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09/04/09 8:40 PM ET
Harwell's positive attitude is no surprise
Longtime fans show support for ill broadcasting legend
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Monday brought devastating news to one of the most distinguished members of the Tigers' family. But in the wake of some of the most disheartening of circumstances, Ernie Harwell has always been known for keeping a positive attitude. That is the Hall of Fame broadcaster's most obvious -- and special -- character trait, and that demeanor was crystal clear even when he was diagnosed with an incurable tumor around his bile duct earlier this week. "As always, Ernie takes the positive side of it," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who admits he's never been too close with Harwell but was able to pick up his positive attitude even in their brief encounters. Leyland recalled one quote Harwell had in the Detroit Free Press, the newspaper for which he worked as a columnist for several years and in which he reported his condition in Friday's edition. The publication quoted Harwell as saying, "Whatever's in store, I'm ready for a new adventure." Tigers radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson took Harwell's place as the lead play-by-play voice. When Dickerson heard the news on Thursday, he gave Harwell a call, and even he came away shocked at his mentor's upbeat attitude. "I was just kind of speechless," Dickerson said. "And by the time I hung up, I thought, 'How typical Ernie. He's making you feel OK about the fact that he's obviously facing this serious situation. But that's what just amazing to me." Harwell, 91, never had any health concerns before he was hospitalized for four days last month with a bile duct obstruction before the rough diagnosis on Monday. Harwell has said he won't undergo surgery, chemotherapy or any type of radiation. He'll just stay at home with his family and friends for whatever amount of time he has left. He currently isn't in any pain and his longtime adviser, S. Gary Spicer, told the Free Press he's received an "overwhelming" amount of positive response. Harwell spent 55 seasons as a broadcaster, with his last 42 coming with the Tigers. In 1981, he was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Harwell was known around the Tigers organization for not only his upbeat attitude, but for the great way he treated people -- even those he barely even knew. Before the Tigers took on the Rays to start a three-game series at Tropicana Field on Friday, several members of the organization were reminiscent. Bullpen coach Jeff Jones, a Detroit native who grew up listening to Harwell, recalled Harwell's soothing voice, saying, "He'd be coming down the hall and I'd hear his voice, and it was like, there it is. I loved his voice -- always have, always will." Radio broadcaster Jim Price, who worked in the booth with Harwell, remembered the fun times they had calling Tigers games together. "The thing I enjoyed working with Ernie was we always had a good time," Price said. "He was always upbeat. He'd laugh on the air, tell stories, and I loved to get Ernie laughing." Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge came up with the club in 2001 and got to know Harwell shortly thereafter. Inge, in particular, recalled Harwell's farewell tour in 2002, when he got to spend a couple of days with the radio legend. And the 32-year-old remembers how Harwell never forgot -- anything. "Just sharing stories with him and just his memory was incredible," Inge said. "I've never seen a memory as good as his. "He didn't forget a story. He would tell us 20, 30 stories a night, and we would just be sitting there in awe of the man. Just a great person. I wish him the best." Finally, there was Dickerson, who remembered how Harwell never thought he was too good for anybody. He recalled a specific incident in the 1980s, when the rotisserie league -- part the genesis of fantasy baseball -- first began, and a friend of Dickerson's asked Harwell -- already a legend then -- if he could make an appearance at their small, season-ending banquet. Not only did Harwell show up, but he helped pour chocolate Yoo-hoo on the champions. "I mean, a bunch of baseball geeks talking about rotisseries, and Ernie says yes," Dickerson said. "It was just typical Ernie. He had a great time, soaked it up and wanted to know all about us."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.