Harwell, William Earnest 1918-
HARWELL, William Earnest 1918-
PERSONAL: Born January 25, 1918, in Washington, GA; son of Davis Gray (a furniture salesperson) and Helen (a homemaker; maiden name, Barksdale) Har-well; married Lulu Tankersley (a homemaker), August 30, 1941; children: William Earnest, Jr., Gray Neville, Carolyn, Julie. Education: Emory University, A.B., 1940. Religion: "A believer in Christ." Hobbies and other interests: Reading fiction and the classics; crossword puzzles.
ADDRESSES: Home—25387 Witherspoon, Farmington Hills, MI 48335.
CAREER: Sporting News, Atlanta, GA, correspondent, 1934-48; Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, sportswriter, 1936-40; WSB Atlanta (radio station), Atlanta, sports director, 1940-42; Atlanta Crackers (baseball team), Atlanta, radio announcer, 1940-42; Brooklyn Dodgers (baseball team), Brooklyn, NY, radio and television announcer, 1948-49; New York Giants (baseball team), New York, NY, radio and television announcer, 1950-53; Baltimore Orioles (baseball team), Baltimore, MD, radio and television announcer, 1954-59; Detroit Tigers (baseball team), Detroit, MI, radio announcer, 1960-91 and 1993-2002; retired, 2002. Guest national radio broadcaster for post-season professional baseball and football games. Appeared in feature films, including One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Paper Lion, and Tigertown. Spokesperson for American Lung Association in Detroit and for Detroit Rescue Mission. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, sports editor and human interest story writer for Leatherneck magazine, 1942-46; became sergeant.
MEMBER: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ford C. Frick Award, Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, 1981, for excellence in baseball broadcasting; inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1981; named Michiganian of the Year, 1981; Lowell Thomas Award, 1985, for national distinguished achievement; Litt.D., Adrian College, 1985; Al Foon Award, Michigan Jewish Hall of Fame, 1988; National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, inducted into Hall of Fame, 1989, and named best broadcaster in Michigan twenty times; Big Mac Award, Detroit News, 1989; Golden Compass Award, Camp-fire, Inc., 1989; Life Directions Enrichment Award, 1989; L.H.D., Northern Michigan College, 1990; National Lifetime Achievement Award, March of Dimes, 1991; Joe Louis Award, 1991; Ken Hubbs Memorial Award, 1991; Stanley Kresge Award, 1994; Jesuit Magis Award, University of Detroit, 1995; inducted into National Radio Hall of Fame, 1998, and SAE Leadership Hall of Fame, 2001; Neal Shine Award, Operation Able, 2002, for lifetime achievements; also inducted into Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, Emory University Hall of Fame, American Sportscasters Hall of Fame, Catch Hall of Fame, and Georgia Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
under name ernie harwell
(With Fred Smith) Tiger Trivia, privately printed, 1978.
Tuned to Baseball, foreword by wife, Lulu Harwell, Diamond Communications (Notre Dame, IN), 1985.
Ernie Harwell's Diamond Gems, Momentum (Ann Arbor, MI), 1991.
The Babe Signed My Shoe: Baseball As It Was—and Will Always Be; Tales of the Grand Old Game, Diamond Communications (Notre Dame, IN), 1994.
Stories from My Life in Baseball, edited by Alison Boyce and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
(With Tom Keegan) Ernie Harwell: My Sixty Years in Baseball, Triumph (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Also author of Ernie Harwell's Tiger Fan Calendar, 1988 and 1989. Author of lyrics to more than fifty recorded songs, including "I Don't Know Any Better," "Maestro of the Mound," "Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry," "One Room World," "Wake Up Wiser," and "Why Did It Take You So Long." Contributor to books, including Baseball Is Their Business, Random House (New York, NY), 1952; and Voices of Sport, edited by Marv Albert and others, Grosset (New York, NY), 1971; author of introduction, A Picture Postcard History of Baseball, by Ron Menchine, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 1993; author of foreword, The Great Chase: The Dodger-Giants Pennant Race of 1951, by Harvey Rosenfeld, iUniverse, 2001. Contributor to newspapers and magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Reader's Digest, Collier's, Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, and Catholic Digest.
