Ernie Harwell, Voice of MLB’s Detroit Tigers, Dies of Cancer

Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell
Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell leaves the radio booth for the last time in Detroit, after calling the game with the New York Yankees, in 2002. Photographer: Carlos Osorio/AFP/Getty Images)

Ernie Harwell, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who spent more than four decades as the voice of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, has died. He was 92.

Harwell was diagnosed with incurable cancer of the bile duct in September, according to the Detroit News. He died yesterday, the team said.

“Ernie Harwell was the most popular sports figure in the state of Michigan,” Tigers owner Michael Ilitch said in a statement. “He was so genuine in everything that he did -- from his legendary broadcasting to the way he treated the fans and everyone around him.”

Harwell began his broadcasting career in 1943 with the Atlanta Crackers of the defunct Southern Association, calling games on WSB Radio. He retired from baseball on Sept. 29, 2002, after calling his final Tigers game, completing a 55-year broadcasting career.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who showed up for the job,” Harwell once said, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website. “I consider myself a worker. I love what I do. If I had my time over again, I’d probably do it for nothing.”

The Tigers will raise a flag bearing Harwell’s initials before the May 10 visit of the New York Yankees to Comerica Park, the team said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday. The flag will fly all season. Also, uniformed team personnel will wear a patch on their right sleeve for the remainder of the campaign bearing Harwell’s initials.

There will be a public viewing for Harwell tomorrow at Comerica Park, the Tigers said. The funeral will be private and there won’t be a public memorial, the team said.

World Series Announcer

When Harwell joined the Tigers in 1960, replacing Van Patrick, the team’s lineup included future Hall of Famer Al Kaline, plus Eddie Yost and Rocky Colavito. Harwell was the team’s announcer in 1984 when a Detroit team led by Kirk Gibson won a franchise-record 104 games en route to the club’s most recent World Series title. He also called the 1963 and 1968 World Series, as well as the 1958 and 1961 All-Star games.

In 1951, Harwell was working as a television announcer for the New York Giants when outfielder Bobby Thomson hit the home run that became known as the “shot heard ‘round the world.” Harwell’s straightforward call of the hit was overshadowed by the radio call of Russ Hodges, who announced, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Of his call, Harwell told the New York Daily News in 2002: “There’s no record of it. They’ve been looking for it for 50 years, but no one’s ever been able to find one. What did I say? I said simply, ‘It’s gone’ and then I let the picture take over.”

Fan Protests

When Detroit radio station WJR announced in 1990 that Harwell’s contract would not be renewed after the 1991 season, fans protested the move. Harwell was brought back to the Tigers in 1993 by new owner Ilitch, serving separate stints as the team’s radio and television announcer until his retirement nine years later.

Harwell won the Ford Frick Award in 1981 and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1998.

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning upon learning of the loss of a giant of our game,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said. “This son of Georgia was the voice of the Detroit Tigers and one of the game’s iconic announcers to fans across America, always representing the best of our national pastime to his generations of listeners.”

William Ernest Harwell was born on Jan. 25, 1918, and grew up in Atlanta.

Sports Writer

He was a ballboy for the Crackers beginning at age 5. After graduating from Atlanta’s Emory University, Harwell worked as a copy editor and sports writer for the Atlanta Constitution and later began announcing Crackers games on the radio before serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Ernie made you feel good about life and brought a smile to everyone he knew,” said David Dombrowski, president, chief executive officer and general manager of the Tigers. “His passion and wisdom during each broadcast gave you insight to his love for the Tigers and for the state of Michigan.”

Harwell is survived by his wife of 68 years, Lulu, and four children.

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