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Baseball broadcasting great Ernie Harwell, 92

Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell waves to the

Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell waves to the crowd for the last time in the announcers booth in Detroit. (Sept. 22, 2002) Credit: AP

Ernie Harwell, the beloved voice of the Detroit Tigers for more than four decades, died yesterday at his home in Novi, Mich., at age 92, eight months after announcing he had inoperable cancer of the bile duct and would not seek aggressive treatment for it.

"In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey," Harwell told fans at Detroit's Comerica Field in September.

"The blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan."

The news was widely expected among his friends and fans, but that did not lessen the impact for an iconic sports figure in and around the city.

Al Kaline, a Hall of Fame player for the Tigers from 1953 to 1974, told Newsday last week that Harwell was "probably the most loved person who has ever been involved in major league sports in this town and this state.''

Kaline is scheduled to accept the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award on Harwell's behalf at a fundraising dinner for Fordham's WFUV tonight in Manhattan.

Although he originally was from Georgia and is most associated with Detroit, Harwell first reached the major leagues in the Brooklyn Dodgers' radio booth in 1948, filling in for fellow southerner Red Barber. To get Harwell out of his contract with the Atlanta Crackers, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the minor league team.

Harwell later called games for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles before moving to Detroit.

Harwell called arguably the most famous moment in baseball history - Bobby Thomson's home run to win the third game of the 1951 National League playoff between the Giants and Dodgers.

But his call, on the first major sports event televised coast-to-coast, mostly has been lost to history compared with Russ Hodges' more famous radio account - a reality Harwell often joked about.

Harwell called Tigers games from 1960 to '91. The Tigers and radio station WJR allowed his contract to expire after the '91 season, and he remained off the air in 1992, amid a huge public uproar. The Tigers brought him back for a second term from 1993 to 2002.

Like Barber and yet another southerner, longtime Yankees announcer Mel Allen, Harwell often produced homey, conversational descriptions of the action.

Harwell was honored by the Baseball of Fame in 1981 with its Ford C. Frick Award.

He survived by his wife of 68 years, Lulu, and four children.

New York Sports