Harwell to be honored on Monday
Flag with broadcaster's initials will be raised at ceremony
DETROIT -- The last time Jose Feliciano performed the national anthem for the Tigers, it drummed up a fury. On Monday, it might well draw a few tears.
Paul Carey last teamed up with Ernie Harwell in the broadcast booth in 1991, but he'll be on the field for Harwell on Monday.
Ray Lane once had to call Harwell back to the ballpark on the air for a game they thought had been rained out. This time, Lane is coming back to the ballpark for Harwell.
On a night when the Tigers as a team remember Harwell with pregame ceremonies, they'll honor the memory of the Hall of Fame broadcaster by bringing back some of the most famous names to have teamed up with Harwell, people who remained as his lifelong friends. And they'll remember the fact that everyone who met Harwell usually felt like a friend.
"That man was as genuine as they come," said Brandon Inge, who will help raise a flag with Harwell's initials to fly on the center-field pole for the rest of the season. "He means more to the Detroit Tigers, the state of Michigan, the city of Detroit than a lot of people."
That will be evident in the emotion of the crowd on Monday night before the Tigers take on the Yankees in an ESPN broadcast.
Harwell passed away Tuesday at age 92 following a battle with inoperable cancer. One of his requests to Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was that his viewing be held at Comerica Park. Ilitch and the Tigers obliged, and more than 11,000 people passed through the gates to pay their respects.
Another request from Harwell apparently was that Feliciano be brought back to perform the national anthem one more time. It took some logistical work, but Feliciano and the Tigers made it happen.
Whatever rendition Feliciano performs, it won't raise nearly the reaction that the original version produced during the 1968 World Series. As the Tigers broadcaster and a noted songwriter, Harwell received the honor from the team to book anthem performers for the World Series games at Tiger Stadium.
Harwell booked popular performers Margaret Whiting and Marvin Gaye for Games 3 and 4 and went with an up-and-coming young artist for Game 5 in Feliciano, a Puerto Rico-born guitarist who first hit the charts that year. His guitar-based, bluesy interpretation of the anthem was believed to be one of the first times anybody deviated from the standard version at a public event.
The national reaction nearly got Harwell dismissed, an incredible prospect years later, and stunted Feliciano's career as radio stations across the country stopped playing his records. Harwell, however, steadfastly defended Feliciano and his performance, saying he enjoyed it. Feliciano insists his rendition was heartfelt and not meant as a protest. Appreciation for the rendition has come with time.
The two remained friends through the years, and Feliciano credits Harwell with helping him meet his current wife, a former Detroit resident.
Lane was Harwell's broadcast partner at the time, as he was for six years. They were on the air together for many memorable events, including many during that 1968 season. He uttered the famous words, "Ernie, the game's back on, come back," on the air after a mixup caused them to call a rainout prematurely -- a story Harwell recalled in his biography.
Carey followed and became the famous deep voice of the middle innings on the radio, teaming up with Harwell from 1973-91. He also became a close friend, calling Harwell frequently in retirement.
On Monday, Lane and Carey will team up for the ceremonial first pitch -- Lane delivering the ball to the mound and Carey throwing it.
The flag-raising ceremony will take place beforehand, not just with Inge, but with Hall of Famer Al Kaline, Tigers great Willie Horton and Harwell's last broadcast partners, current Tigers broadcasters Jim Price and Dan Dickerson. Much like a flag honoring George Kell last year, the flag with the letters "EH" will fly on the center-field flagpole for the rest of the season before being presented to the Harwell family.
The number of greats involved is another example of just how many people Harwell touched in his life, not just his career.
"If you met Ernie for the first time, you'd walk away and felt like you were Ernie's best friend," Price said. "I mean, that just says it all. The times I've seen him spend with people and sign autographs and go out of his way to be with people, you cherish those moments. The love, you can't describe it. There will never be another one like him."
The Tigers will give fans a keepsake for the evening with a Harwell Tribute Card, to be distributed to all fans in attendance. They'll begin the festivities with a Fox Sports Detroit video tribute, "Ernie Harwell: We'll Remember," which will be shown on the Comerica Park video board beginning at 6:15 p.m. ET.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.