Remembering Ernie

This came up in my Facebook Memories today. I’ve written about Ernie in a past blog, which you can read here:

Today, however, marks the 12th anniversary of his passing. Here is a piece I wrote when the news broke:

So Long, Ernie

All Detroit Tiger fans knew this day was coming. Ernie told us it was coming, when he told us that he had inoperable cancer. And now, the voice that was such a unique part of past summers is silent.

Growing up, I thought I could be a baseball pitcher. When I played catch, I’d have whoever was catching call calls and strikes. I remember a Carlson classmate, Mike, who said in 3rd or 4th grade that he wanted me to be the catcher when he put his team together. I, however, wanted to pitch.

Baseball wasn’t something that I always understood. As a young kid, I remember my dad watching the Tiger game and they would post the stats of the batter on the screen. It would say, “2-3, Single. Homerun.” I’d ask my dad, “How do they know what he is gonna hit!?” I didn’t understand that it meant that those were what the batter had already done at the plate.

Summer – 1984. The Tigers came out of the chute with a ton of wins. First place! They could do no wrong. It was a dream team. Jack Morris, Willie Hernandez, Darrell Evans, Chet Lemon, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and the rest! Everyone had Tiger fever that summer!

I vividly remember going to my grandparents house and they’d have the radio on in the sunporch. Ernie called the games with Paul Carey. Ernie called a game like no other. It didn’t matter if you were a million miles away, Ernie painted a picture in such detail, that you felt like you were sitting in the ball park. And he had so many great stories to tell! You connected with him!

What Tiger fan didn’t love to hear Ernie say, “Looooooong Gone!?” … or ….”He stood there like the house on the side of the road and watch that one go by….strike three!” … or … “There’s a foul back out of play, and a man from Imlay City will take that one home.” Those were just a few of the famous catchphrases that Ernie used to say. Those phrases were sprinkled throughout many a summer day.

I met Ernie once at Tiger Stadium. He was signing his book. The lines were SO long, and I didn’t get to talk to him long, but he was so gracious. I remember saying what an honor it was to meet someone who spoke so freely about his belief in God, and how his faith in Christ was something he spoke of often. He looked up from signing his book and said, “Amen, brother.” His love for the Lord, his passion for baseball, his kindness, and his zest for life, were all things that were obvious to anyone who ever met him.

When I look back on my life and think of off the great summers growing up, Ernie is there. He might be on the radio at grandma’s or on the radio in someone’s back yard as I walked through the neighborhood. He might be on the car radio as we drove to the store, or maybe on the radio up north at the cabin in Caseville. He was a summer fixture.

Lots will be written about Ernie Harwell over the next few weeks. None of it will be enough. He was a legend. He was a mentor. He was an example. He was a talent. He was one of a kind.

I wrote him a letter once asking for advice. He sent a reply, which I sadly only have in these pictures.

Dear Keith, Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your loyalty. My only advice is work hard and always be yourself. Enclosed is photo. Best Wishe, Ernie Harwell

As I look back on the advice he gave me, one can see he followed his own advice. He “worked hard” and “always was himself.” He will be missed.

12 years later, he still is ….

The Voice of the Turtle

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” – Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Every year, Detroit Tiger Broadcaster (and legend) Ernie Harwell, would open the baseball season by quoting the above passage of Scripture. It was one of those things that Detroit baseball fans looked forward to each year. It was the signal, if you will, that spring was here and it was time for baseball.

Every year, we’d listen to the voices of Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on WJR. Ernie had been in baseball for a long time and always told so many wonderful stories (many of them appearing the many books that he wrote.). He had an amazing ability to tell a story – and still call the game while doing so.

I may or may not have written about Ernie before, so forgive me if this is repetitive. Ernie was a master. His catchphrases will forever remain etched in my memory. When someone hit a foul ball, he’d say “A (man/woman) from (City in Michigan) will take that one home….” If a player watched a third strike, he’d say “He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by!” One cannot even begin to express the excitement when a Tiger hit a home run and Ernie declared that the ball was “Looooooong Gone!”

Ernie & Paul at Tiger Stadium

Ernie passed away in 2010, but left a wonderful legacy here in Michigan. He WAS the voice of the Tigers. He spent 42 of his 55 years broadcasting in Detroit. To honor him, the Detroit Tigers even gave him a jersey …

42 years of Tiger Broadcasts

Ernie did his last broadcast on September 29, 2002. I don’t think that there was NOT a radio tuned in to hear Ernie sign off. As I type this quote, I can still hear it in his voice. I remember tearing up, as did everyone else listening:

“It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. I’m not leaving, folks. I’ll still be with you, living my life in Michigan — my home state — surrounded by family and friends,” he said.

“And rather than goodbye, please allow me to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of your family. Thank you for taking me with you to that cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your work place and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers. Now, I might have been a small part of your life. But you’ve been a very large part of mine. And it’s my privilege and honor to share with you the greatest game of all.”

Seven years later, he addressed the fans one more time. This time it was a farewell. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer. In his address he said, “In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey,” Harwell told fans, “and the blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all.”

When Comerica Park became the new home of the Detroit Tigers, one of the coolest things to see was the statue of Ernie to honor him and thank him for all his years with the organization.

Ernie and his statue

Ernie was not shy about his faith. Many players recalled that on road trips with the Tigers, he always carried his well-worn Bible with him. Ernie told the Detroit News that he and his wife, Lulu, spent at least an hour a day studying their Bible. It is no surprise that he would chose a verse of Scripture to open the baseball season.

I miss Ernie ….