Harwell's back on the air

Way Back When

Broadcaster: At 81, a former Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers announcer has returned for another stint in radio.

May 22, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell, voice of the Orioles for the first six years after the St. Louis Browns' franchise arrived in Baltimore in 1954 and a man whose voice has been compared to a "dripping Georgia peach cobbler," is back on the air.

After his Orioles' stint, Harwell was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers from 1960 until 1993, when then team president Bo Schembechler "retired" him. That meant his voice was pretty much limited to the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where he was inducted back in 1981.

But today, Harwell, 81, who lived on Blythewood Road in Roland Park during his Baltimore years, is once again broadcasting games for the Tigers on WJR-AM 760 in Detroit.

He'd begun working a part-time schedule with the Tigers' television team in 1993, but had hoped one day to return to radio, his first love.

He got the chance this season -- the Tigers' last at venerable Tiger Stadium.

As he told the Chicago Tribune in a recent interview: "On TV the director puts up the pictures and you have to follow them. On radio you get to paint the pictures. You can't just say, `Ball 1, strike 1.' You have to embroider it with some history, some stories."

Harwell's own career is full of historic moments. He made his major-league radio debut on Aug. 4, 1948, with the Brooklyn Dodgers after long-time announcer Red Barber was diagnosed with an ulcer.

Over the years, "He called Bobby Thomson's playoff-winning homer for the New York Giants in 1951 on television. When the Tigers won the World Series in 1968, he was there, and he was there for their championship in 1984," the Tribune reported.

In Baltimore, Harwell worked with such broadcasting greats as Chuck Thompson, also a member of the broadcaster's wing at Cooperstown, Howie Williams and the late Bailey Goss.

"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 Yankees in 1958,' " The Sun reported in 1991.

He was also known for his extensive and highly prized baseball library.

"He is the quietly proud owner of bound magazines, microfilmed magazines, guides, yearbooks, photographs, score cards, cigarette cards, scrapbooks, novels, nonfiction and more, all concerning baseball, that add up to a larger collection, probably, than anything else like it south of Cooperstown, N.Y. -- where the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has the advantage of being given most things free," said The Sunday Sun Magazine in a 1955 article.

One of the more interesting and comic incidents involving the Harwell family occurred on a warm August night in 1958.

Northern District police got a call reporting that a brown Arabian horse was running around the northern latitudes of Roland Park. The horse was spotted running along Charles Street and Wyndhurst Road and later was chased by six police cars to Belvedere Avenue and York Road.

The horse turned and ran over St. Albans Way and finally slowly walked up the driveway of the Harwell home on Blythewood Road.

Mrs. Harwell came out of the house, patted the horse that belonged to their son, Billy, and led it to its stable in the rear yard.

"The Harwells did not notify police because they thought the animal was grazing peacefully on their property. They never dreamed he was causing such a stir among police and residents along the `racetrack right-of- way,' " reported The Evening Sun.

In a farewell letter that was published in The Sun, Harwell wrote, "I express my deep appreciation to the Sunpapers and the people of Baltimore for their warmth and friendliness. ... Next season, I'll be broadcasting for the Detroit Tigers, but my family and I will always remember our wonderful times in Baltimore."

Pub Date: 5/22/99

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