SIDELIGHTS: For more than forty years, beginning in 1960, William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The first active radio announcer to be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Harwell broadcast professional baseball games longer than any other major league announcer on the air. Best known for his relaxed voice, methodical reporting, and notably impartial style of play-by-play description, Harwell is also the author of several baseball books which contain stories and reminiscences about his long career.
"For baseball fans, Ernie Harwell's voice is like crickets humming through a screen door: one of summer's most familiar and soothing sounds," wrote Michael Betzold in Newsmakers: The People behind Today's Headlines. "Harwell's articulate, melodious Georgia drawl is like a smooth ride on the river of baseball's heritage."
A native of Georgia, Harwell has loved baseball since his childhood, despite his admitted lack of great athletic talent. "I wanted to play baseball in the worst way, and that's the way I did play it," the announcer quipped in a Chicago Tribune interview by Bruce Buursma. Nor did the prospects of a broadcasting career seem bright. As a child Harwell was tongue-tied and inarticulate to the point of drawing ridicule from his classmates. Speech teachers and his own dogged persistence helped him to overcome the disability by the time he entered his teens.
While attending high school and, later, Emory University, Harwell worked as a correspondent for the Sporting News and as a sports reporter for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. As a college senior he landed a job as sports director at Atlanta radio station WSB, where he aired a fifteen-minute sports program. He longed to broadcast baseball games like his heroes Red Barber and Mel Allen, and he spent hours each evening practicing play-calling for imaginary games.
After serving in the Marines during World War II, Harwell returned to Atlanta and station WSB, where he got his start in play-by-play announcing for the Atlanta Crackers minor league baseball team. He continued there until early in the 1948 season, when Brooklyn Dodgers' radio commentator Red Barber developed a bleeding ulcer. Dodger owner Branch Rickey subsequently expressed an interest in hiring Harwell to call the Brooklyn games. After some negotiation—in the only known transaction in baseball history involving both a broadcaster and a player—Harwell replaced Barber and became a major league announcer when the Crackers traded Harwell to the Dodgers for catcher-manager Cliff Dapper. "The Crackers were willing to give me up, alright, but they wanted something in return," Harwell recounted to Buursma, adding, "I thought it was a great deal."
Harwell remained with the Dodgers through the end of the following season and then worked as the New York Giants' television broadcaster until 1953. His tenure with the club included the telecast of the famous 1951 playoff series between the Giants and the Dodgers in which the Giants, having overtaken the opposing team's thirteen-game lead during the final weeks of the season, went on to defeat them in a three-game series that ended with Bobby Thomson's dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth-inning home run in the final game. Ironically, it is not Harwell's call of the Thomson homer that is remembered today, but rather that of his partner, Russ Hodges, who drew the radio assignment that day and coined the phrase "shot heard 'round the world." Nevertheless, Harwell recalled that particular game as "the biggest thrill of my career. It was such a great rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers." Buursma quoted Harwell in the Grand Rapids Press: "So much hung on that one pitch—the pennant, the whole season." Harwell's account of the historic pennant-clinching game was published in Voices of Sport, a 1973 collection of essays written by sportscasters about memorable events in sports history.
Harwell left the Giants in 1954 to give the radio play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles, where he worked until the 1960 season, his first as broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers. Since then the announcer has been admired, in the words of Buursma, for his "straightforward and remarkably nonpartisan accounts" of each game. "I'm a reporter first and foremost," Harwell told the sportswriter, explaining that "most people tune in for the game. I bring the play-by-play report to people. All the rest is trappings—salt and pepper. And you don't want the seasoning to overwhelm the food." His philosophy has also earned him the respect of his colleagues. In the Grand Rapids Press, Buursma quoted Paul Carey, Harwell's longtime Tiger broadcasting partner: "I knew he was a good baseball broadcaster, but I didn't know HOW good he was until I sat next to him shoulder to shoulder every day…. I now realize how accurate he is. He can conjure up the mental imagery for the listener. You know, there are those in this business who want to be overly colorful. But with a minimum of words, Ernie can describe a maximum of action." Nonetheless, Harwell does have his own broadcasting trademarks. He intersperses the play-by-play with his formidable knowledge of baseball trivia and anecdotes, and his stock phrases such as "He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched that one go by," for a called third strike. Fans throughout the Tiger baseball network's listening area are familiar with Harwell's pretending to know the name of the hometown of any fan who catches a foul fly ball in Tiger Stadium.
