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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

Honoring Harwell: Tigers, fans say final good-byes

DETROIT - Sometimes the simplest tributes are the best.

With all the heartfelt pomp and ceremony last night at Comerica Park, there wasn't much happening a mile or so away at The Corner, as it was called for so many years, the confluence of Michigan and Trumbull avenues.

There is nothing there anymore, just an overgrown grassy field, pocked with occasional clumps of concrete, populated only by seagulls, and guarded at one end by a forlorn, tall wrought-iron type fence that once was part of the distinctive exterior of the Tiger Stadium complex.

And tucked into that fence yesterday was a homemade cardboard sign printed in red marker that said "Harwell Field."

Simple and appropriate.

Ernie Harwell, the great baseball play-by-play announcer for 42 seasons here in Detroit, died last Tuesday of bile duct cancer at the age of 92. Hundreds of tributes have been written and hundreds more recited, but last night marked the Tigers' first home game since his passing and the team's first chance to say good-bye.

A flag to honor broadcaster Ernie Harwell will fly at Comerica Park this season. A flag to honor broadcaster Ernie Harwell will fly at Comerica Park this season.
PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge

It was an opportunity that was much appreciated by Brandon Inge, the Tigers' third baseman and the only player from 2002, Harwell's final season before retirement, still on the team's roster.

He also was the only current player to take part in the pregame tribute, joining Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline, the great slugger Willie Horton, coach Tom Brookens and current radio broadcasters Dan Dickerson and Jim Price in raising a white pennant with the initials "E.H." that will fly over Comerica Park just below the U.S. flag for the remainder of the season.

"It gives me the chills to be a part of this," Inge said in the locker room a couple hours before the ceremony. "I'm almost speechless.

Ernie was a tremendous man and it is an honor for me to play a part in honoring him."

Another nice touch was having the man who spent more years (1973-91) than anyone sharing the

Tigers' radio booth with Harwell, the golden-throated Paul Carey, back to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And it was fortuitous that the Yankees were in the visiting dugout, considering Harwell started his major league career in New York City, albeit with the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1948.

Ernie would undoubtedly have enjoyed hearing his good friend, musician Jose Feliciano, on hand 40-plus years after delivering his unique rendition of the national anthem in a gig arranged by Harwell during the 1968 World Series.

"They wanted to deport me," Feliciano said of the reaction to his creativity all those years ago. "My only regret was that Ernie almost lost his job over it. I did it the same way tonight, maybe a couple different chords. I'm thrilled and glad to be here for Ernie. He was my friend and it was a relationship that lasted for many years."

Yes, Ernie would have liked last night's observance at Comerica, his home "yard" for just three years but the place where he is memorialized with a statue near the main gate and where his name rests with other Detroit baseball hall-of-famers on a brick wall in right-center field.

But this man of the people, this spellbinding story-teller, this warm soul who brought the game to life in a simple yet riveting manner for millions of fans, would absolutely have loved the memorial stuck into the old fence over at The Corner.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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