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Sunday, September 29
 
Harwell calls final game for Tigers

Associated Press

TORONTO -- After 55 years of broadcasting big league baseball and a season full of honors, Ernie Harwell nearly got one last going-away present in his final game.

In the ninth inning Sunday, Detroit's Eric Munson hit a foul that nearly reached Harwell's booth.

"That would be neat to get a foul ball!'' Harwell said on the air.

The Tigers eventually lost to Toronto 1-0. And then, the man who has announced Detroit games for 42 years wrapped up his last broadcast by paying tribute to several generations of listeners.

"Rather than goodbye, please allow me to say thank you,'' said the 84-year-old Hall of Fame announcer.

"Thank you for letting me be a part of your family. Thank you for taking me to the cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your workplace and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers.

"I might have been a small part of your life, but you have been a large part of mine. It's a privilege and an honor to share with you the greatest game of all. Now God has a new adventure for me. I'm ready to move on, so I leave with you with a deep sense appreciation for your long-time loyalty and support.''

The Blue Jays switched over to Harwell's broadcast for the ninth inning. He got a standing ovation from the SkyDome crowd when he was shown on the big screen before the ninth.

Harwell said he felt relaxed all day until he read his farewell. He said he almost couldn't finish it because he was so emotional.

"My appreciation for what people have done for me is so deep and so true,'' Harwell said.

Harwell said he talked to his wife, Lulu, during the game a couple of times, and that she offered assurance.

Lulu was at home, having recently had a pacemaker inserted after experiencing an accelerated heartbeat.

After his last game in Detroit on Sept. 22, the Tigers presented Harwell with Comerica Park's home plate and a plaque announcing that the stadium's press box will be officially dubbed "The Ernie Harwell Media Center'' at the beginning of the 2003 season.

The club also unveiled a Harwell statue at the main entrance to Comerica Park.

The Tigers also honored their radio voice with Ernie Harwell Day on Sept. 15 at Comerica Park.

Earlier this season, the Cleveland Indians named the visiting broadcast booth at Jacobs Field in his honor. The New York Yankees paid tribute to him in an on-field ceremony, too.

"My feeling right now is one of relief. It's like high school graduation. I'm glad to get it over,'' Harwell said. "It's been great. I'm just looking forward to relaxing.''

His retirement is only from the broadcast booth.

Harwell said he will still appear in television commercials for Comerica Bank and Kroger Supermarkets and will do 26 television vignettes for Fox Sports Detroit's "Detroit Tigers Weekly.'' He also plans to write 27 columns for the Detroit Free Press next season.

"I'll still be a part of things,'' he said.

Harwell called Tigers games on the radio from 1960 until 1991 and was a television announcer for Detroit games from 1993-98. He returned to the radio booth in 1999.

"He's the nicest man I've ever met,'' said former Tigers star Alan Trammell, now a San Diego coach. "He treats everybody the same, regardless if you were the president of a company or somebody walking around Tiger Stadium that was just coming out for a ballgame.

"He's just a quality man -- 84 years old, what a career, what a voice. He's had a great run,'' he said.

Before coming to the Tigers, Harwell called games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles.

He replaced famed Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber in 1948 after being "traded'' from the Southern Association's Atlanta Crackers.

Barber fell ill and Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey needed a broadcaster. It just so happened that the Crackers needed a catcher. So Brooklyn sent minor league catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta and Harwell went to the Dodgers to call the games.

"Ernie is a legend,'' said Rachel Cohen, whose family made the trip to Toronto from Windsor, Ont., so they could attend Harwell's last game.

"He's wonderful to the fans and he's going to be really missed. It's a loss to the baseball world.''




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