Legendary Harwell sits down with Costas
Broadcaster was the voice of the Tigers from 1960 until 2002
If this was one of the final times for baseball fans to listen to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, they'll have an even greater appreciation of his career.
In an extensive interview with Bob Costas that aired on MLB Network's "Studio 42" on Tuesday night, Harwell said that he simply tried to give the kind of broadcast he'd like to hear during a career that spanned more than a half-century. He also sounded at peace with the expectation that he won't last into next baseball season as he battles inoperable cancer.
Much like his speech to fans at Comerica Park last September, he gave fans the sense that he's ready for what's ahead.
"I'm not overwhelmed by the circumstances," Harwell said. "One of the doctors said, 'If you were my father, I'd say don't do anything, just relax and wait for the inevitable.' But I had great peace about that and closure to it, and I knew God was in charge, and whatever happens, happens for the best. I really have a lot of serenity, and great support from my wife, family and friends.
"I just want to take good care of my wife and the family and try to let them be at peace as I go through this process."
Costas interviewed the 91-year-old Harwell for the hour-long program a couple of weeks ago, during the World Series. Harwell noted the significance by saying it would probably be his last World Series. Still, he looked remarkably healthy and comfortable given his condition, which Costas noted to him.
"It looks like I'll die pretty healthy," Harwell said half-jokingly, though he noted that his comfort level will deteriorate as the cancer worsens.
After talking about his condition, Harwell spent most of the interview looking back on his life and his career, from the day he got Babe Ruth to autograph his shoe as a kid to his interviews with Ty Cobb as a radio host in Atlanta.
Then, of course, he discussed his broadcasting career -- from the trade that brought him from Atlanta to the Major Leagues to his lost call of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World to win the 1951 National League pennant for the Dodgers.
"Russ Hodges and I were the two announcers, and we alternated between radio and TV," Harwell said. "And on that particular day, Oct. 3, it turned out that I was going to be on TV. And I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be a lot better assignment than poor old Russ, with those five radio broadcasts. He'll sort of get lost, and I'm on coast-to-coast by myself on NBC, the first sports series ever telecast coast-to-coast. This is a big moment. And sure enough, it happened, and Russ made that great call. I was on TV when [Bobby] Thomson hit the home run. I just said, 'It's gone,' and [Andy] Pafko watched it go into the row of the seats for the home run that won the pennant.
"There was no record of my voice at all. People didn't record things in those days, and of course, Russ was recorded. The sponsor Chesterfield got out a record, it became the greatest sports broadcast of all time. And only Mrs. Harwell and I know I was on [the air] that afternoon."
Nonetheless, he called that one of the two greatest moments to call of his career. The other was Jim Northrup's triple in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.
Harwell called his decision to take the Tigers' offer "probably the best move I ever made, because the people of Michigan have really been super. They're great fans. It's an original franchise. They know their baseball. They have a great passion for it. It goes generation to generation. People used to come to Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium and then Comerica Park. They hand it down from generation to generation."
Harwell also offered some revealing insights on Bo Schembechler, the Michigan football coaching great turned Tigers team president who made the decision to let go of Harwell in 1992.
Harwell admitted that he was probably mad at Schembechler at the time for dismissing him, "but I accepted it. I knew that everybody could be replaced. Nobody lasts forever. And if you work for somebody, he's certainly got the privilege and the right to fire you.
"It was certainly a blow to me, but I think in the long run, it's probably the best thing that happened to my career, because it brought some undue attention toward me around Michigan and Detroit. I recovered. Mr. Mike Ilitch bought the team, and within a year I was back broadcasting for the Tigers. It was something that I had to accept. Once again, I leaned on my faith, and I knew for some reason this was happening and it would eventually work out for the best."
The two never did make amends, he said, "but I forgave him. It's in the past. He was a great football coach. I had a lot of admiration for him. I never had any problems with him. It's just they felt they were going in a 'new direction.' "
Harwell once again expressed his humble amazement at the outpouring of emotion and well wishes that the people of Michigan have given him since he went public with his diagnosis.
"I do feel like those people out there were my friends," Harwell said, "and I hope I was their friend, because it is a unique association that you have with your listener. I really appreciate the fact that they take an interest in me. I don't know if I deserve that, but all I tried to do was just be myself."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.