First Oriole voice could be heard again Ending career here intrigues Harwell

July 02, 1991|By Kent Baker

Last winter, rumors began circulating in broadcasting circles that Ernie Harwell would soon be dismissed by the Detroit Tigers and their flagship radio station, WJR.

"WBAL hadn't hired anybody yet for the Orioles," said Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller, "and it was my suggestion that we call up Ernie and hire him."

The rumor proved premature -- Harwell was given one more year -- and Ken Levine received the Oriole job.

But now Harwell, enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1981, is on his farewell tour with the Tigers, the victim of a corporate decision that mandated change.

Harwell's announcement that he would be fired at the end of this season caused a firestorm of controversy in Michigan, where he is as identified with the Tigers as any player who ever played for them.

And, as far as Miller is concerned, Harwell, at age 73 "is still at the top of his game, still a great broadcaster."

So, the possibility that Harwell could return to Baltimore, where he was an original voice of the Orioles in 1954, is an intriguing one.

"In a minute," Miller replied when asked if he would like to be teamed with Harwell. "I don't want to sound like I want the station to get rid of anybody, but if there is some way to get Ernie here, it would be tremendous.

"He had the first game in this [Memorial] stadium, will have the last game here in October [when the Tigers visit] and then he could have the opener in the new park."

Harwell has broadcast major-league baseball since 1948 and has been with the Tigers since 1960.

He said the joint decision of the ballclub and station "was a surprise, but I understand it. I don't have any antagonism, but the time comes to move along. Nobody lasts forever."

But on the subject of his future plans, Harwell is noncommittal.

"My plan is to go through this season doing the best I can and then to sit down and decide whether to retire or keep working," he said.

He said he will consider any offers but, in a self-effacing manner, added that "I don't know that anybody wants me. But if anybody in Baltimore calls, I would like to look at that option."

Harwell's fondest memories here are of Opening Day at Memorial Stadium -- "the parade, coming to the park in cars and they were still working on the stadium" -- and Hoyt Wilhelm's no-hitter against the New York Yankees in 1958.

He worked here with Howie Williams, Bailey Goss and Chuck Thompson, who "has made more comebacks than anybody I know," said Harwell.

Thompson's decision whether to return will play a large part in deciding the makeup of the WBAL team next season.

"Our contract is through '93," said Miller, "but Chuck was real adamant about just signing for one year this time. I don't know what his plans are but he still sounds as good as ever."

Thompson was unavailable by telephone last night. If he decides not to return, an opening would exist because of Miller's commitments to WMAR-TV and ESPN.

Meanwhile, Harwell will take a tour of the new stadium today as a guest of the Orioles and will lunch with some old Baltimore friends.

A man who has broadcast three World Series and two All-Star Games and will call the 1991 All-Star Game from Toronto for Telemedia (Canadian Network Radio), Harwell said he would be content to retire, despite good health.

"But if I had to decide today, yes, I'll like to work another year or two," he said. "If the right opportunity comes along, it would be nice to stretch myself a little."

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