Ilitch: Ernie was a true professional
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.”