This week Michiganders lost a broadcast legend. Ernie Harwell, the voice of Tiger baseball, succumbed to cancer at age 92. I’m not a baseball fan, but like just about everyone in Michigan, I loved Ernie. He was a Michigan institution, the voice of every man on a hot summer day.
Every time I heard Ernie’s voice calling a game, I was instantly transported back to age six. It’s a hot, sultry day. The breeze is still, the air heavy with humidity. My family sits huddled around the only fan we own, as Ernie’s voice crackles from the old black radio. My sister and I want to go swimming, but Daddy can’t take us until the Tiger game is over. I’m sure that baseball games lasted about five hours back then, because it seemed like we waited forever. I’d sit out on the steps, trying to catch some cool air, waiting for the much-anticipated trip to the lake, as Ernie hummed in the distance. Just when it seemed like the game was going nowhere and maybe we’d get an early reprieve, I’d hear Ernie exclaim in his signature style “..and it’s a highhhh , fly ball…” or “…that one is long gone…”
Ernie’s voice continued to resonate, the background to all my growing-up. Through seemingly long boring summers for a teen girl stuck in a lackluster town, through the troubling 60’s, through early ventures into college, marriage and family. I, like everyone else in Michigan was outraged when the Tigers fired Ernie in 1991. Fire Ernie Harwell? You might as well fire the pope, or the president. Ernie was more than an announcer, he was OUR announcer, the voice that soothed us, and told us to take time to relax and listen to a game. Ernie’s was the voice of a simpler time – a time when baseball was the American past-time, and every kid dreamed of being Mickey Mantle. Thanks Ernie, for being there for us. We’ll miss you.