Sep 4, 2009, 8:20 AM EST
This is about the worst news I could have woken up to this morning:
Ernie Harwell, the treasured voice of the Tigers for all those years,
has incurable bile duct cancer. In comments to the Detroit Free Press
on Thursday, he said he won’t undergo surgery.
“We don’t know how long this lasts,” Harwell, 91, told the Free
Press. “It could be a year. It could be much less than a year, much
less than a half year. Who knows? Whatever is in store, I’m ready for a
I know he’s 91 so it’s not like this is some gobsmacking tragedy, but I can’t overstate how important Ernie Harwell has been to my life.
I was a nervous kid, afraid of the dark and afraid of going to sleep myself. My parents let me turn on the radio at night as I went to bed and the talk, rather than the music, made me feel better. The voice that gave me the most comfort was Ernie Harwell’s voice on WJR, which I latched onto before I even truly realized it was describing a baseball game.
Ernie put me to sleep most spring and summer nights for several years, teaching me about baseball in the process. He also taught me that I could enjoy it just as much if I could not actually see it, which I can’t help but think is the reason why I enjoy writing up the “And That Happened” recaps every day. I don’t see hardly any of the games I describe, but just because I don’t see them doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story to be told. Information and flavor to be teased out.
Maybe you always have a thing for your first love, but I think I’m being objective when I say that I have never encountered a better baseball broadcaster than Ernie Harwell. How lucky that I had him putting me to sleep when I was four years old as opposed to someone else. Would I have even been a baseball fan if it was John Sterling’s voice on the radio? Given that I was first tuning in for the delivery and not the product itself, I kinda doubt it.
Ernie had his fastball until the end. FOX brought him out during the 2006 ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees and let him do an inning or two. He stepped in as if it was still his full time job, and didn’t miss a beat. I recall that whoever FOX kept in the booth with him — I want to say McCarver, but it could have been Zelasko or someone — wanted to talk to him about his history and other such fluff, condescending to him, really, the way people often do to the elderly. Ernie seemed annoyed and deflected the person’s attempts to wallow in nostalgia, obviously wanting to keep the focus on the game. Where it should be. And he did. And it was wonderful.
Baseball will never see his like again.
- Roy Halladay is retiring 52
- Tony La Russa Bobby Cox, Joe Torre all unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame 39
- Tony Blengino says recent report on Seattle front office is “just the tip of the iceberg” 60
- Rakuten Golden Eagles appear likely to allow Masahiro Tanaka’s departure to MLB 47
- 2013 Winter Meetings Preview 23
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (160)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (112)