Friday, September 4, 2009

Ernie Harwell: WE LOVE YOU!!!

We were heartbroken to see the news that Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, 91, suffers from inoperable cancer. Harwell was the voice of the Detroit Tigers for most of 32 years from 1960-2002 always noted for his friendly laid-back delivery, knowledge of the game, and loads of stock expressions. Living on the east coast, baseball fans cruising the dial could often pick up Tigers’ broadcast on open channel WJR-AM, but he was also frequently called upon to call post season games to a national audience.

Chesapeake area fans have a special affection for Harwell since he was the voice of the Baltimore Orioles from the team’s beginning in 1954 to 1959 with Chuck Thompson, the legendary Orioles voice and Hall-of-Fame partner, working with him for part of that time before a short gig with Washington before becoming the Orioles lead announcer until Jon Miller’s arrival.

Ernie Harwell hails from Washington, Georgia and would begin his as career a play-by-play announcer working for the Atlanta Crackers, a minor league team in the Southern League where he had been a bat boy since being a young child. His service impressed Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who traded catcher, Cliff Draper, for the broadcast contract for the young Harwell in 1948. For trivia freaks, Harwell is the only broadcaster ever involved in a trade!!!

Harwell was broadcasting for the Dodgers in the famous 1951 sudden death playoff game between the Dodgers and Giants for the National League Pennant. The game known for Bobby Thompson’s homerun, the shot heard ‘round the world, with the Giants’ announcer frantically screaming, “The Giants won the Pennant!!! The Giants won the Pennant. The Giants won the Pennant!!!” Harwell was broadcasting for the Dodgers, the victim of the famous homerun so his call is far less significant being on the losing side.

While his other accomplishments add spice to an illustrious biography, it’s his work for the Detroit “Ti-guh’s” for which he will always be most remembered.

Let us celebrate Harwell’s remaining days. Few of the legendary great broadcasters of the Great Generation are still with us. Harwell is part of the unique fraternity that includes Vin Scully, still alive and well calling a limited schedule for the Dodgers, but many more who are just a memory now: Red Barber, Mel Allen, Chuck Thompson, Harry Kalas, Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray, Curt Gowdy, Herb Carneal, Jack Buck, Russ Hodges, and Bob Prince just to name a few. Before cable television when radio was the main source for baseball, we all learned the game through our hometown storytellers and none did it better than the humble Georgia Gentleman, Ernie Harwell.

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