Opinion: Harwell holds special place

Ernie Harwell passed away from cancer last week at the age of 92. He was a broadcaster best known for calling Tigers games for more than 40 years.

Long before I could tune into every Major League game on my Blackberry for $14.99 a year, I had a boxy gray radio that looked like a small suitcase with two round dials. It was perched next to my bed on most of the summer nights of my youth and was tuned to the smooth voice of Ernie Harwell.

We lost Ernie last week after 92 years. Like many of my fellow Tigers fans during the last four decades, Ernie holds a special place in my heart as the voice of Detroit. In the hours following his passing, Ernie was mourned by many.

Detroit’s current voices on television and radio shared their thoughts and memories. The MLB Network broke in with an eloquent tribute. Thousands upon thousands poured onto social networking sites to offer their feelings about the late broadcaster.

Ernie’s charm wasn’t hard to understand. He was a class act when he was behind the microphone and when he wasn’t. In my life, I’ve never heard anyone utter a single negative feeling toward the man who could probably have been elected king of Michigan unanimously.

Ernie is part of the Michigan and American story. While he worked tirelessly not to inject himself into the action, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling he will always be a part of it. Ernie’s voice will forever be summertime in Detroit.

In a world that often seemed hectic and unpredictable, Ernie called games with a calm brilliance. Anyone who tuned in certainly agrees there truly is elegance in simplicity.
Yet, while he called the game simply, he knew it was anything but simple. He had more famous lines, but the one that most accurately describes what I loved about Ernie is this: “Baseball? Just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat. And yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”

Ernie understood baseball beyond what the opposing pitcher liked to throw when he was ahead in the count. He understood the game on a spiritual level and that it occupies a special place in the American story. It’s our game and its history is our history.

Ernie was always humble and dignified and never let his celebrity go to his head. I think it can be said he made every life he touched a little better, whether it was his wife, to whom he was married for 68 years, the countless players who donned the Olde English D or the common fan listening to his voice broadcast balls and strikes for so many years.

Ernie will be missed greatly by those of us who let him into our homes and into our hearts. Michigan’s greatest resident and most recognizable Tigers fan is gone, but certainly not forgotten.

For me, when I think of Ernie, I’ll think of that old gray radio with the antenna pointed towards the window in the bedroom where I grew up. I wasn’t alive to hear him announce that the Tigers were “the champions of 1984,” but I’ll certainly remember a great man whose iconic voice was the soundtrack of my youth.

By Romain Blanquart / The Eastern Echo
A couple pays their respects to Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell at Comerica Park on Thursday.

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