Ernie Harwell was calling the play by play over television for the first live televised sports broadcast from coast to coast. The series featured the famous “shot heard round the world” at the Polo Grounds in 1951. It’s possibly baseball’s most well known historic moment featuring a dramatic 9th inning home run by Bobby Thompson to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, sending the New York Giants to the World Series. It was Russ Hodges radio call of the same game, however, that became etched in American sports lore. Harwell humorously says, “Only my wife knows I was on the air that day.”
Harwell received plenty of fame, notoriety, and admiration however, as the regular voice of the Detroit Tigers starting in 1960. Harwell was honored by his hometown of Washington, Ga, just weeks after celebrating his 90th
birthday. He returns to the place where it all started as a word-smith and story-teller, characteristics often strongly associated with Southerners of his era. Harwell is also known to have overcome a severe speech impediment on his way to broadcast glory. Harwell just recently was enshrined in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, he’s already received the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1981.
Harwell has many thrilling encounters and prestigious awards in his long life, but his most important encounter he says came on Easter morning in 1961 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Bartow, Florida. “Something told me I should go, and then I turned to Jesus, and ever since then my life hasn’t been the same since,” Harwell says. The famed voice of the Tigers has also been long been involved with Baseball Chapel, an evangelistic ministry for ballplayers.
In 1991, when former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler took over Tiger baseball operations, he let Harwell go. Harwell said it was a tough time for him, but he wanted to have peace and trust God, never be bitter, accept the situation. Fans immediately rallied to Harwell’s defense and Tiger ownership suffered the consequences of what can only be called a major public relations disaster. Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1993, and went about recapturing the magic of Tiger history and tradition. Ilitch immediately rehired Harwell to the delight of the fans. Harwell eventually retired in 2002 on his own terms.
His wife also survived cancer, and Harwell thanks God. “One of the greatest things about Jesus is he lifts your burdens, worries, and cares. Jesus takes care of me, I don’t worry about anything. I know Scripture says “God works all things for good,” Harwell says. Former broadcast partner Jim Price credits Harwell for giving him spiritual guidance when Price’s son was diagnosed with autism.
Harwell is a man of many honors and talents; He served honorably in the Marines during WWII. Harwell is also a well known writer, and over 65 songs he has written have been recorded by artists. Harwell amusingly notes, “I have more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan.” Harwell is a legend though, a prized piece of Americana. A voice and personality who represents so well an era where baseball over the radio magically ruled the airwaves.
The famed announcer is also known for not worrying and enjoying life, a peace he says “comes from Christ.” Harwell also started the first game of every broadcast year with a quote from Scripture in Song of Solomon, “The flowers are springing up and the time of the singing of birds has come. Yes, spring is here.”