By Jo-Ann Barnas and Tammy Stables Battaglia
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
Fans of Ernie Harwell gather today for a visitation for the Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster. We’ll have updates throughout the day from Comerica Park.
Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski, after shaking each fan’s hand as they filed past Ernie’s casket, spoke to journalists about the viewing.
“It’s a very touching moment for the Tigers and the Harwell family and the fans,” Dombrowski said. “You could see it didn’t make a difference what age, what color, what religion that you are, you were touched by Ernie. There were so many people that said, ‘I never met him, but I knew him.’”
Shortly after Ernie was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Ernie’s friend and attorney, S. Gary Spicer, called Dombrowski and said the legend wanted to meet with him and team owner Mike Ilitch about the end of his life.
So on a Saturday in September, Spicer picked up Dombrowski and Ilitch, and they spent the afternoon at Harwell’s home.
“Basically, Ernie had an involvement in all of this,” Dombrowski said. “The technicalities were Ernie’s ideas. Mike Ilitch basically said, ‘Ernie, whatever you want. We’ll do whatever you want.’”
Dombrowski said that afternoon was one of his favorite memories of Ernie, along with a dinner he and his wife had with Ernie and his wife, Lulu, at Spring Training in Lakeland in Spring 2002 to welcome Dombrowski to the team.
During the September gathering, Dombrowski said even he was enthralled hearing Ernie’s famous voice tell stories about the past and plan for a future after he’s gone.
“Just listening to him talk, I’ll never forget that day the rest of my life,” Dombrowski said.
He remembered Ernie chuckling while saying he enjoyed his post-announcing career as a paid spokesman, but not the thought of getting a ‘last check.’
“Even at that point, he was telling stories and joking,” Dombrowski said.
He said he believes it was because Ernie “knew where he was going,” alluding to a reserved seat in heaven for the Tigers legend.