09/15/2002 4:49 pm ET
Tigers celebrate Ernie Harwell Day
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- By the time the Detroit Tigers begin Spring Training in 2003, Ernie Harwell might still be on one of his all expenses-paid vacations the Tigers gave him. But while he won't be in the broadcast booth, Ernie Harwell Day served to remind the legendary broadcaster that he'll never leave Detroiters' hearts.
The overcast skies over Comerica Park served as an appropriate backdrop for the mixed emotions. Harwell still has two weeks to go before he leaves the broadcast booth, so the end really hasn't yet caught on. The show of appreciation, however, was enough to draw a hint of a tear behind the sunglasses of a man who rarely grew too emotional on the air.
"It's been a joy to work in a business that I love," Harwell said, "to meet so many of these great players, to work with great partners. ... Most of all, I want to thank the fans."
Many of those partners and friends, in turn, took the podium to thank him.
"His most wondrous quality is he can make everybody feel at ease in his company," said Paul Carey, Harwell's broadcast partner for 19 years, who worked three innings with him Sunday for old time's sake. "Everybody is comfortable when they're with Ernie. Over the years, players would say, 'I'm not speaking with the media'. They talked to Ernie.
"I treasure the years we spent together. I treasure our friendship."
Carey retired in 1991, the same year Ernie had his first retirement tour. Carey was the first to mention the appreciation that this time, Ernie went out on his own terms. Harwell himself has avoided much mention of the controversy involving himself, then-Tigers president Bo Schembechler, and their flagship station WJR over the years. On Sunday, however, he thanked owner Michael Ilitch for "bringing me back."
Said former Tigers president John McHale, representing the Commissioner's office in the ceremony: "We need to understand today and each day left in the 2002 season that we are truly privileged to see (the game) through his eyes and hear his calm and reassuring voice. His effortless brilliance masks countless hours of preparation. Let us understand, appreciate and be joyous for our time with him."
Fans were also in on the gifts Sunday, receiving a multimedia package on CD-ROM with sound bytes and facts from Harwell's career. On Saturday, the Tigers gave out Ernie bobblehead dolls.
There was a lone surprise guest, the man who made Ernie's Major League career possible. Mixed among the dignitaries was a relative unknown named Cliff Dapper, the former catcher whom the Dodgers traded to the minor-league Atlanta Crackers for Harwell's services back in 1948.
"Everybody is comfortable when they're with Ernie. Over the years, players would say 'I'm not speaking with the media'. They talked to Ernie."
-- Paul Carey
The Tigers thanked him with a ton of gifts, many of them vacations. Television voice Frank Beckmann presented him with a trip to the Grand Cayman Islands, followed by Harwell's partner Jim Price with a trip to Mexico. Robert Fick represented the players by giving him a vacation to Hawaii. Ironically, Harwell has said in the past few weeks that he doesn't plan to do much travel in his retirement.
Harwell also received a framed jersey bearing number 42, the total seasons he spent broadcasting Tigers games.
The most impressive gift to Ernie, however, is staying put at Comerica Park. Denise and Chris Ilitch unveiled a statue of Harwell along the concourse near the stadium's main entrance, with microphone in hand.
"I'd like to share this statue with you," Harwell said to fans. "This wonderful status belongs to you as much as it does to me. ... I hope that you bring your children to Comerica Park, look at this statue, and remember all the joy that you brought me all these wonderful years. I don't deserve a statue or a part of history."
Once the game started, Ernie had an impromptu press conference near his statue. The celebration, however, abruptly halted when his wife, Lulu, suffered discomfort from an accelerated heartbeat according to Tigers staff. She was taken to Henry Ford Hospital, accompanied by Ernie, as a precautionary measure, but is expected to be fine.
Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.