horton is 2 balls – 2 strikes. Campaneris comes in from short to talk to his pitcher – Diego Segui.

A moment passes, and Harwell continues,

Here’s the set by Segui. The pitch — swung on! A drive to left… and that’ll be the ballgame…

The Tigers win it 5 to 4!

Denny
McLain is one of the first out of the dug-out, racing out…  and
Horton is mobbed as the Tigers come from behind, and McLain has his
thirtieth victory of the 1968 season.”

My
grandfather heard his voice, my dad heard his voice, and I heard his
voice. Each of us had watched (in the mind’s eye) baseball through
Ernie Harwell. For a few moments that afternoon, his voice connected
cherished members of my past  – one more time.

These days, when I hear him speak, I see and hear more than a ballgame – much more.

The nexus to a time gone by is Ernie Harwell. That is much more than any mere baseball broadcaster could deliver.

Of course, Ernie Harwell was more than a broadcaster.
He brought ball games to life, and made the players heroes. He was our
trusted friend, the one who always got the best seat in the stadium.

Simply put, he made baseball better. Thank-you, Ernie!

Photo courtesy of the Radio Hall of Fame

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4 Responses to The Ernie Harwell Connection

  1. ez_mac71 says:

    Another fine blog. I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I love Ernie Harwell. I know that there were a lot of great radio guys out there but for my money Harwell was the best…his voice was perfect for bringing the game to life. I, too, have many fond memories of the old Tiger Stadium. The Copa is nice but I loved the old ballpark. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  2. angelsgirl012 says:

    I respect the Tigers organization very much. The fans and people of Detroit are deserving of happiness. I haven’t been to Detroit but I am aware of what’s going on with your stadium. Detroit is such an old and cherished city isn’t? I know its going through some hard times because of the economy but I know that the new stadium will bring a lot of new memories 🙂 Nice picture of Mr Harwell he’s such an incredible person

    http://mimi.mlblogs.com

  3. Skip says:

    EZ-Mac, Ernie had a way of connecting everyone who listened to his broadcasts. There are many good baseball play-by-play guys today, but they don’t have that touch that Ernie had. Maybe I’m biased, but Ernie is special.

  4. Skip says:

    Mimi, Comerica Park is a wonderful place to see a ballgame! I have a habit of walking the inside perimeter of the ballpark before a game starts. I never want to forget the beauty of Comerica Park. This was something I never did at Tiger Stadium (we always just went to our seats), and it is something that I regret. I do have fond memories of Tiger Stadium. I just didn’t take the time to enjoy it as I should have. I guess I always thought it would be there. (By the way, I saw the Vlady signed with the Rangers. He’s one of my favorite players. I hate to see him leave LAA.)

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