Tigers take field, with Harwell memories fresh

BY foxsports • May 6, 2010

Last September, Ernie Harwell came to Comerica Park in Detroit for a formal farewell. It was Harwell's voice that made him famous, and the Detroit Tigers were focused on every word.

Harwell addressed the team before that game, giving a stirring speech that is still remembered fondly in the clubhouse.

Manager Jim Leyland called it ``priceless'' and ``fulfilling.'' Shortstop Adam Everett was one of several players motivated and moved by Harwell's talk.

``Nobody said a word,'' Everett said Wednesday, the day after the Hall of Fame broadcaster died at age 92 after fighting cancer. ``I don't think anybody blinked the whole time. That's how intense it was.''

The speech wasn't so much ``win one for Ernie'' as it was about his thoughts on life and baseball, his appreciation of the game. Harwell also spoke to the crowd that day, a clip catcher Gerald Laird said he watched online three or four times during the offseason.

``It's inspirational. It's unbelievable,'' Laird said. ``That guy left his mark on this game, and he's definitely going to be remembered forever - as long as this game's going on.''

Leyland's eyes teared up Tuesday night when talking about Harwell, and he shared more of his thoughts Wednesday about the man who spent 42 of his 55 years on the air calling Tigers games before retiring in 2002.

``He was like the grandfather telling the grandson, 'I would've made it if I hadn't hurt my elbow pitching horseshoes,' or the mother giving her kid an extra pork chop for the future Al Kaline listening to the game,'' Leyland said. ``That was Ernie. He was something. Not many guys have that much impact on a team like he did. That just doesn't happen.''

As he sat in an office before a game at Minnesota, Leyland was handed the daily packet of newspaper and online articles about the team, a stapled stack of papers much thicker than usual to include all the Harwell tributes written of his death. Leyland started reading intently.

``It's rare that you go 47 years in professional baseball and you never hear one negative remark about Ernie Harwell,'' Leyland said. ``Never. That just doesn't happen.''

The Tigers wore black circular patches bearing the initials ``EH'' on their uniforms Wednesday. And tributes to Harwell stretched throughout the country.

Kaline, the Hall of Fame Tigers outfielder, was in New York on Wednesday night to accept the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award for sports broadcasting on Harwell's behalf.

He told the crowd that standing in for Harwell was like pinch-hitting for Ted Williams.

``After knowing Ernie for so many years, I feel his spirit is alive with us,'' Kaline said. ``He'd want us to remember him with a smile instead of a tear.''

Scully, in a video shot before Harwell died, quoted Shakespeare in describing Harwell: ``This was a man!''

Kaline choked up as he recalled Harwell asking him to attend the awards ceremony after the honor was announced in February. Harwell told him he believed Scully was the greatest announcer of all-time.

``We Tiger fans respectfully disagree,'' Kaline said.

The YES Network, which is usually all Yankees, all the time, aired a video tribute to Harwell before Wednesday game.

In Detroit, fans left flowers outside Comerica Park and tied them to a fence at the site of the old Tiger Stadium.

The Twins held a moment of silence before the game at Target Field, showing pictures of Harwell on the video board.

Former broadcast partner Jim Price called Tuesday night's game the hardest he's had to do. He remembered how friendly Harwell was, asking often about Price's autistic son, Jack, and praying with him as they talked about their health problems.

``If you met Ernie for the first time, you walked away and felt like you were Ernie's best friend,'' Price said. ``That just says it all. The times I've seen him spend with people to sign autographs and go out of his way to be with people ... you rejoice those moments, you know?''

Price played briefly for the Tigers and was on the 1968 World Series-winning team.

``I was a fringe player. I knew I wasn't going to stick around long,'' Price said. ``He told me, 'You're going to be my partner some day.' Lo and behold. With every resume I have, that will always be on my resume. I was Ernie Harwell's last partner in broadcasting.''

Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, who made his debut in 2001, reflected on ``how cool it was'' to have Harwell narrate the action on the air and mention his name while doing it.

``In my opinion, you haven't been a big league ballplayer until Ernie Harwell talks about you like that,'' Inge said. ``That man was as genuine as they come. He means more to the Detroit Tigers, the state of Michigan and the people than a lot of people have meant. I wish his family the best.

``He had a great memory, a great personality. He will be missed.''

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AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York and AP Baseball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.



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