Thanks, Ernie

Jonnie On The Spot

I’ll let you all in on a little secret. I’m not sure I want it to get out, but it’s time I face the music.

I am a Detroit Tigers fan.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit. After all, the Tigers haven’t had a winning season since my brother and I were dressing up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

So I’ll make up for that with something I’m very proud to say.

I am an Ernie Harwell fan.

How could I not be? When you grow up in Michigan and have one of the greatest radio broadcasters ever calling Tiger games, you can’t help but love Ernie.

You can tell just how many people feel that way by making note of the countless tributes presented to Harwell this season, his 42nd and final one with the Tigers.

Simply put, Harwell—as energetic as ever at 84 years of age—has been baseball in Michigan for nearly half a century. After all, he missed just two games during his tenure in Detroit.

Think about that. For every 21 seasons he worked, Harwell took one day off.

Wow.

What made Harwell such a great broadcaster was his ability to bring anecdotes and memories from years past—he was, for example, on the call for Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” in 1951—while staying young in heart and mind, prompting Red Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione to call Harwell the most contemporary octogenarian he’s ever known.

Some of his most endearing qualities are as timeless as his voice, including the many phrases that were uniquely his.

When a foul ball sailed into the seats, for example, Harwell would say, “And a young fan from (insert random Michigan town—maybe Ishpeming, Port Austin or Essexville) will take home that souvenir.”

When I was young, I really thought he knew where every fan at Tiger Stadium was from. As a matter of fact, I still wouldn’t be surprised if that were true, given his amazing memory and captivating way with people.

I had heard for years about how personable Ernie is, and I’m fortunate to say that from personal experience now.

In June, I was lucky enough to go to a Tigers game with John Lowe, who covers the team for the Detroit Free Press. I went with John as he talked with players and managers in both clubhouses, and as we were walking back to the press box John spotted someone he wanted to introduce me to.