Tigers celebrate Ernie Harwell DayPosted: Monday September 16, 2002 12:29 AM
DETROIT (AP) -- When the subject was Ernie Harwell, Detroit Tigers outfielder Robert Fick was like any fan Sunday.
"What he's done for this organization is priceless," said Fick, who represented the Tigers during Ernie Harwell Day ceremonies before the game against Kansas City at Comerica Park. "He's such a nice guy. Such a gentleman. No matter who you are, even if you're in your first day as a big leaguer, he treats everyone with respect."
Harwell, who been a major league broadcaster for 55 years, 42 with the Tigers, is retiring at the end of the season.
For many Michiganians, he is as much a part of the state as the Great Lakes.
"He is baseball in Detroit," said Tigers fan Bill Lega of Livonia. "When you think of the Detroit Tigers, you think of Ernie Harwell. He's like Al Kaline, always with the team. The rest come and go."
Harwell left the game early after his wife of 61 years, Lulu, was taken from the stadium to Henry Ford Hospital. The hospital wasn't releasing information about her condition, although a Tigers spokesman said she was taken there as a precautionary measure.
Harwell began his career with the Tigers in 1960, and a generation of fans grew up listening to him call games, sometimes well past their bedtimes.
"I first heard his voice at the age of five," Dale Petroskey, a Michigan native who is the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said during the ceremonies before the 9-3 loss to the Royals.
"My brothers and I would sneak transistor radios into our rooms and put them under our pillows so our mom and dad couldn't see them. We would listen to Ernie Harwell's voice, and that lullaby would put us to sleep."
Those who have known Harwell lauded his common touch.
"Over the years, a lot of players have announced they would no longer talk to the media," said Paul Carey, who worked with Harwell on Tigers broadcasts from 1973-91. "But they would talk to Ernie."
Harwell and Carey both left the team after the 1991 season. Carey had planned to retire, but Harwell's contract was not renewed, sparking a storm of controversy that didn't subside until current owner Michael Ilitch bought the Tigers the next year.
Harwell returned to radio in 1993, worked on Tigers television broadcasts from 1994-98, then resumed his radio duties in 1999.
During his remarks to the fans, Harwell tried to deflect the accolades that came his way.
"It's a thrill to be given a day," he said. "The only other day I remember is when the Fulton County (Ga.) sheriff gave me a day to get out of town."
But he mixed the jokes with heartfelt statements.
"When I was a youngster, until I was seven or eight years old I stuttered. I was tongue-tied," he said. "Now, (nearly) 80 years later, I'm still tongue-tied.
"God has granted me many blessings," he added. "I have my beautiful wife, a loving family, and another blessing brought me here to broadcast Tigers games."
Kaline, who has spent 50 years with the Tigers, worked with Harwell on the Tigers television broadcasts from 1996-98.
"I'm proud to say that the great Ernie Harwell belongs to us,"
he said during the ceremony. "You may leave the Tigers, but you
will never leave our hearts."