I was sad to hear the news a few days ago that Ernie Harwell, the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers for what seemed like forever,has inoperable cancer.
Even though I didn’t grow up anywhere near Detroit and am by no means a Tigers fan, Harwell’s voice had a big impact on me. WJR came in pretty clear at my house, and being fascinated by radio in general and especially radio from far away places, I would tune in quite a bit to see what was happening on one of the few stations I could get from a foreign country. Most of the time it was pretty uninteresting to me beyond its exotic locale (I was a little kid, cut me some slack here), but one of the things that hooked me was the idea that there was baseball I could easily listen to that wasn’t the Blue Jays. All those teams that only seemed to be real when they would come to town or we would come to them were more than just numbers on the out of town scoreboard, and Ernie Harwell was there to tell me all about them.
The thing that always amazed me about him was how smooth his delivery was. He sounded so natural and in control, pretty much unshakable. He seemed to know just what to say and when and how to say it all the time. I can definitely point to him as one of the people who got me thinking seriously about a future in radio back before that became the dumb idea it is now. Having people hang on your every word and being able to control their emotions with nothing more than your voice seemed like the coolest damn thing in the world, and Ernie, to me, was without a doubt one of the masters of that. You know somebody is good at what he does when because of him you want to grow up to be the broadcaster for a team you don’t even like.
I can’t remember the last time I listened to a Tigers game on the radio, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same without him. A guy like that is hard to replace. Thanks for the memories and the inspiration, sir.