04/21/2002 3:30 pm ET
Batting Around with Ernie Harwell
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Ernie Harwell is Tigers baseball, but Tigers baseball doesn't completely sum up Ernie Harwell. He's an accomplished songwriter, a transplanted southerner who became a longtime Detroit area resident, and a thoughtful mind on current events. He sat down with MLB.com recently before another game at the microphone and answered questions on all those issues and more.
MLB.com: You've said that one thing you have regretted for your years on the road is that you haven't done much sightseeing. If you had the chance, what would you most want to see?
Ernie Harwell: Well, I'd go to the Radio Museum and Hall of Fame in Chicago, because they've got some great displays. They've got a Charlie McCarthy doll from the old days of his old show. They have some stuff from the Jack Benny show. Plus right across the street you've got the Art Institute.
MLB.com: You were on the Jim Rome show the other day, which is quite a change from the sports show that started your career in Atlanta years ago. How much change do you see in radio?
Ernie: Certainly radio in general has changed. I don't think calling the game has changed. When I started out, the sports show I did a 15-minute program twice a night. We were in a studio, we reported the scores and did some interviews. Now I'm on an all-sports station. The thing that dominates the market now is sports talk. We never dreamed of that back then.
MLB.com: Without saying any names, what was the oddest commercial you've done, a commercial where afterward you just asked yourself, "What was that?"
Ernie: Well, I can give you a name. When Russ Hodges and I were doing games for the Giants, Chesterfield was our sponsor. They always had a guy who sat in the back of our box. Their slogan was, "Chesterfield has the big plus." And they had a blackboard, and we'd draw a big plus on the blackboard like this [makes a big plus sign in the air]. Well, we did the ad, and after the game the man from Chesterfield came up to us and said, "Good job, good job. But your pluses weren't big enough."
MLB.com: What do you think happened to the city of Detroit since you arrived in the early 1960s?
Ernie: The major change came in the mid-60s. Much of it, I think, came out of the buildup of expressways further into the suburbs and then the shopping malls. It brought along the flight from the inner cities.
I think [the recent downtown development] is good. I think it's definitely a trend. The key is getting people to move down there. They've built a lot of homes down around the park and in that surrounding area. They've got a long way to go, but it's a start. The viable cities are the ones where affluent people live near downtown, cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, even Minneapolis.
MLB.com: What's the greatest memory from your songwriting career?
Ernie: I did a couple songs with a super songwriter named Sammy Fain. He wrote a lot of songs like, "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," "Secret Love," and "April Love." Somebody got me in touch with him and we did a song together. I took Dave Bergman, who was our first baseman at the time, and coaches Dick Tracewski and Alex Grammas. We get to his place, and we ask him to play some songs. And the first two songs he played were ones I wrote: "Nobody's Perfect" and "My One Sweet Summer."
MLB.com: What kind of music do you listen to these days?
Ernie: I really don't have a good CD player. I have a smaller CD player that my children gave me, but that's about it. I'm really not listening to as much music as I used to, other than the songs I grew up with. I really don't listen to the music of today, the rap or the hip-hop.
MLB.com: You've been able to work well into years when most people are retired, but not everyone has it so well. How do you think this country treats older Americans?
Ernie: Not very well. I think the elderly are sort of throwaways in America. I was in China with the Marines and I saw how reverential they are to their elderly. I believe it's the same way in Japan, too. But here it's different. I don't know what brought that about, maybe consumerism, advertising campaigns really aiming at young people. I think a lot of people kind of put them on the shelf.
I think it's different in baseball. It's a generational thing. You go back, the kids are interested in Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth. Plus all the stats here lend themselves to more conversation.
MLB.com: I'm going assume that you won't be going into the rental business when you retire. What was the story about you renting your house to Astros manager Jimy Williams?
Ernie: Well, Jimy Williams was a coach at that time with Toronto. He came down to Palm Harbor and he needed a place, so I let him rent ours. Well, you know, the first night the toilet overflowed. He called and said, "You've got to come over." And in Florida, everyone has a septic tank with a septic field. Well, it turns out we had to get the septic field cleaned out. He still kids me about it.
MLB.com: So what's the secret about 60 years of marriage?
Ernie: Well, I have a joke that I use to kid my wife, but we won't use that. I think it's respect for the other, as it is with love for any reason. Lulu and I have respect and we can laugh at each other. And we have a deep faith in God.
Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.