During his off seasons, Harwell wrote numerous articles for magazines and has composed dozens of songs, some of which have been recorded by such artists as B. J. Thomas, Barbara Lewis, and Merrilee Rush. He has also written songs about baseball, most notably "Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry," about Hank Aaron's 1973 surpassing of baseball legend Babe Ruth's career home-run record, and "Maestro of the Mound," which lauded former Tiger pitcher Denny McLain, the thirty-game winner who led his team to victory in the 1968 World Series.
In 1985 Harwell wrote Tuned to Baseball, a book containing memories of his associations with his colleagues, including Red Barber, Mel Allen, and Russ Hodges, his reminiscences of pregame interviews with major league players, managers, umpires, and owners, and his observations about his long career as a baseball broadcaster. His other books include Ernie Harwell's Diamond Gems and The Babe Signed My Shoe: Baseball As It Was—and Will Always Be; Tales of the Grand Old Game. The latter title includes more reminiscences and interviews with such baseball luminaries as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and award-winning sportswriter Fred Lieb. Betzold commented that Harwell's "books are filled with straightforward, charming accounts of the game's big and little people, from famous managers and star players to clubhouse attendants, groundskeepers, and traveling secretaries."
Later books are Stories from My Life in Baseball, a selection of Harwell's columns published in the Detroit Free Press, and Ernie Harwell: My Sixty Years in Baseball, another collection of stories and reminiscences.
It is safe to say that Harwell is an institution in Michigan. When he was released at the end of the 1991 season, the uproar was so great that it contributed to then-owner Tom Monaghan's decision to sell the Tigers. Just two years later, new owner Mike Ilitch rehired Harwell, and the hardy announcer remained at his post until his retirement in 2002. Betzold described Harwell as a dedicated broadcaster who believes his job is "reporting, not commentary…. Unlike most modern announcers who feel they must fill every second with chatter, Harwell [is] unafraid to pause and let listeners soak up the summertime buzz of the crowd."
Harwell was the first active announcer to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A devout Christian who spends part of his spare time helping charitable causes in the Detroit area, he has also been known to conduct chapel services in baseball clubhouses. Betzold concluded of the popular broadcaster: "In the insular, backbiting world of major league baseball, Harwell is one of the few longtimers with no enemies and thousands of friends."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Harwell, Ernie, Tuned to Baseball, Diamond Communications (Notre Dame, IN), 1985.
Harwell, Ernie, The Babe Signed My Shoe: Baseball As It Was—and Will Always Be; Tales of the Grand Old Game, Diamond Communications (Notre Dame, IN), 1994.
Harwell, Ernie, Stories from My Life in Baseball, edited by Alison Boyce and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Harwell, Ernie, and Tom Keegan, Ernie Harwell: My Sixty Years in Baseball, Triumph (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1988, interview by Bruce Buursma.
Detroit Free Press, September 30, 1993; September 15, 2002, Heath J. Meriwether, "The Importance of Being Ernie: 42 Years As Tigers Broadcaster, Harwell Ends His Career with Class."
Grand Rapids Press, July 28, 1974, article by Bruce Buursma.
Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2002, Mike Penner, "Last Call," pp. D1, D7.
Newsmakers: The People behind Today's Headlines, 1997, Issue 3, pp. 67-69.
New York Daily News, March 22, 2002, Bill Madden, "At 84, Harwell Springs Ahead."
New York Times, February 26, 2002, "Last Season for Harwell," p. D7; September 30, 2002, Richard Sandomir, "Ernie Harwell Signs Off; As Promised, Voice of the Tigers Retires at Age 84 after Decades on the Job," p. D3.
People, May 23, 1983.
Sports Illustrated, April 13, 1987; December 31, 1990, p. 19.
Tampa Tribune, March 31, 2002, Steve Kornacki, "Last Call for Tigers' No. 1 Star," p. S9.
TV Guide, September 21-27, 2002, Jon Miller, "The Harwell Way: Thanks to Ernie, Detroit Always Knew the Score—and More," p. 53.
Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2002, Bryan Gruley, "A Big Tiger Goodby to Ernie Harwell," p. D10; October 21, 2003, Jeffrey Zaslow, "Working Past Retirement … Way Past: An Octogenarian Scores a 10-Year Deal," p. D1.
Washington Post, August 18, 2004, William Gildea, "Harwell's Small Talk Will Be Sorely Missed," p. D10.