I had the incredible good fortune and honor of chatting with Ernie during my “professional” radio days. I even got Ernie to do a special recording saying “Big Al is looooooong gone!” But like so many people, my first cherished memories come from my younger days, glued to my radio listening to the melodic tones of the greatest baseball announcer I had ever heard.
Ernie takes a kid under his wing…
My first personal contact with Ernie was when I was a member of the sports reporting team of my high school radio station, WSHJ, Southfield; at the time 10 watts of broadcasting firepower. I contacted Ernie about the possibility of interviewing him for our half-hour sports show. And wouldn’t ya know it, Ernie agreed! I’ll never forget the kindness this man showed me. (Is anyone really surprised?) Ernie invited me down to Tiger Stadium on a Saturday morning, personally escorted me from Trumbull Avenue up into the executive offices of the Tigers where we sat for the next half hour chatting into my reel-to-reel tape recorder. Listening back to the tape, it’s hard to distinguish our two voices. Yeah, right. Think of Ernie talking to a guy who sounds like he’s still going through puberty and you’ve got the picture. After the interview, Ernie walked me to my car so that I could safely store my equipment and then handed me a ticket to the ball game. It was a day I will never forget…But wait, there’s more!
Later that summer, I was traveling by car out west and purposely made a stop in Kansas City to catch the Tigers playing the Royals. Somehow I made it past the security guards and knocked on the visiting team’s broadcast booth. There Ernie stood, warm and friendly as ever. I reminded him of our riveting half-hour interview and told him that I just wanted to stop by and say hello. We exchanged pleasantries and off I went. Later that night I called home to tell my parents about my special encounter and are you ready for this? My parents informed me that my Grandfather had been listening to the ball game that night and heard Ernie announce to the free world that, and I quote: “Detroit broadcaster Al Muskavito stopped by to say hi to me tonight”. Detroit broadcaster?! I had made it! (Okay, I wouldn’t be a true “professional” until decades later when another broadcasting legend by the name of Dick Purtan took a chance on me.) Never-the-less, Al records another great Ernie memory. But I’m not through.
This next memory would come years later when I was working with Dick, but it really involves my brother, a huuuuge baseball fan and a long time admirer of one Ernie Harwell. My brother Mel was at a Tiger spring training game and went up to Ernie and introduced himself. Mel said: “Hi Ernie, I’m Big Al’s brother”. (Whoop dee doo, right?) They chatted briefly and on they went. According to my brother, it was at least TWO YEARS LATER when he would have the good fortune of crossing paths with Ernie…he thinks it might have been at another spring training game. Well, unsolicited Ernie looks at Mel and says: “Hey, you’re Big Al’s brother, aren’t ya?” CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! So many people meet you and look right through you. Ernie Harwell proved that he cherished every person and every single encounter. You were more than a fan to him, you were his new friend. Unbelievable!
Like thousands and thousands of people today, I have a tremendous void in my heart. We have all lost a huge part of our youth and large part of our Detroit history. Yet Ernie’s memory will sustain us forever and will act as a constant barometer for what it is to be a truly righteous and decent human being.
On that note, I conclude with a strange dichotomy and it has to do with the difference between right and wrong. This morning I was reading the newspaper and came across a story about how Kwame Kilpatrick has unveiled a new website where people can go to help contribute to a fund to pay off his restitution. This on the same day that Ernie Harwell lays in repose at Comerica Park. Need I say more?
Ernie Harwell today stands on the highest pedestal for all of us to see. It’s a pedestal that reaches into Heaven. Rest easy Ernie and enjoy your new life.