Despite their current status as the worst team in baseball, the Detroit Tigers have a rich history filled with tradition and iconic figures, including one man who became the voice of a city for generations.
For over 40 years, legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell was the voice of the Detroit Tigers. For generations, Harwell’s voice was a symbol of Tigers baseball making him one of the most heralded figures in broadcasting and Detroit sports history. Now, since August 20th is national radio day, let’s take a look back at the legendary career of Ernie Harwell.
Ernie Harwell was born in January 1918 and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from Emory University, Harwell began his career in newspaper as a sportswriter for the Atlanta Constitution. In 1943, he became the radio broadcaster for the Atlanta Crackers baseball club.
An interesting event occurred surrounding Harwell in 1948, as he became the only baseball broadcaster to ever be traded in return for a player. The Brooklyn Dodgers traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Crackers in order to bring Harwell’s broadcasting talents to Brooklyn.
After working with the Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles, Ernie Harwell joined the broadcast crew for the Detroit Tigers in 1960. In his first few years in Detroit, Harwell split both radio and TV broadcasting duties but eventually moved to exclusively radio in 1965. In 1973, he was paired with partner Paul Carey, and they would remain the Detroit Tigers’ radio team for nearly 20 years and be the voices of iconic moments such as the Tigers 1984 World Series title.
In 1991, Harwell left WJR and the Detroit Tigers but returned in 1993 after Mike Illitch purchased the team and wanted Harwell back as the voice of baseball in the Motor City. Harwell would remain with the Tigers until his retirement after the 2002 season.
Alongside his work for the Tigers, Harwell also broadcast the 1963 and 1968 World Series nationally for NBC Radio as well as several other MLB postseason series for CBS and ESPN Radio throughout the years. Before passing away in 2010 at the age of 92, Harwell also made frequent guest appearances after his retirement on Tigers radio and TV broadcasts.
Ernie Harwell’s legend lives on in the fabric of Detroit baseball to this day. His name appears amongst the retired numbers of legends such as Ty Cobb and Al Kaline on the wall in left-center field at Comerica Park. In 2017, Wayne State University opened Harwell Field, the university’s new baseball stadium named after the Detroit sports legend.
As somebody who is too young to really remember hearing Ernie Harwell broadcast Detroit Tigers games, his legendary status in the baseball community in Detroit and around the country encourages me to learn more about him and what he means to the history of my hometown. On this national radio day, it only seems right to honor the greatest radio voice in Detroit sports history.