Ernie and Herb

Statue of Ernie Harwell in front of Detroit's Comerica Park

I heard the news this morning that legendary Detroit Tigers baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell died yesterday at the age of ninety-two. He called games for the Tigers from 1960 through 2002. It is not a stretch to say that Ernie was beloved throughout the game and uniformly hailed as one of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet.

Click here to read some heartwarming stories about Ernie, including the tale of how he unintentionally played matchmaker for singer Jose Feliciano and his wife.

I was only dimly aware of Ernie while growing up in the Twin Cities and only began learning about him a few years ago through sports-talk radio. A while back, I bought a wonderful four-hour CD called Ernie Harwell’s Audio Scrapbook, a collection of Ernie’s broadcasting highlights and interviews. Listen to five minutes of samples from it by watching the video below.

Twins broadcaster Herb Carneal

While listening to and reading all the tributes for Ernie pouring in from media members and fans, my thoughts naturally drifted back to my own childhood memories of listening to iconic Minnesota Twins broadcaster Herb Carneal, the voice of the Twins from 1962 (their second season) all the way through the 2006 season. Herb, who died in April 2007, had partnered with Ernie Harwell to call Baltimore Orioles games from 1957 to 1959.

Herb Carneal’s voice was a constant in my life, from my earliest memories to my fiftieth year. No matter what twists and turns my life took over the years, no matter what triumphs and tragedies I experienced, I could always count on the soothing voice of Herb Carneal to usher in every spring and take me happily through every summer. What a gift it was to be able to transport myself back to my kidhood anytime I wanted to by simply switching on the radio!

I had seen Herb Carneal in the broadcast booth at many a Twins game over the years but didn’t meet him until June 9, 2000, when I walked out of Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park and saw Herb walking toward the entrance with a young woman who I assume was his daughter. I stopped and thanked him for all the years of listening enjoyment he’d given me. The forlorn expression on his face never changed. He asked my name and then asked if I had been visiting a relative. No, I told him, just a friend. He must have needed to talk because he told me that his wife had had a stroke three days ago and it looked like she wasn’t going to make it. She had suffered massive brain damage. I expressed my sympathy and gave him a hug.

Harmon Killebrew baseball card from 1965, my second year of card collecting

The next day, I stopped by the hospital to visit my friend again and noticed that Herb’s wife’s room was just around the corner. I saw Herb talking to someone whom I couldn’t see. I waited for a lull in the conversation, walked in and told Herb I had seen him the previous day and that I hoped he was doing okay. He remembered me and actually looked fairly upbeat. I gave him another hug. He said, “I’d like to introduce you to . . .” I turned around to see who he had been talking to. *gulp* Thanks, Herb, but there was no need to introduce me to Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, famed Twins slugger and one of my boyhood heroes! Now that was a day I will not soon forget!

Click here to view all my baseball-related posts.


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