William Earnest Harwell,
January 25, 1918, Washington, Georgia, U.S.
May 4, 2010(2010-05-04) (aged 92), Novi, Michigan, U.S.
The Voice of the Tigers, The Voice of Summer
Sports commentary career
Brooklyn Dodgers (1948-49), New York Giants (1950-53), Baltimore Orioles (1954-59), Detroit Tigers (1960-1991, 1993-2002), California Angels (1992)
Major League Baseball
William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell (January 25, 1918 - May 4, 2010) was an American sportscaster, known for his long career calling play-by-play of Major League Baseball games. For 55 years, 42 of them with the Detroit Tigers, Harwell called the action on radio and/or television. In January 2009, the American Sportscasters Association ranked Harwell 16th on its list of Top 50 Sportscasters of All Time.
1.1 Early life and career,
1.2 Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles,
1.3 Detroit Tigers,
1.4 As a national broadcaster,
1.5 Post-retirement broadcasting works,
2 Harwell Field,
3 Broadcasting style,
4 Ernie Harwell Park,
5 Awards and non-broadcast activities,
6 Illness and death,
9 External links,
Early life and career:
Ernie Harwell grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, working in his youth as a paperboy for the Atlanta Georgian; one of his customers was writer Margaret Mitchell. He was an avid baseball fan from an early age; he became visiting batboy for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association at the age of five, and never had to buy a ticket to get into a baseball game again. At sixteen he began working as a regional correspondent for The Sporting News.
Harwell attended Emory University, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and helped edit The Emory Wheel. After graduating, Harwell worked as a copy editor and sportswriter for the Atlanta Constitution. In 1943, he began announcing games for the Crackers on WSB radio, after which he served four years in the United States Marine Corps.
Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles:
In 1948, Harwell became the only announcer in baseball history to be traded for a player when the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager, Branch Rickey, traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Crackers in exchange for breaking Harwell's broadcasting contract. (Harwell was brought to Brooklyn to substitute for regular Dodger announcer Red Barber, who was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer.)
Harwell broadcast for the Dodgers through 1949, the New York Giants from 1950-1953 and the Baltimore Orioles from 1954-1959. Early in his career, he also broadcast The Masters golf tournament, as well as pro and college football.
In 1960, Harwell became the voice of the Tigers, replacing Van Patrick. George Kell had begun doing Tigers radio and TV broadcasts in 1959, and was instrumental in bringing Harwell to Detroit. "George called and said, 'I recommended you and the Tigers asked me to get in touch with you.'" Harwell said. "I came and that was it."
Harwell teamed with Ray Lane in the broadcast booth from 1967-72. In 1973, Paul Carey replaced Lane to form the Tigers' best-known and longest-lasting broadcasting team, which lasted until the end of the 1991 season.
On December 19, 1990, the Tigers and radio station WJR announced that the station wanted to go in a "new direction" and that 1991 would be Harwell's last, as his contract was "non-renewed". (Carey then announced that he had already planned to retire after the 1991 season, and that the decision was unrelated to Harwell's contract situation.) Fans across Michigan and throughout the baseball world were outraged, but the ballclub and the radio station (who eventually wound up blaming each other for the decision) stood firm: "(Harwell's firing is) not going to change no matter how much clamor is made over it," said team president Bo Schembechler. Rick Rizzs was hired away from the Seattle Mariners to replace Harwell in 1992, teaming with Bob Rathbun.
Harwell worked a part-time schedule for the California Angels in 1992. The following year, the Tigers were purchased by Mike Ilitch, who made one of his first priorities to bring Harwell back. The 1993 season concluded with a three-person radio team (Rizzs, Rathbun and Harwell) with Harwell calling play-by-play for innings 1-3 and 7-9 of each game. From 1994 to 1998, Harwell called television broadcasts for the Tigers. In 1999, he resumed full-time radio duties with the team, swapping roles with Frank Beckmann (who had replaced Rizzs in the radio booth following the 1994 season), teaming with analyst Jim Price, and continuing in that role through 2002. During spring training of that year, Harwell announced that he would retire at the end of the season; his final broadcast came on September 29, 2002. Dan Dickerson, who had joined Harwell and Price in 2000, took over as the Tigers' lead radio voice.
