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Farewell Ernie

May 7, 2010

Frank Wladyslawski-Writer

The passing of former Detroit Tiger radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell has brought sadness to the entire baseball world. It’s become a time to look back on his life and what he meant to everyone touched by him.

Most of us Tiger fans have wonderful memories of Ernie and are now sharing those reflections and anecdotes with everyone. Maybe as a kid you stayed up late listening to 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 smuggled in a book bag to school later in the week. In a manner most clandestine, the device could then be used to hear Ernie call an April afternoon game while at your desk.

Throughout Ernie’s career he received countless awards while earning the respect of nearly every colleague and fan. Possibly the biggest honor was his 1981 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As for fan loyalty, I have never again seen such a sports related public outcry as when it was announced Ernie’s contract would not be renewed after 1991. Metro Detroit quickly came together and began demanding he be brought back. The entire region was soon awash with signs, buttons, bumper stickers and t-shirts all with messages supporting Ernie.


With everything considered, what really was it about Ernie that made him so beloved and so successful? Yes 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 do possess those same traits as well.

In my opinion what set him apart was combining those aforementioned qualities with the understanding that the game was bigger than him. That sense of humility is what I believe quickly won him the respect of the baseball world.

He always recognized the need for doing the job to the best of his abilities. As time went on he probably could have survived on his reputation alone. It’s likely Tiger fans would have forgiven him had he not been as sharp and maybe forgot a player’s name or batting average once in awhile. Luckily for everyone involved, Ernie never let this happen.

Instead, he both brilliantly portrayed the game in front of him and used his extensive knowledge of baseball history to enlighten the game for his listeners. The stories Ernie told about his experiences in the game were always amusing and captivating. However, those same anecdotes were also always relevant to the present day. This is where he bridged the gap across the entire fan base. He consistently won over the long time fans along with any newcomers that may have just tuned in.

Ernie was obviously a witness to many changes in the game during his career. Some of those changes were: addition of a designated hitter in the American League, exponential growth in player salaries, closing pitchers, expansion, interleague play and free agency.

Many other broadcasters and media personalities took this as opportunity to complain and pine for the “good old days” of baseball. However, Ernie did not use his seat in the broadcast booth for that purpose. Instead he understood the beauty of the game had not been diminished and he called each game just as he did the one before.

Once again fans may have understood and went along if Ernie had become somewhat cynical toward baseball. But he continued on doing his job and that element never entered his work. In a sport that often fears change, he was one of few that successfully embraced it and yet still stood for tradition.

Since Ernie’s retirement in 2002 his Detroit radio 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 in the booth. The sound of his voice was synonymous with baseball season in Detroit.

The game of baseball lost a legend this week that will be forever missed. We all know there will never be another broadcaster like Ernie again. Many will try but nobody will duplicate the amazing work he did.

Thank you Ernie for bringing so much joy to all of our lives and may you rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Ernie was the greatest announcer that lived and I will always remember the way that he approached the game and the certainty that he brought when he announced the games.