Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There are not many people who transcend a sport without actually playing it, but Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell did just that.
As I am sure you all aware of, Harwell died at the age of 92 on Tuesday, a year after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer, but not before teaching generation upon generation the sport of baseball in Detroit.
"All of Major League Baseball is in mourning upon learning of the loss of a giant of our game, Ernie Harwell," said MLB commissioner Bud Selig in a statement. "This son of Georgia was the voice of the Detroit Tigers and one of the game's iconic announcers to fans across America, always representing the best of our national pastime to his generations of listeners."
Known for his low-key delivery and southern accent, Harwell was as beloved a sports figure as there ever was in Detroit, which will pay tribute to its hero with a public viewing on Thursday at Comerica Park.
"Ernie was the most popular sports figure in the state of Michigan. He was so genuine in everything he did -- from his legendary broadcasting to the way he treated the fans and everyone around him," said Tigers owner Michael Ilitch. "He was truly a gentleman in every sense of the word."
Sadly, with Harry Kalas' untimely passing a year ago and Harwell's death on Tuesday, broadcasters of their ilk are few and far between. By that I mean announcers who actually let you know what is going on, rather than trying to crow bar their own catch phrases in on top of mindless chatter.
Of course, Harwell had his trademark phrases, like when a ball would hit the stands he would announce that it had been caught by "a man from Elk Rapids caught that ball and will be taking it home tonight", or "a lovely lady from Coldwater". Obviously, he didn't know where the person was from, but he injected a local feel and it just felt like you were listening to someone have a conversation about baseball.
Ernie Harwell was as beloved a sports figure as there ever was in Detroit.
When Harwell did it, it seemed real. It seemed natural. It did not come off as self serving like it does with some of today's broadcasters. Cough....John Sterling...cough.
"He was probably like the constant cleanup hitter for the Tigers," said a teary-eyed Jim Leyland on Tuesday. "The constant leadoff man, the ever-ready defensive player, the ever-ready pinch-runner. Most announcers aren't like that. Ernie was truly like that.
"I mean, this guy was the Tigers. Most announcers aren't. And I don't mean this disrespectful. But this guy really was. He was truly a huge part."
I know that when someone dies, people come out of the woodwork to wax poetic on how great a human being the deceased was, but in Harwell's case it actually felt genuine. I have never heard one person say something negative about him. Everyone who worked with him loved him, and he was adored by millions of not only Tigers fans but baseball fans around the world.
Beginning his major league broadcasting career in 1948 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Harwell eventually moved on to the New York Giants in 1950 and was part of the broadcast team that called Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" in the 1951 playoff game that determined the winner of the National League pennant.
From there, he moved on to the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 and eventually the Tigers in 1960, where he would remain until his retirement -- missing only 1992 due to his being fired before returning. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1989.
"He was such a lovely man," Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said during his broadcast Tuesday night. "Everybody loved Ernie. And eventually, he just stole the hearts of everybody in Detroit, in the state of Michigan and, for that matter, anyone who loves baseball."