Tampa Bay Sports Day

Hall of Fame Detroit Tigers Broadcaster Honored Posthumously By WFUV

Ernie Harwell was one of three giants honored for a lifetime of superior work in their chosen craft at WFUV’s annual Spring Gala at Gotham Hall on Wednesday, May 5. For each of the past three years, Fordham University’s radio station WFUV, (90.7 FM), has honored three individuals during its annual fundraiser. On Wednesday, Bob Scheiffer received the Charles Osgood Lifetime Achievement Award,  Levon Helm received the WFUV Sound & Vision Award and Harwell would have been given  the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award. Unfortunately, Harwell passed away at his home in Michigan on the day before his honor was to be bestowed.

The 92 year-old sports broadcaster had been diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago. Harwell opted not to receive surgery. He courageously battled the disease without losing his good humor or strong religious faith. Al Kaline, one of the greatest players in Detroit Tigers history and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1980 accepted the award for his longtime friend. Kaline recalled his first meeting with Harwell, “I met him as a Baltimore broadcaster in 1954. We became friends right from the start. “Kaline played with the Tigers from 1953 through the 1974 season and was a broadcaster for the team from 1975 through the 2002 season. Thus, he was in close proximity with Harwell for decades, even though the two worked together in the broadcast booth for only one year. His advice to Kaline was expressed in words he himself always followed, “He told me to be myself, and to be as honest as I can.” He vividly recalled to reporters a four day cruise the two men and their wives took. It was during those days that Kaline truly realized the breadth and depth of Harwell’s interests and his knowledge of so many subjects.

Harwell became connected to the sport of baseball as a young boy in Atlanta when he served as a batboy for the minor league Atlanta Crackers. After graduation from Emory University, Harwell began work as a newspaperman. He was broadcasting games on the radio for Atlanta when he was ‘traded” to the Brooklyn Dodgers for a minor league catcher, Cliff Draper. He travelled north to replace the ailing Red Barber during the 1948 season. After two seasons with the Dodgers, Harwell was replaced by a young graduate of Fordham University, Vin Scully. It’s interesting to note, as Scully would say, that more than six decades later, Harwell would be granted an award in Scully’s name by the Fordham University radio station. Harwell would have been pleased to be a recipient of the honor. Kaline related, “Ernie told me that he thought Vin Scully was the best broadcaster he ever heard.”

Harwell’s career did not end after parting with the Dodgers. He remained in New York City calling games for the New York Giants from 1950-1953. When Baltimore gained a Major League franchise in 1954, Harwell broadcast Orioles games through 1959. In the following year, he began his long association with the Detroit Tigers. He did play-by-play for the Tigers through the 2002 season with the exception of the years 1991-93 when the team’s then ownership replaced him. During the 1992 season, he worked for the California Angels. Although he broadcast other sports and nationally broadcast baseball games, he is most closely associated with Detroit.

Kaline said of Harwell, “He was the most revered and loved person in sports in the state of Michigan.” The Detroit baseball superstar described the qualities that made Harwell stand out as a broadcaster, “[The qualities are] the way he interacted with the fans, his knowledge, his love of baseball and the way he told stories. The one thing I think is missing today are broadcasters who can tell stories. He knew the game was first and ego didn’t get in the way.” The accomplished CBS newsman Bob Sceiffer, another of the evening’s honorees said it was special to get an award with Harwell, “He [Harwell] loved baseball and he loved people. He did his homework and always knew what he was talking about.” Scheiffer recalled listening to Harwell broadcast Tigers game when the station’s signal was strong at night and marveling at Harwell’s skill.

Even more important than Harwell’s skills as a broadcaster were his qualities as a special human being. Kaline remembered, “He was a person you could feel comfortable with. He was that way we everybody. He always had a smile. I’ve known him and celebrate the kind of man he was. We were lucky to have him. {His death] is like losing a parent.”