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.”

3 Comments

I’m glad to hear that Ernie didn’t suffer much. That had been my chief concern as the weeks rolled by. Bile duct cancer is can be particularly nasty. In fact, my first thought when his diagnosis was announced was that he didn’t deserve that one.
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Really classy move today to have Dombrowski, Ilitch, and others greet the mourners. They may make mistakes, but you can never say the Tigers aren’t a class organization.
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I think I may have shared this before, but I’ll do so again. My favorite Ernie Harwell radio call of all time was one I actually didn’t hear because I was AT the game. It wasn’t until months later that I heard a recording of it. Anyway, it was July 19, 1968, and Tommy Matchick hit a rather famous walkoff homer as the Tigers overcame a bottom of the 9th 2-run deficit to the second place and charging Orioles. There was nothing particularly fancy about his call. Basically, Ernie said “there’s high fly to right (voice rising in anticipation). It may be (rising a touch more). Robinson goes back………and it’s a HOME RUN and the Tigers win it!” It was the way Ernie’s voice uncharacteristically went up a few octaves as he said the word home run that conveyed the entire thing to his listeners. I’ve heard stories of people dropping trays of drinks and falling over things at that moment. :-)
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This recording is probably available on different collections, but I know for a fact it can be heard on “The Year of the Tiger ’68” CD. The original record album came out in October of 1968 and that’s where I finally got to hear the radio broadcast of Matchick’s big homer.
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–Rich

i am a tiger fan and have been since 1953. i also served in the military for 22 years, and have a complaint about the tribute to mr harwell. when jose feliciano sang the national anthem i saw fu te ni look at the flag but had his hat covering his groin area, and i saw zumaya chewing gum with his mouth open……..can the leadership and front office sit down with these guys and explain to them the properattitude trhat must be displayed during our anthem, after all there are men and women in iraq and afghanistan who are there to give us the freedom that we have today. lets get it right guys you are all professionals so PLEASE ACT AND BE PROFESSIONALS ….THANK YOU

Tiger management should have Comerica parks sound system play Ernie’s signature saying “LOOOOONG GONE” along with those words on the big screen whenever a Tiger hits a homerun. Keep the VOICE ALIVE!

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