Voice of Detroit

Harwell left his mark with generations of Tigers fans

May 05, 2010
Ernie Harwell won the Ford C. Frick Award in 1981. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For two generations of fans, Ernie Harwell was the Detroit Tigers.

His legacy lives on in Cooperstown.

Harwell died Tuesday following a battle with cancer. He was 92.

Harwell spent 55 years broadcasting Major League Baseball, the last 42 with the Tigers before retiring after the 2002 season. In 1981, Harwell became just the fifth recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, given annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1978 to a broadcaster to recognize major contributions to baseball.

"Baseball has sadly lost one of its enduring treasures and a broadcast legend,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “Ernie was a true renaissance man who understood and adored the essence of baseball – what it means to fans and American culture. We're so fortunate that he left a lasting imprint on our great game, assuring future generations of fans will understand and celebrate the role Ernie had in helping to shape and grow our National Pastime."

The humble Harwell never saw himself as a star, even though millions of fans did.

"It's a great honor to be part of the family like that," Harwell once said. "It was fun. You love these things. You can't take them too seriously. ... So-called fame is fleeting."

Harwell made his major league debut in 1948 after becoming the only broadcaster who ever figured in a baseball trade. Earl Mann, president of the Atlanta Crackers, agreed to let him out of his contract and go to Brooklyn if Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey would send Montreal catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta to manage the club.

Harwell also worked for the New York Giants (1950-53) and the Baltimore Orioles (1954-59) before coming to Detroit in 1960. He listed his two biggest thrills as an announcer as Bobby Thomson's playoff homer in 1951 and Hoyt Wilhelm's 1958 no-hitter against the Yankees. Harwell was doing the first coast-to-coast telecast of a major sporting event when Thomson connected to give the Giants the 1951 National League pennant.

Harwell was born Jan. 25, 1918, in Washington, Ga., and began his career in 1940 with WSB radio in Atlanta. He studied to be a journalist at Emory University, but his melodic voice and easy-going style led him to a career in broadcasting. He was also an accomplished lyricist with over 60 titles to his credit, including “Move Over Babe,” a song celebrating Hank Aaron’s chase of Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1973.

The Tigers will host a public viewing starting at 7 a.m. Thursday at Comerica Park in Detroit. Funeral services will be private.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum