Search This Site

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Post #20 - My Letter to One of My Heroes, Ernie Harwell

This has been a tough year for Tiger fans. George Kell and Mark Fidrych both died. Tiger Stadium is crumbling down. And now, as if it couldn't get any worse, Ernie Harwell has inoperable cancer.

Once in a while I write a sincere letter. I have enormous respect for Ernie Harwell. He'll probably never read this, but it probably helped me deal with it all.  I wrote this on 9/17/2009, after attending Ernie's farewell game at Comerica Park.

I may need to write a shallow letter about bathrooms or something after this.
Dear Ernie,

I'm sure you've been flooded with cards and letters. I realize that you may never get around to my letter, but this is as much of a letter for me as it is for you. I've never seen more class or dignity in the face of adversity, than what you've always embodied. Whether it was sudden termination from your job as beloved broadcaster, or inoperable cancer, you've kept your chin up. I've never been more proud to be part of a protest than I was standing in a sea of screaming fans, holding up my Ernie-on-a-Stick at Opening Day 1992, following your dismissal.

One of my prized possessions isn't the ball that I sent you and you returned autographed, in 1999. Instead, it was the lineup card from that night's game against the Blue Jays, on which you wrote me a note thanking me for my kind words. I framed that.
Your voice bridged several generations, and always felt timeless. As all of the players, coaches, owners and the generations of fans have changed, you have remained the one constant. Through all of the times, radical sixties, Detroit riots, Vietnam war, Watergate, gas crisis, hostages in Iran, and into the stagnant economy of the early 1980's (when I started listening), and post 9/11, you have provided Detroiters, Michiganders, and Tiger fans a sense of comfort and familiarity. My Great Grandmother lived in a nursing home and listened to every game on her radio, next to her bed. I'm sure you gave her that feeling of comfort and familiarity--probably took her back to happier times, when she listened with my Great Grandfather. In 1984, you made her day by wishing her a happy 90th birthday during the broadcast.

Your voice has provided a backdrop for most of my life. As a kid, when I listened, it meant a) the game wasn't televised or b) I was grounded off of TV because my grades needed some work. My grades needed a lot of work, so I was grounded a lot, and I listened to you very frequently. Over time, you won me over. One of my favorite memories is listening to a west coast game, late at night in a Virginia campground on the outer fringe of WJR coverage. I still remember your voice crackling, fading in and out, providing that reassuring sense of comfort and familiarity.

Another Ernie highlight for me was attending a wedding where you read the Song of Solomon verse that you made into a spring tradition. Typical Ernie--you walked in, read the verse, and, quietly walked out. I'm sure you didn't want to be a distraction to the ceremony. Afterward, I asked the groom how he knew you (he didn't), and how he was able to convince you to do this. He said, "It's simple. I asked him." You provided that "transistor voice from under the pillow" comfort and familiarity for him as he entered a new phase in his life.

As I walked around Tiger Stadium on that last day, your pre-game speech provided that same of comfort and familiarity. I was grieving that day, but that transistor voice from under the pillow told me that "it will be okay".

I was at the game last night for your farewell speech. Like the rest of your body of work, you exuded class and dignity, and you left us wanting more. As you thanked Detroiters, Michiganders, and Tiger fans everywhere, something must have gotten into my eye--you choked me up! Your positive attitude in the face of your illness is truly an inspiring example. During that speech, the sea of silent fans, players, coaches and press, to me, felt louder than the Ernie-on-a-Stick Opening Day crowd that screamed in support of you. I hope in that silence, and in the long standing ovation that followed, we provided you a sense of comfort and familiarity.

God Bless You! You will be sorely missed.

Jerry Herman

You May Also Enjoy:

Follow me on Twitter: @hermanletters
Follow me on Facebook


  1. Thanks Nutthaus! I think incorporating Ernie's name into the Comerica Park's title is a great idea too.