The voice of Detroit Tigers baseball has died. I grew up listening to Ernie call games–sometimes in bed, having smuggled a portable radio between the sheets; sometimes with my grandfather, on summer nights at a house in northern Michigan that had no television. Harwell’s distinctive voice–nasally, with the hint of a southern twang–was unforgettable. The sound of my mother’s voice will stay with me always; so will Harwell’s. Like all great radio men, he had a few special phrases. Home runs were “looong gone!” A batter who took a called third strike “stood there like a house by the side of the road.”
The habit that amazed me in my early years occurred after foul balls at Tiger Stadium. A ball would fly into the stands and Harwell would announce that a lucky fan from Owosso or Wyandotte or wherever was going to take it home. For years it puzzled me: How does he know that?
He was also a man of deep faith. At the start of each season, he began his broadcast by quoting The Song of Solomon (2:11-12): “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.”
Harwell lived for 92 years. He knew Ty Cobb as well as Justin Verlander. Last year, he was diagnosed with the cancer that now has taken him. He made a final appearance at a Tiger game to thank the fans, a class act to the very end.