There's something about spring in Detroit.
Snow melts and everything around you turns from gray to green. When I was young, I never noticed. Nowadays, I get excited about the first tulip bud and hint of color in the trees.
It's also the time that our beloved Detroit Tigers pick up their bats for the season. Opening Day is the greatest holiday between my friends and I – a day to get downtown and soak it all up. We rarely ever go to the game – being downtown around other fans is enough for us.
But when I was younger, I knew nothing of the parties and Friday night fireworks. Instead, we had the radio and a soothing, southern voice to narrate our summer nights.
It was always so warm, so relaxed and with just a faint static of radio. Perhaps you would otherwise occupied, but then you'd hear a loud "crack" and then the familiar voice who'd make your head turn when he said, "It's loooooooooooooong gone!"
His name was Ernie, but he is Detroit. He may have grown up in Atlanta, but he's ours. Sorry, Atlanta.
Ernie Harwell coached Detroit Tigers fans through 40+ seasons of ups and downs. He was let go for about a year in the early 90s, but brought back by heavy fan demand. He retired in 2002 on his own terms and really….who were we to stop him? Ernie called the shots.
He announced he had incurable cancer in September of 2009. Just a few short weeks later, he gave a sort of farewell address before a game at Comerica Park. Watch the video of that below.
There's not much more I can say about the Voice of Summer. Most of what we all feel now is just that….feelings. It's hard to vocalize what he meant to all of us. A whole lot. Heaps and heaps of memories. A warmth. Not only was he the greatest announcer to live, he was an amazing man who meant a whole lot to the entire state of Michigan and the game of baseball.
Since I know I'm not the only one with feelings around here, I put a call out to my teammates to see what they had to say. I asked for anything, maybe a sentence or two. What I got back was interesting, enlightening, sometimes funny and certainly worth adding to this post. Check it out:
From Clay C:
“I’ll miss Ernie Harwell. Just another part of the Detroit of my youth gone forever (the part that relates to the Detroit Tigers). Sitting in the top level of the bleachers for 3 bucks (yup, I was a bleacher bum), going to a baseball day camp that Dave Rozema and a few other Tigers put on at Stopel Park (on Detroit’s northwest side – not sure if they cut the grass anymore), and of course listening to Tigers’ games on WJR as I worked on my parents’ backyard. I doubt anyone will ever be as good as Ernie Harwell. But that’s ok. Comerica Park will NEVER be as good as Tiger Stadium was. It’s just the way it is. Goodbye Mr. Harwell. And God Bless!”
From Jenn Rass:
Ernie Harwell epitomized grace and truly was an inspiration. Detroit’s voice of summer is gone, but his legacy will live through the many wonderful memories he provided so many.
As he began each baseball season, "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." His voice will be heard for generations.
From Vicki G:
Thank you, Ernie, for all the wonderful memories of listening to you on the radio. Hearing your voice brings me right back to sitting on my Dad’s lap, in the summer time, as he teaches me about baseball and the Tigers. You will be missed by all.
From Sandy W:
I have been a Tiger fan all of my life. When I was a child, we constantly listened to the voice of Tiger baseball on the radio. One of my favorites lines to this day is Ernie talking about a batter who just struck out, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road.” Ernie is a legend; a man of great integrity. Rest in peace Ernie Harwell. You’ll be missed.
From Cora C:
Every summer, I would listen to the tigers radio broadcast with my great grandfather on his tiny radio. Hearing Ernie Harwell yell, “It’s loooonnnngg gooooonne!” was always my favorite part. It was during those days in my grandfather’s kitchen, listening to the famed broadcaster, that I truly began to love baseball.
From Danny M:
Ironically… I remember him fairly well.. not living in Detroit.. I listened to some games while I was growing up in Europe with AFRTS.
I was 12 in 1984 when the San Diego Padres played the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. My father was stationed in Germany at the time and the games would come on Armed Forces Radio and Television Services (AFRTS), they would use the local radio hosts of the games, so in San Diego it was the SD broadcaster, when in Detroit they would have Ernie Harwell. I can remember listening to my little radio at 10pm when the game was being played in Germany, Ernie Harwell announcing the pitching change for the Padres when the game was 5-4 in the bottom of the 8th. Goose Gossage coming to pitch to Kirk Gibson. Kirk Gibson hit a 3 run home run off of Goose, breaking my heart at the time (as I am a Padre fan), essentially closing out the world series in 5 games. The sound of him calling the home run still rings through my ears when I think back at the Padres of 1984.
From Chris K:
I think author Bruce Shlain sums up perfectly what Ernie
Harwell meant to baseball…
"Somehow he brings the proper pitch and phrasing to a whole season, with
a rhythm and pacing that only a select few have ever commanded. In many
ways a Harwell broadcast is profoundly musical, as befits a man who has
published fifty-five songs with composers such as Johnny Mercer. Many
an announcer has aspired to sounding as if talking to a friend in his
living room, but Harwell effortlessly establishes the same rapport on
the air as he does in person."
And Al Kaline on what Ernie meant to Detroit…
"Ernie is probably the most beloved person who has ever been in Detroit
with the Detroit Tigers. He is loved by everybody and rightfully so.
He's a great broadcaster but even a better person. That comes across on
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers
appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the
voice of the turtle is heard in our land
Ernie, you’ll be forever missed and never forgotten.
Goodbye Ernie. You are so much more than the DIFF.