Some Words From and About Ernie Harwell

As Harwell prepared for what was supposed to be his last game announcing for the Tigers, at the end of the 1991 season (it was also the last game at Memorial Stadium), he said:

“Basically, I suppose it will be a thank-you for all those folks who listened and appreciated whatever I did that made them come back for more.

“They’ve [the Tigers] pretty much dug in their heels. I’ve never had any bitterness. I accepted this as a business decision. I tried to stay out of it after the furor. I know no one lasts forever and everyone can be replaced. That’s acceptable to me. I was just disappointed because I had never really thought about not working. It made me face the issue more than anything else.

“I have no misgivings over the job I do. I think I do the same job now as I did 10 to 15 years ago. People who listen tell me there’s no difference. I feel as good as I ever did, I have as much energy and interest in the game as I ever had.

“I’d be happy to hear a bona fide offer [from the Orioles]. I haven’t heard that yet. And there are other possibilities. I’ll wait until the season ends and sort through it all when the time comes. The rocking chair is also a possibility. I might not want to work.”

When he came back in 1993, the Tigers having re-hired him after the outcry that followed him being fired and missing the 1992 season in Detroit, and Harwell finished the season by announcing a Tigers loss to the Yankees, Harwell summarized his craft:

“When you’re broadcasting on the radio, your real job is to react pretty much like a player does to each pitch, except you react with your tongue and hopefully your brain, whereas a player reacts with his glove or his bat. … It’s sort of a game within a game.

“You’ve got such a varied audience. Whether it’s a guy who’s new to this country and is just learning the language, an English professor who’s going to check your grammar, a kid, or an ex-ballplayer, you have to do your best to try to educate them without talking down to them.

“One of the things that amazes me is that at the ballparks there are so many people who aren’t watching the game. They’re picnicking or they’re out at the concession stands, and it doesn’t bother them that they missed a few outs. Which points up to me that baseball’s sort of a leisurely game … it’s a little more cerebral, maybe, than basketball or football.

“It’s come to the point where the game is almost secondary to the conversations between the announcers. Everything is so over-analyzed. Why don’t we just look at the rose and realize it’s a pretty flower?”

And: “I do believe there’s life after baseball. I’ve been lucky to be associated with the game for so long.”

In April 1991, the mystery author Elmore Leonard said this about Harwell: “What no one can understand is why the Tigers’ management is cutting Ernie loose following the 1991 season. Are they nuts? No one in baseball does a better play-by-play. They expected criticism, but not the blast they got from fans all over the country. One theory holds that the Tigers management wants to jazz up the team’s image and feels that Ernie, at the age of 73, has become old hat. They see the Detroit Pistons raking it in at their suburban Palace, entertaining a full house at every basketball game with rap music and light shows, and they think, yeah, that’s the way to go. What the Tiger bosses must fail to realize is that baseball moves at a much different tempo. Rather than razzle-dazzle, it’s heavy on tradition, nostalgia, stats comparing new stars with the old greats. It has a sense of humor and an image epitomized by Ernie Harwell and his comfortable down-home Georgia delivery. What makes baseball so popular is what “Ernie Harwell’s Diamond Gems” is about: the kind of stuff fans love to read and talk about, presented by a guy you can listen to all night. If we didn’t have a written language, I think Ernie Harwell would be known as one of our great tribal storytellers — if he isn’t already.”

Finally, here’s the cover of the Toledo Blade’s sports section for May 11, 2010, a week after Harwell died, with Jose Feliciano playing the national anthem in honor of Harwell:

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I just wish to say, Arne, that I realized that Ernie Harwell was one of the great American institutions among broadcasters upon hearing his CBS radio play-by-play during the 1978 Red Sox -Yankees one game playoff. Which, I’m proud now to say: I illegally recorded. I felt lucky, as a 16 year old, to have such great broadcasters likehim and Buck and Carneal to create the baseball symphony for my life. For years, I kept that cassette copy of his epic call (along with Rizzuto?). Years later, I taped over it – perhaps thinking I’d passed baseball by, perhaps thinking the Fender slants of Clapton were more lasting, satisfying. Stupid, rash youth…

    Nice work, sir! Thanks for making The Broadcaster come alive again – great quotes!

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