As a national broadcaster:
Nationally, Harwell broadcast two All-Star Games (1958, 1961) and two World Series (1963, 1968) for NBC Radio, numerous ALCS and ALDS series for CBS Radio and ESPN Radio, and the CBS Radio Game of the Week from 1992 to 1997. He also called the 1984 World Series locally for the Tigers and WJR.
Post-retirement broadcasting works:
Following his retirement, Harwell came back briefly in 2003 to call a Wednesday Night Baseball telecast on ESPN, as part of that network's "Living Legends" series of guest announcers. In 2005, Harwell guested for an inning on the Fox network's coverage of the All-Star Game (which was held in Detroit that year), as well as an inning on the ESPN Radio broadcast. For Game 3 of the 2006 American League Division Series between the Tigers and New York Yankees, he provided guest commentary on ESPN's telecast for two innings, called an inning of play-by-play on the Tigers' radio flagship WXYT, and guested for an inning on ESPN Radio. Harwell also called one inning of Game 1 of the 2006 World Series for WXYT.
Harwell served as a guest color commentator for two Tiger games on FSN Detroit on May 24 and 25, 2007. Harwell worked the telecasts (alongside play-by-play man Mario Impemba) as a substitute for regular analyst Rod Allen, who took the games off to attend his son's high school graduation. (Harwell had filled in for Allen once before, on a 2003 telecast.)
He also appeared as a guest on an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast in Detroit on July 1, 2007.
Harwell occasionally did vignettes on the history of baseball for Fox Sports Detroit's magazine program Tigers Weekly.
The Wayne State University Department of Athletics in conjunction with the Ernie Harwell Estate and the Ernie Harwell Foundation announced on June 6, 2013, the establishment of the Harwell Field Project.
This project is an outreach effort to build a baseball stadium in recognition of Ernie and his wife of 62 years, Lula "Lulu" Harwell. Harwell Field will provide grandstands, press box, team clubhouse and a foyer to recognize the achievements and contributions of the Harwells.
He was known for his low-key delivery, southern accent (Detroit "Ti-guhs"), and conversational style. Some of his trademark phrases were:
"That one is long gone!" (His trademark home run call, with an emphasis on "long"),
"He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by." (After a called strikeout),
"Called out for excessive window shopping." (Also after a called strikeout),
"It's two for the price of one!" (After a double play),
"A fan from insert a city will be taking that ball home today." (When a fan would catch a foul ball),
"The Tigers need instant runs." (When the team was behind in the late innings),
Harwell would also begin the first spring training broadcast of each season with a reading from Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (KJV): "For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
Ernie Harwell Park:
The site of Tiger Stadium now has a sign on the fence as "Ernie Harwell Park", but it is now currently or officially a city park.
Awards and non-broadcast activities:
The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named Harwell as Michigan Sportscaster of the Year 19 times, and inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1991, Harwell was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame. Harwell was also honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 as the fifth broadcaster to receive its Ford C. Frick Award, and was elected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1998, among many other honors. In 2001, Harwell was the recipient of the prestigious Ty Tyson Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting, awarded by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association (DSBA). In 2009, Harwell was named the first recipient of the DSBA's Ernie Harwell Lifetime Contribution Award. The award, called the Ernie Harwell Lifetime Contribution Award, is named after the Hall of Fame Detroit Tigers announcer. Harwell is the first winner of the award. The award will annually honor an individual from the broadcast industry who has contributed outstanding time and effort to the betterment of sports broadcasting through a lifetime body of work. Emory University inducted Harwell to its Hall of Fame in 1990. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inducted Harwell in 2008. In 2010 Harwell was named as a recipient of the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award from Fordham University radio station WFUV. The press box at Detroit's Comerica Park was officially named the "Ernie Harwell Media Center" following his retirement from broadcasting. The Cleveland Indians also named their visiting radio booth at Progressive Field after Harwell.
Harwell's 1955 essay "The Game for All America", originally published in The Sporting News and reprinted numerous times, is considered a classic of baseball literature. He also authored several books, and penned an occasional column for the Detroit Free Press.
