Detroit Tigers Broadcaster Ernie Harwell: Celebrating the Legendary Life

Josh Berenter@JBerenterCorrespondent IMay 17, 2012

Erie Harwell is the only broadcaster ever to be traded for a player. 

That explains the brilliance of the man that dedicated his life to baseball, spending 55 years as a broadcaster and 42 years calling Detroit Tigers games.

May 4 was the two-year anniversary of the death of one of the greatest commentators this country has ever seen.

Harwell died at age 92 after an eight-month battle against cancer, ending a scintillating life that captivated baseball fans everywhere.

But there was so much more that made Harwell an extraordinary man.

Harwell was born Jan. 25, 1918 in Washington, Ga, with baseball in his blood. His family moved to Atlanta when Harwell was five, and he began work as a paperboy for the local newspaper.

He became a regional correspondent for the Sporting News at 16 and was a copy editor and sportswriter for the Atlanta Constitution through college.

He got his first taste of what would become his lifelong career in 1940 when he began at Atlanta's WSB radio, where he gave short broadcasting reports twice a night for the Atlanta Crackers.

Harwell enlisted in the Marines in 1943, but after three years, found his way back to the game he loved and became the Crackers full-time announcer in 1946.

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In 1948, Harwell caught the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Rickey needed a replacement for ailing radio announcer Red Barber and elected to trade minor league catcher Cliff Dapper for Harwell.

Harwell was realizing his dreams of calling games in the Major Leagues.

After calling Dodgers games for two years, Harwell moved across town, becoming the announcer for the New York Giants.

Harwell spent four years with the Giants, but after his contract wasn't renewed, he moved to Baltimore to call Orioles games for the next six years.

In 1960, Harwell made his way to Detroit, calling his first Tigers game on opening day of the 1960 season.

Harwell was an instant hit in Detroit and fans fell in love with him.

He was selected by NBC radio to call the 1963 World Series between the Dodgers and New York Yankees, where his brilliance was introduced to the whole country.

He called the 1968 season when the Tigers won their third ever World Series, and the love affair with his loyal fans continued to grow.

In 1973 he was introduced to Paul Carey, who would become his partner in the booth for 19 years.

After the 1991 season, Carey retired from baseball, and the Tigers decided to let Harwell go, as well. Harwell made guest appearances for NBC radio and called California Angels games, but Tigers fans were in an uproar.

Fans backlashed against new announcers Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun, who replaced Harwell and Carey.

But by 1993 Harwell was back in Detroit for the rest of his career.

He endeared himself to fans with humor, warmth, a distinctive voice and, of course, patented phrases that made him famous.

When an opposing player struck out, he was “called out for excessive window shopping,” or they “stood there like the house by the side of the road."

A double play was always “two for the price of one,” and a foul ball reaching the stands "was caught by a man from Livonia," or from Ann Arbor, or Saginaw, or any of the neighboring cities in Michigan.

His most famous call was perhaps on Tigers home runs when he proclaimed the ball was "looooong gone."

Harwell's phrases were one of a kind and never contrived. He cared deeply about the game, the players and—perhaps most—the fans.

He spent time on Tigers telecasts for several years but returned to full-time radio duty in 1999, replacing Frank Beckman.

In 1999, at age 81, Harwell called every game for the Tigers and broadcasted the final game at Tiger Stadium. In 2000, Harwell helped the Tigers open Comerica Park, calling the stadium's inaugural game.

With dwindling health, Harwell begrudgingly retired as the Tigers broadcaster in 2002 at age 84.

In the last game of the 2004 season, Harwell made sure he let Tigers fans know how much they meant to him in his tenure.

“I might have been a small part of your life, but you’ve been a large part of mine," he said in his final game as full-time broadcaster. “I thank you very much, and God bless all of you.”

Harwell was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct in 2009 and knew his time was limited. He lived out the rest of his life in Michigan, staying close to the fans who adored him his entire career.

He gave a farewell speech at Comerica Park on Sept. 16, 2009, once again thanking fans and the Tigers organization and proclaiming his excitement for what he called the next great adventure.

He died eight months later, leaving behind a long legacy of excellence, eloquence, love and passion.

The Tigers honored Harwell, renaming the Comerica Park press box the Ernie Harwell Media Center.

So while Harwell is gone, baseball fans around the country, and especially in Detroit, will never forget him. 

*There are far too many quotes from and about Harwell to include, so reference Baseball Almanac for more of his idiosyncratic calls and praising words from those in his life.