Baseball Loses Another Icon

Steve O Speak

Just one year after Harry Kalas passed away, another legendary baseball announcer, Ernie Harwell was lost. Harwell broadcasted Major League Games from 1948-2002, for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels and most notably the Detroit Tigers. His time in Detroit (1960-1991, 1993-2002) earned him the nickname “The Voice of the Tigers”, and brought him national fame.

Harwell started his career as a Minor League announcer for an Atlanta team, and was actually traded for a player to the Brooklyn Dodgers when they needed a new announcer. While Harwell had yet to become a household name, the fact that he was traded for a player shows just how respected and important his profession was to the game of baseball. Harwell exemplified the game baseball, and connected with fans from coast to coast, in a time when television still wasn’t the primary venue for baseball. Even when TV did surpass radio as the primary way to enjoy baseball (without being at the park), Harwell and other announcers like him continued to connect their listeners to America’s Pastime.

Harwell did do some spot TV duty and a few seasons late in his career, but he will be forever known as a radio personality. A radio play-by-play man is probably the hardest job in broadcast sports, since your voice needs to paint the picture for the listener. From the defensive position to the base runner to the actual pitch, you need to give the fans the whole story completely based on your voice. There is no television backdrop, or updated internet scoreboard, you are responsible for the entire game. A good radio play-by-play man is hard to find, a great one next to impossible. An icon like Harwell whose voice dominated the airwaves for over half a century of summers is a true treasure.

In fact, Harwell was so well liked in Detroit, that when the team/radio station didn’t bring him back in 1992, there was a severe public outcry. So much so, that when the new owners took over in 1993, their first priority was to bring “The Voice of Detroit” home. Though Harwell won just about every broadcaster award and honor you can win, the fact that he became baseball for an entire city is his greatest accomplishment.

While his voice had long since retired, baseball lost one of its best ambassadors yesterday in Harwell. A man who not only had an effect on the city of Detroit, but brought baseball into the consciousness of generations of Americans, through both his writing and broadcasting work. Harwell, like Kalas and others before him will be sorely missed among the entire baseball community. And though “The Voice of Detroit” may be gone, his memory and impact on the game will never fade away.

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