Highlights from Ernie Harwell interview
Honestly, there were more highlights from Ernie Harwell’s lengthy interview with Bob Costas for the hour-long Studio 42 show than I have room to describe. Some were included in the preview article from last week. Still, it’s worth finding room to mention quite a few, especially those that would be pertinent for Tigers fans.
On his situation: “This will be my last World Series, I think. Back in July, the doctors gave me six months to live, give or take a
few months. I’m hoping to reach my birthday on Jan. 25, but I’m pretty
sure I won’t make the baseball season. But you never know, as the Lord works wonders.”
When Costas remarked at how healthy Harwell looked, that he didn’t look like he was dying, Harwell cited something he heard from former Michigan governor George Romney: “I want to die healthy.” Then he added, “And it looks like I’ll die pretty healthy.”
On his relationship with Tigers fans and the affection they have for him: “I do feel like those poeple out there were my friends, and I hope I was their friend, because it is a unique association that you have with your listener. I really appreciate the fact that they take an interest in me. I don’t know if I deserve that, but all I tried to do was just be myself. I wanted to broadcast the game that I thought I would like to hear as a listener. And I tried to give the score as often as I could. That was my main concern, and then let the play take over. And of course you can’t just say ball one, strike one. You have to fill in and usually I did with anecdotes or historical information that maybe nobody came up with and let the chips fall where they may. There’s going to be some people who like you and some people who don’t like you, and you have to accept that starting out.”
He was pretty revealing on Bo Schembechler, the Michigan football coach turned Tigers president. On the decision to let him go after the 1992 season, he admitted maybe he didn’t like Schembechler for it, but that he got over it.
“I knew that everybody could be replaced. Nobody lasts forever. And if you work for somebody, he’s certainly got the privilege and the right to fire you. It was certainly a blow to me, but I think in the long run, it’s probably the best thing that happened to my career, because it brought some undue attention toward me and caused quite a commotion around Michigan and Detroit. I recovered. Mr. Mike Ilitch bought the team and within a year I was back broadcasting for the Tigers. It was something that I had to accept. Once again I leaned on my faith and I knew for some reason this was happening and it would eventually work out for the best.”
On whether Schembechler ever came up and apologized to him, or talked to him about it: “No, he never did, but I forgave him. It’s in the past. He was a great football coach. I had a lot of admiration for him. I never had any problems with him. It’s just they felt they were going in a ‘new direction.’”
On his long-lost call of The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, which was overshadowed by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “Russ Hodges and I were the two announcers, and we alternated between radio and TV. And on that particular day, Oct. 3, it turned out that I was going to be on TV. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a lot better assignment than poor old Russ with those five radio broadcasts. He’ll sort of get lost, and I’m on coast to coast by myself on NBC, the first sports series ever telecast coast to coast. This is a big moment. And sure enough, it happened and Russ made that great call. I was on TV when [Bobby] Thomson hit the home run. I just said It’s gone and [Andy] Pafko watched it go into the row of the seats for the home run that won the pennant.
“There was no record of my voice at all. People didn’t record things in those days, and of course, Russ was recorded. The sponsor Chesterfield got out a record, it became the greatest sports broadcast of all time. And only Mrs. Harwell and I know I was on that afternoon.”
Nonetheless, he called that one of his two greatest moments to call in his career. The other was Jim Northrup’s triple in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.
On his move to Detroit to broadcast for the Tigers: “It’s probably the best move I ever made, because the people of Michigan have really been super. They’re great fans. It’s an original franchise. They know their baseball. They have a great passion for it that and other sports, too. It goes generation to generation People that used to come to Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium and then Comerica Park. They hand it down from generation to generation.”
On growing up in the south and then breaking into the Major Leagues broadcasting Dodgers games and Jackie Robinson: “I think what tempered my feelings even before I got to Brooklyn was that, when I was with the Marines, I saw that the African Americans were just as good as the white people in whatever they did. I really had a feeling of comfort when I went up there about the racial issue. It didn’t bother me at all. It was a little strange because I’d never seen a black man play against white competition, but it was there, and I accepted it. And Jackie became a very good friend of mine. I played cards with him, played golf with him, rode the train with him. It was the most exciting, most eventful thing I think that’s happened in sports history, the breaking of the color line by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.”
He closed out the interview by reciting his speech from his Hall of Fame induction, by memory, word for word. Amazing.