The night's game was more
than 3 ½ hours in the future, and Ernie Harwell was at Comerica Park,
eager as a rookie.
Most of the Tigers had not
arrived. A few Yankees, curious about the new ballpark, had straggled
into their clubhouse. Outside, the concession workers and other employees
were waiting to be checked in.
But down in the bowels of
Comerica, Harwell was starting the pregame routine for most of his seasons
in Detroit since 1960.
"I don't really do much studying,"
Harwell said about his prebroadcast activities. "I've seen these guys.
I've been around them. My job is mostly reacting to what happens on the
It was just another day in
the life of Ernie Harwell, now 82, full of enthusiasm, stepping lively.
He had awakened early as
usual at 6:30 a.m. and exercised. "I jump rope 300 times without stopping."
he said. "If I stop, I just keep going."
He had eaten breakfast, checked
the Internet for data on the Yankees and talked to Gary Spicer, his attorney,
on the telephone.
Then he had lunch at his
home, spent time with his wife, Lulu, and taken a brief nap. At 3 p.m.,
he left for the ballpark, dressed in a checked sweater, slacks and a cap
from The Desert Inn.
His first stop was the WJR
Radio booth. Molly Light, from the Tigers' front office, greeted him with
the daily batch of fan mail. He gave her his expense account. Howard Stitzel,
the engineer with roots back to the 1950s when Van Patrick broadcast the
Tigers, already was fiddling with knobs.
"Of course I've got to report
to Stitz," Harwell said. "He usually has doughnuts for everybody. But..."
"They're gone," said Dan
Dickerson, Harwell's play-by-play partner, a true rookie on Tigers broadcasts.
A few minutes after 4 p.m.,
Harwell headed for the elevator behind the press box and greeted operator
"Hello, Miss Sara," he said.
"We're going to the bottom. To the Yankees' clubhouse. I have trouble
finding my way around here."
Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neill
were in the Yankees' clubhouse, seated at a table. "Welcome to Detroit,"
said Harwell, shaking hands.
He continued through the
Comerica catacombs and emerged on the field.
"Hello Mr. Zimmer," said
Harwell to a man with a craggy face seated in uniform in the Yankees'
dugout. Don Zimmer reached out and gave Harwell a robust handshake.
Zimmer, 69, a Brooklyn infielder
five decades ago, longtime manager, coach, baseball rover, and Harwell,
who started in radio 61 years ago, are providers of the game's nostalgia.
"Can't see anything from
the dugout," Zimmer said.
"I know you can't," said
Harwell, pointing to the fence at the front of the cavernous dugout.
"Everybody gets up here."
Manager Joe Torre entered
the Yankees' dugout at 5:20, his face serious, pursued by the expansive
New York media corps. Harwell worked through the crowd.
"I was talking about you
the other day," Torre said, "about growing up in New York. I listened
to the Giants. I'll never forget you."
"All right, don't forget
me," said Harwell, who called games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York
Giants and Baltimore Orioles.
Back in the Yankees' clubhouse,
Derek Jeter, his middle wrapped in bandages, emerged from the trainer's
"I want to ask you one question,"
Harwell said to Jeter, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. Jeter stopped.
"I've got to go to Kalamazoo
to talk to the Boys and Girls Club," Harwell said. Jeter told Harwell
what he wanted to know.
Roger Clemens was putting
on his uniform.
"Hi, Rocket," Harwell said.
"Hello Ernie," said Clemens,
who usually glowers toward everyone before he pitches.
Harwell returned to the elevator
to go back to the press box.
He sat there talking baseball
and about how he goes about his job.
"I might have a few anecdotes
on a card that I take with me," he said, "and maybe I'll remember something
that happens...The other day somebody asked about Christy Mathewson or
(Rogers) Hornsby and I just answer them. Tell a few stories...
"I have this card file system
that I use. I keep it up to date, the same thing that you get in the press
guide. I do it so I don't have to lug the press guide around.
"But I travel very light.
I come out here and I have a scorecard...
"To me, the play-by-play's
the bread and butter, the score. That's what people want. They want to
know what's happened, and the other stuff's a little frosting on the cake.
You can't just say ball one, strike one, for two or three hours."
Harwell had one more trip
down into the catacombs, to the umpires' locker room.
The umps - Charlie Reliford,
Mark Carlson, Dana DeMuth and Doug Eddings - welcomed him into their sanctuary.
They stopped their card game. Harwell chatted with each umpire, asking
about his hometown.
It was back to the press
box, getting close to game time.
As Harwell entered the press
box, a fan introduced himself as Charlie Bergey and handed him a cap that
was inscribed: "U.S. Marine Corps Veteran."
Harwell accepted the cap
and put it on his head.
"Here, you take this," said
Ernie and gave up his cap to his fellow Marine Veteran.
Harwell walked back to the
booth, chatting as he went.
At 6:48, Harwell took out
a grid-lined score sheet and jotted down the lineups.
There was a strange, dead
silence in the WJR booth. Harwell, Dickerson and game analyst Jim Price,
a catcher who played on the Tigers' 1968 World Championship team, prepared
"They were 7-5 against us
last year," Harwell said, and the others nodded.
At 6:58, all stood for The
Star-Spangled Banner. And at 6:59, as Price and Dickerson discussed the
key to the game, Harwell bolted from the broadcast booth and returned
with a cup of coffee.
"Stand by, don't get nervous,"
said Stizel at 7:04.
"Hello everybody," said Harwell,
uttering his first words over the airwaves. "The Yankees are here for
a three-game series, and here's Jim Price to bring you the lineups."
The game started at 7:07.
Harwell mentioned the threatening weather and said: "Knoblauch will lead
off. Chuck's batting .237."
An inning later, Clemens
faced Rich Becker.
"There's a strike on the
outside corner, and he stood there like a house on the side of the road,"
Clemens has got a lot of
intensity. I don't know if he's doing it tonight, but at times he'd wear
a mouth guard to keep him from grinding his teeth...There's a high foul
back of third and a man from Mount Clemens gets a souvenir."
Harwell worked the first
three innings, then turned the play-by-play over to Dickerson from the
fourth to the sixth. He strolled into the press lounge and conversed with
weatherman Sonny Eliot, watching the game on TV as the Tigers got to Clemens
fro four runs n the fourth.
In the bottom of the fifth,
Harwell returned to the booth. He sat in silence, watching the sixth inning,
his hands folded atop the Marine vets cap on his head. Before the seventh
started, he went out fro more coffee.
When he returned on air,
he read the out-of-town scoreboard, stood for the seventh-inning stretch
and described the rest of the game. The Yankees threatened in the ninth.
O'Neill hit a towering home run, "It's long gone..."
Then Jorge Pasada hit a fly
to deep left.
"Becker has it at the warning
track," Harwell said. "The Tigers win 9-7."
Harwell got up from his seat
and left his microphone. It was 10:34.
"I'm out of here," he said.
"I'm going home. If I get a good jump on them, I'm going home.
And he was gone, down the
elevator, out of Comerica Park and to his car. Moments later, the thunderstorms
hit with pelting rain and brilliant lightning. Harwell was nearly home
next morning, he said, "I was out of here so fast, I beat the rain." And
he was back to go through his ritual for another day.
Sportscasters Association, Inc.