DETROIT — Beloved Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell died Tuesday at the age of 92. Tigers spokesman Brian Britten said the Tigers learned of Harwell’s death from his agent but did not immediately have details.
He is survived by his wife, Lulu, and four children. He said last September he had inoperable cancer, a month after surgery for an obstructed bile duct.
Shortly after Harwell’s announcement, the Tigers honored him during the third inning of a game against Kansas City on Sept. 16, showing a video tribute and giving him a chance to address the crowd at Comerica Park.
“In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey,” Harwell said at a microphone behind home plate. “The blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan.”
Harwell spent 42 of his 55 years in broadcasting with the Tigers. He was their play-by-play radio voice from 1960-1991 and 1993-2002.
The team and its flagship radio station, WJR, allowed his contract to expire after the 1991 season in what became a public relations nightmare. Then-Tigers president Bo Schembechler, the former Michigan football coach, took the blame. WJR general manager Jim Long later took responsibility for the unpopular move.
When Mike Ilitch bought the franchise from Tom Monaghan, he put Harwell back in the booth in 1993. Harwell chose to retire after the 2002 season.
His big break came in unorthodox fashion.
Brooklyn Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber fell ill in 1948, and general manager Branch Rickey needed a replacement. After learning the Crackers needed a catcher, Rickey sent minor league catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta and Harwell joined the Dodgers.
By his own count, Harwell called more than 8,00 major league games, starting with the Dodgers and continuing with the Giants and Baltimore Orioles before joining the Tigers. He missed two games outside of the ’92 season: one for his brother’s funeral in 1968, the other when he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 1989.
The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Harwell in 1981 with the Ford C. Frick Award, given annually to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball.
A life-sized statue of Harwell stands at the entrance to Comerica Park and its press box is called “The Ernie Harwell Media Center.”
The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association recently initiated a lifetime contribution award in his honor. The award is called the Ernie Harwell Lifetime Contribution Award. Harwell was the first winner of the award.
The award will annually honor an individual from the broadcast industry who has contributed outstanding time and effort to the betterment of sports broadcasting through a lifetime body of work.