May 6th, 2010
Jose Feliciano became a national headline after Ernie Harwell invited him to perform the national anthem at Tiger Stadium during the 1968 World Series. Paul Carey became Harwell’s partner in the broadcast booth for nearly two decades, their two voices forever linked.
Both remained near and dear to Harwell for the rest of his life. Both will be on hand at Comerica Park to celebrate his life Monday night.
Tigers officials confirmed that both will be part of their tribute to Harwell, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who passed away Tuesday at age 92. The presentation will take place prior to the 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Yankees.
In honor of Harwell, Feliciano will return to Detroit to perform the anthem. It was his slower, nontraditional interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner before Game 5 of the Fall Classic that generated controversy among veterans who called in to complain. It marked one of the first times that someone performed a different interpretation of the anthem at a sporting event.
Harwell was in charge of choosing performers for that series, and he later said he liked it. He was proven right, as Feliciano’s version of the anthem actually hit the Billboard singles charts once Feliciano released it. The two remained friends for the next four decades, and Harwell defended the performance for the rest of his life.
The 82-year-old Carey will return to the Tigers to take the mound for the ceremonial first pitch. Born in Mt. Plesant, Mich., Carey joined Harwell to share play-by-play duties on Tigers radio broadcasts in 1973. The two remained broadcast parnters until after the 1991 season.
Aside from the guest appearances, the Tigers plan to have a touching ceremony to honor their broadcaster of 42 seasons in what will undoubtedly be an emotional night. The patches with Harwell’s initials that adorned the Tigers’ road jerseys Wednesday will be on the home uniforms for the rest of the season. Much like George Kell last year, a flag bearing his initials will be raised in left-center field by former Tigers greats.
A video tribute will honor Harwell’s life and career, including his speech to fans last September. Fans in attendance Monday will receive a keepsake commemorating the evening.
There might be few names tied closer to Ernie Harwell in his broadcasting career than Mike Ilitch, who made Harwell’s return to the booth one of his first acts when he bought the team. Harwell never forgot that.
“We had a wonderful relationship,” Ilitch said Thursday. “When I brought him back, he was so grateful, and he called me often. And almost every time we would sit down for dinner or a lot of the phone calls, he’d keep repeating, ‘Thanks for bringing me back. He was so grateful.”
Ilitch, in turn, never forgot what Harwell to the team, to the city, to the game. When Harwell had dinner with Ilitch last fall and brought up the idea of a public viewing at the ballpark, he didn’t have to ask twice.
“We went to dinner with his agent,” Ilitch recalled, “and he asked me, ‘I want to ask a favor of you.’ I said, ‘What’s that, Ernie?’ He said, ‘I’d like to be laid out at Comerica Park.’ I said, ‘Well, that would be great. The fans would love that.’ He asked once. I answered once.”
Ilitch paid a visit to the viewing around midday and took over thanking people in line himself, giving team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and other top club officials a break for a little while.
“They’ve been telling me what a great man he is,” Ilitch said, “how much they’re going to miss him, thank you for having this, thank you. They’re very appreciative. There’s such a mix of our fans.”
Ilitch has done some interviews on Harwell since his passing Tuesday, but has tried to keep them limited.
“If you talk too much about it, you get carried away. It’s very emotional,” he said. “I did some radio interviews today. I wrote down a lot of things I figured that were characteristic of him, and then I had the response from the announcers. And then all of us came to once conclusion: There were so many nice things about him, we couldn’t figure out what was the key to him, what really made this guy.
“I think the best answer I got was he started in radio, and they got used to that voice and they loved that voice and he was all business and he never missed one pitch. He was very, very serious about not missing one pitch.”