During a childhood of instability, the only thing consistent was the lack of consistency itself.
But from the end of every March through the end of September for my childhood, Ernie Harwell was there. He is pictured above sitting in his familiar perch almost on top of home plate at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull between innings…while just doing his job.
The memories of his calls of foul balls being hit to a man from Hamtramck or Spring Harbor…maybe even to a woman from Novi or Ontonagon made me think, as an eight year old boy, that he knew every person in that stadium where he was broadcasting Detroit Tigers baseball games for every year I was ever in the state of Michigan. I always rooted for someone from Monroe to catch a foul ball.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that he really didn’t know everyone in the stadium, but was just being Ernie…
Finding a way to come through my radio and talk to me…in my bed at night. I remember the year we all received some kind of transistor radios for Christmas. Of the three of us kids in the house, my radio was the smallest…and yellow.
But it fit under my pillow better that the large round ones my brother and sister received as gifts.
At that point, FM radio hadn’t completely blossomed and the two largest stations in the Detroit market were CKLW and WJR on the AM dial. WJR-760 AM carried the every Detroit Tigers’ baseball game and I listened to everyone I could…when I had live batteries.
For six months out of the year and about at least four nights a week, the voice of Ernie Harwell is what I went to sleep listening to from under my pillow.
As I was listening for all of those years, I really never paid attention to the quality of his voice of even the eloquence of his speech. But, when I listened to him each night, he made me feel like I was sitting right next to him at Tiger Stadium.
Any issues of my childhood were GONE as I drifted off to sleep.
Dead batteries caused by me drifting off to sleep with the radio on were the biggest issue until two years later when I received my first alarm clock/radio that actually plugged into the wall.
Growing up in Michigan and being a little league second baseman, Lou Whitaker was naturally my hero. But I learned to know about Lou from my baseball cards and the sound of Ernie Harwell’s voice.
My earliest memories of listening to the games are with my dad…wither in the living room in the evenings or during the days fishing at the State Park. He never cared about the radio scaring the fish. Maybe even the sound of Ernie’s voice brought fish to us out there.
From there, I can remember setting up my baseball cards for both teams as they were playing. Jack Morris, Dan Petry or some other pitcher was on the mound while Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Lance Parrish patrolled the middle of the field. Most of the other players came and went each season, but not Ernie.
Ernie Harwell didn’t have a baseball card to represent himself on that blue carpeted floor, but he didn’t need one because he was right there with me the whole time.
Year after year and spring after spring, just like the spring thaw, Ernie was always there and I took him for granted.
Now, when I hear his voice, I melt inside.
So many things in our past take us back to the back memories of our childhood and youth, but when I hear the sound of his voice it brings joy to my heart and peace to my soul.
Last night, as I was spending time feeling bad for myself for some general crappiness that was going on in my life, I heard his voice between innings. I stopped what I was doing, sat down and listened to him one last time. This is the view from lucky fan that was there last night…
Most of you that read this wont understand any of this unless you stumbled here via some google search FOR Ernie Harwell. But I am just fine with that and can keep him for myself for the time he is still on this earth.
Ernie Harwell, who is 91 years, said his goodbyes to Tiger fans last night at the stadium. He hasn’t been a broadcaster in seven years, but he is a part of each and every one of us that snuck radios under our pillows when we were supposed to be sleeping. he has been diagnosed with incurable cancer and has elected not to have surgery. He knows his time left on this earth is short.
But, as he “stood there like the house by the side of the road” at home plate last night, he thanked us…
But I thank him for allowing a little boy to escape the issues he was having and allowing him to run away with him to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull all of those nights.
He let me escape for a few minutes last night too…
Thanks again Ernie.