His death was expected. Yet, it still came as a shock. Tonight the
baseball community is mourning the passing of broadcasting legend Ernie
In honor of Ernie, here is a past post about connecting with the
voice of the Detroit Tigers.
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 ballpark’s 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
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
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, the proprietor of a
parking lot, guiding cars into their spaces for families going to see
the Tiger’s play ball.
I eased my way back down Trumbull to Cherry Street, then over toward
the freeway. There was a line of cars serving as foot stools for
photographers, and onlookers hoping to grab a glimpse over the fence. I
proceeded up the ramp, over the freeway, for a birds-eye view inside
As I peered into the yard where boyhood heroes once played, through
my minds-eye, I saw a game played 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
“… now the count on Horton is 2 balls – 2 strikes.
Campaneris comes in from short to talk to his pitcher – Diego Segui.
moment passes, and Harwell continues,
the set by Segui. The pitch — swung on! A drive to left… and
that’ll be the ballgame…
Tigers win it 5 to 4!
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!