Inside the penalty box

Ernie Harwell, more than a broadcaster


As if the Detroit Tigers needed any more motivation to make this season a special one, they do now.

Tigers legendary broadcaster, and all around good guy, Ernie Harwell has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer.

According to a report from the Associated Press, Harwell was diagnosed with cancer after having surgery for an obstructed bile duct, and he was advised to forgo any future surgeries.

As a baseball fan, this news is devastating.

I, for one, thought Ernie was going to live forever, and it is always awkward to think about the mortality of a legend.

It’s sort of like hearing that Paul Bunyan had an accident with his axe, and he wouldn’t be cutting wood anymore.

Ernie, in my opinion, was solely responsible for carrying a whole new generation of baseball fans into the game.

When it comes to sports with long traditions, such as hockey and baseball, the sports’ old-timers always seem to try and cut off the younger generations from the brotherhood of the game.

They hold the legends of the past over the heads of new fans, as if not being versed in the lore of the game was something newcomers should be ashamed of.

However, Harwell was never like that.

Throughout Ernie’s career, he was never one to keep his stories to himself.

Listening to a game, on the radio or television, that Harwell broadcasted was more like getting a history lesson in the game of baseball than a description of two teams slugging it out on the diamond.

He was the keeper of all baseball knowledge, and he shared the wealth with anyone who cared to listen.

But, most importantly, Harwell was always able to package that knowledge in a way that kept fans, young and old, thirsty for more.

Ernie always seemed to know who caught every single foul ball at every single game he broadcasted.

“That one was caught by a man from (insert Michigan city here),” Harwell would say.

How did he know where that fan was from?

When I was younger, I used to think that Ernie had secret-service type men roaming old Tiger Stadium accosting every fan that caught a foul ball, because Ernie wouldn’t lie about something like that.

But more importantly, Ernie’s voice always stood for something more than baseball.

When you would hear Ernie’s voice on the radio or TV you knew everything was going to be all right in the world.

Ernie’s voice meant the start of long, warm days, cookouts, camping, riding your bike around the neighborhood until it was dark out, and best of all, no school.

His voice was something that grandparents, parents, and children could all listen to and be content with.

His stories single handedly kept everyone who was my age interested in the Tigers, even when the players on the field didn’t seem to be all that interested in the Tigers.

He made me a fan of baseball, and I am thankful for that.

So, Ernie, as you embark on this next stage of your illustrious life, I just want to say thank you for everything you have ever given me, whether you knew about it or not.


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I read a book about Ernie Harwell a few years ago, and the man absolutely to me, is what I would like everyone in the world to be like. Subtle humor, intelligence, eye witness accounts and an enthusiasm about his profession that never died made him not only great, but the best.

Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Report this

Well done Gary. You really did a wonderful job here. I too was amazed at how he knew where all those people who caught those balls were from. It almost made you think that Ernie knew everyone at the game. Growing up with him was a special thing for so many of us.

Friday, September 11, 2009 | Report this

Superbly written, Gary. Ernie is a class act in a world with few such individuals. There has been no better broadcaster and I expect none to know the game so well. He is everything that you said and more. This extraordinary man made an ordinary and sometimes frightful world glow with brightness and good will. For such a human being the word thanks does not get the job done.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | Report this

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