Harwell also wrote popular music. His first recorded song was "Upside Down" on the Something Stupid album by Homer and Jethro in the mid-1960s. In the liner notes of the album, it says: "Detroit Tiger baseball announcer wrote this one, and we think it's a fine observation of the world today, as seen from the press box at Tiger Stadium. We were up there with Ernie one day and from there the world looks upside down. In fact, the Mets were on top in the National League." All told, 66 songs written by Ernie Harwell have been recorded by various artists. "Needless to say, I have more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan." - Ernie Harwell in article published May 31, 2005 in the Detroit Free Press
Harwell made a cameo appearance in the 1994 film Cobb and in the made-for-television movies Aunt Mary (1979), Tiger Town (1983), and Cooperstown (1993). His voice can be briefly heard in the films Paper Lion (1968) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and in the TV movie The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004). Harwell appeared as an interview subject in the 1998 documentary film The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and contributed to numerous other baseball-themed documentaries and retrospectives over the years.
The 1997 text-based computer simulation game APBA for Windows: Broadcast Blast features play-by-play commentary by Harwell.
Harwell served as a spokesman for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. His contract with the organization, which began in 2003, ran for ten years with an option for another ten. Had Harwell fulfilled the entire contract (by which time he would have been 95 years old), Blue Cross had pledged to extend it for yet another decade. Harwell formerly ran a blog about healthy living and fitness for BCBS. He retired from it on March 5, 2009.
A devout Christian (he was born again at a 1961 Billy Graham crusade), Harwell was long involved with the Baseball Chapel, an evangelistic organization for professional ballplayers.
In 2004, the Detroit Public Library dedicated a room to Ernie Harwell and his wife, Lulu, which will house Harwell's collection of baseball memorabilia valued at over two million dollars.
On April 26, 2008 Harwell was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from The University of Michigan at their Spring Commencement ceremony. One week later, on May 3, 2008, he was presented with another Honorary Degree of Laws this time from Wayne State University.
In late 2008, Harwell began to appear in television public service announcements for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, advising viewers about the Digital television transition in the United States.
Harwell was a member of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy Board, an organization which attempted to save portions of Tiger Stadium. He offered to donate a large portion of his historic collection of baseball memorabilia, which he had collected over the course of his storied career, if part of Tiger Stadium could have been saved for a museum.
Harwell lived in Farmington Hills, Michigan and moved to Novi, Michigan in the late 1990s where he lived until his death. Up until just before his death, he still exercised regularly, did sit-ups, used a treadmill, and lifted weights.
Illness and death:
On September 3, 2009, Harwell announced that he had been diagnosed with incurable bile duct cancer, and that he, his family and doctors had decided against surgery or other treatment of the condition. On September 16, Harwell gave a farewell address to fans at Comerica Park between innings of a game between the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.
Harwell sat down for a 60-minute interview on an episode of MLB Network's Studio 42 with Bob Costas, his final television appearance. The episode premiered November 17, 2009. In the interview, Costas correctly foresaw the 2009 World Series would unfortunately be Harwell's last.
Harwell died on May 4, 2010, at his home in Novi, Michigan, surrounded by his wife of 68 years, Lulu, and their four children.
He was set to receive the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting on May 5 in New York City. Harwell considered Scully to be the best broadcaster of all-time. However, in accepting the award on Harwell's behalf, Al Kaline noted "We Tiger fans respectfully disagree."
Harwell lay in repose at Comerica Park on May 6. Over 10,000 fans filed past the open casket. May 10 was declared Ernie Harwell Day at Comerica Park. Several players and broadcasters hoisted a flag in center field bearing his initials, similar to the ones that were also sewn onto all Tigers uniforms. Harwell's longtime broadcasting partner Paul Carey threw out the ceremonial first pitch that night.
(1985). Tuned to Baseball. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-912083-10-7,
(1993). Ernie Harwell's Diamond Gems, edited by Geoff Upward. Ann Arbor, MI: Momentum Books. ISBN 0-9618726-7-5,
(1995). The Babe Signed My Shoe: Baseball As It Was - And Will Always Be, edited by Geoff Upward. South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications. ISBN 0-912083-72-7,
(2001). Stories from My Life in Baseball. Detroit, MI: Detroit Free Press. ISBN 0-937247-35-9,
(2002). Ernie Harwell: My 60 Years in Baseball, with Tom Keegan. Chicago, IL: Triumph Books. ISBN 1-57243-451-1,
(2004). Life After Baseball. Detroit, MI: Detroit Free Press. ISBN 0-937247-45-6,
(2006). Ernie Harwell's Audio Scrapbook, by Ernie Harwell and Bob Harris. Grosse Pointe, MI: AudioBook Publishing. ISBN 0-9792120-0-6,
(2007). Breaking 90. Detroit, MI: Detroit Free Press. ISBN 0-937247-77-4
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license