Just as the sun sets on an evening at the ballpark, so has the life of Ernie Harwell.
At the ripe age of 92 and suffering from bile duct cancer, Harwell probably defied a lot of odds placed against him. Luckily, for the sake of Tigers fans, he stayed on this earth as long as he did.
Harwell called his last baseball game in 2002.
I was 14 at the time and didn’t honestly know much about the legacy of the famed broadcaster. All I knew was sitting in the car with my dad, hearing good old Ernie speak as if he was sitting in the car with us, pleasantly calling a game.
He had a tone in his voice unlike any other radio personality I had ever heard. It was as if he was born to talk about baseball on the radio. He simply explained what was taking place on the field, but he did it so well. Listening to Harwell call a home run was my greatest thrill: “That ball is looooong gone,” he would say.
Even when the Tigers were the bottom-feeders of baseball, one wouldn’t think that by listening to Harwell. He called every game with great fervor, coming into the homes and cars of millions of Michigan residents, 162 games a year.
He seemed like a gentle man, and he was.
People who had become friends with Harwell over the course of their lives have not said one bad thing about the man. Nothing at all. He was known for remembering everybody’s name, whether it was a player, trainer or just a peanut vendor at old Tiger Stadium. He was so inviting it was hard for anyone to dislike him.
And from what I know, nobody ever did.
Losing Ernie is more than just losing a legendary broadcaster in a game as rich in tradition as baseball; it’s losing an icon in a state which adored him. Everybody in Michigan knew him. His name was synonymous with baseball. And now, that voice is gone.
Harwell was a part of my childhood, and my father’s childhood before that. I found out about Ernie’s death a couple hours after it happened. I immediately texted my dad and asked him if he had heard the news.
My dad simply said, “Sad.”
Harwell may be the most iconic figure in a state which has been reeling for the past few years. Even though he wasn’t calling games anymore, he was still in everybody’s mind—and heart. His statue in front of Comerica Park is a testament to what he meant to the city of Detroit and everybody who ever watched the Tigers play.
Now we all must cope and appreciate what Harwell gave us through all the years. He wasn’t going to live forever, but at least he enjoyed a long life. If anyone deserved it, it was him.
Harwell may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.
Especially in Michigan.