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May 10, 2010

One-Hoppers

Howarth Remembers Harwell

by David Laurila

The game of baseball lost one of its all-time greatest broadcasters when Ernie Harwell passed away last week. Among those who not only admired the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers, but also cherished his friendship, is Jerry Howarth. Howarth, now in his 30th season doing radio-play-by-play for the Toronto Blue Jays, shared his memories of Harwell prior to tonight’s game at Fenway Park.

“The first games I ever did were on the July 4 weekend, in Tiger Stadium in 1980, when I was asked to fill in for Early Wynn, Tom Cheeks partner, who was playing in an old-timers game, at Dodger Stadium. I first met Ernie then, but it was only to say hello. It was a really fast weekend and everything moved so quickly. But my first spring training was 1982 and that’s when I really first met Ernie. It was Dunedin, Florida. His wife Lulu’s mother had a place there and Ernie invited my wife, Mary, and me over with our two boys, Ben and Joe, who were really young at the time. From that point on it was Ernie who started the friendship and I kept up with it.”

“He was a wonderful Christian man. At the Baseball Chapel services, every year in Detroit, Ernie was there and would speak. I just saw a wonderful human being who was gracious and modest and he turned out to be one of my best friends in the business. I really loved Ernie Harwell.”

“He was a great broadcaster for a number of reasons. One, he called the game; he didn’t broadcast his notes. Number two, he paused; he allowed the ballpark sounds to come in. Number three, he had a wonderful voice. Number four, he was not pretentious at all. He let the game dictate where he went; he didn’t dictate what he was going to do with it, although I have to laugh -- he did say that one thing he enjoyed about being on radio is that nothing happens until we say so. That was kind of fun, but Ernie was very much a man without ego. He was modest and he called the game. When you heard him call the game, it was the basics, but that is something that radio broadcasters have probably gotten away from over the years with the introduction of television, years ago. Ernie kept the radio description and really let you feel like you were in the ballpark.”

“Ernie’s home-run call was, ‘It’s looong gone!’ and I think we all remember that with Ernie’s voice and the inflection. And then on a called third strike it was, ‘He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.’ But my favorite, because my wife is from Kalamazoo, Michigan, is that at home, on foul balls, he would say, ‘That ball was caught by a fan from Kalamazoo,’ or ‘That fan from Grand Rapids came here and he caught that foul ball.’ He was making that up, of course, but it was his love of Michigan. He would put all of those towns in his broadcast, with the fans coming from them to hypothetically catch those foul balls. That was my favorite signature of Ernie Harwell and it really showed his love for the state of Michigan.”

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