A long time ago, back in the days when people actually listened to baseball games on the radio, the Detroit Tigers were playing against, well, someone, the A's, or the Angels, when a pitch was fouled off into the crowd at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers announcer described the foul ball like this..."and a fine catch by a young man from Battle Creek." I was a young baseball fan, a Tigers fan, and I was perplexed. "How does Ernie know the one who caught the foul ball..", I asked my Uncle. My Uncle looked at me, and simply said "Son, Ernie knows everyone.",
That kid from Battle Creek, just like the kid from Port Huron, the one from Ishpeming, the one from Saginaw, the kid from Warren, and even myself, a kid from Kalamazoo, we all lost a part of us today, part of that kid still inside us. Today we lost Ernie Harwell.
Ernie Harwell, the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, died today, succumbing to bile duct cancer at the age of 92.
What do you say about a man like Ernie Harwell, a man who lived his life to the fullest, who lived his boyhood dream of covering big league baseball. Even though he wanted to be a sports writer, Ernie never went a day without thanking God that he became a radio man, a job that kept him in the game of baseball for 55 years.
55 years. 55 years of covering Hall of Fame players like Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Willie Mays of the New York Giants, Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, and Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers.
55 years of painting the pictures of green outfield grass, towering grandstands, blazing fastballs, 5-4-3 double plays, and a batter looking at a called strike three.."and he stood there like a house by the side of the road."
Baseball has gone through many changes over the last few decades, things like five man rotations, the use of the Designated Hitter, the prominence of the closer, astro turf...both coming, and going, the Steroid Era. But the one change that I really miss is the love affair with baseball and the radio. Yes, I know you can still pick up a game on the internet, but today's game has lost that special relationship that we had as kids, when the only way to find out how the Tigers were doing was to get the old transistor radio, and tune in Paul Carey, Ray Lane, and Ernie Harwell.
They made baseball special. They made a kid listening to the radio think that he was talking directly to him or her, that he was talking to just you, and you alone. Men like Ernie Harwell made a young boy like me a fan for life, of not just the players on the field, but of the men in the booth. They were part of our family.
Today we mourn the loss of a beloved man, but we also celebrate his life, and the lives of every young boy and girl that caught all those foul balls in Tiger Stadium.