It’s possible that on a clear summer night back in the late 70’s or early 80’s, while flipping the AM dial to see if I could pick up ballgames from distance outposts like Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis, that I caught an inning or two of Ernie Harwell. I seem to recall picking up snippets of Jack Buck on KMOX, Harry Caray on WGN, and perhaps Harwell on WJR. But in all honesty, I can’t say definitively, that I ever heard Harwell call a game. And that’s a real shame.
Harwell passed away yesterday at the age of 92. His career as a baseball broadcaster was surpassed by few, if any. He started out as voice of the minor league Atlanta Crackers in 1948 and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers booth a few years later. He actually made the TV call of Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World, but his “It’s Gone!” has long been overshadowed by Russ Hodges’ immortal radio call, “The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!”
Harwell would later man the booth for the NY Giants and Baltimore Orioles, but it was his 40+ years as voice of the Tigers, beginning in ’68, for which he will most be remembered. Revered in the Motor City, he was as much Detroit as Motown and Ford. I have read and heard enough of Harwell to know that I would have greatly enjoyed listening to him call a game. Like the late Bob Murphy, who provided the soundtrack for my endless summers as a Mets fan, Harwell brought a warm, folksy style to the airwaves. He never let himself get bigger than the game, and understood that radio listeners appreciated the sounds of the ballpark, letting his voice go silent at times to allow you to take in the roar of the crowd and the crack of the bat.
In 1981, Harwell was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. His induction speech is a timeless masterpiece, as eloquent an expression of love and affection for the game as any words I have heard or read. “Baseball is the cool,clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby,” he remarked. “The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an overaged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.”