November 30, 2021

Tigers Brass Show Their Class

May 7, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

How could I not go? I told myself back in September when I attended the Ernie Harwell farewell/tribute game that this was going to be my formal goodbye to my childhood radio friend. It was a tearful and joyous day and I was at peace with myself and the fact that the voice of my childhood was going to someday very soon be gone.  So when the the announcement was made that the great Ernie Harwell would lie in internment at Comerica Park on Thursday I hesitated.  I had already said my goodbyes.  But this was something I couldn’t pass up.  I needed to say goodbye one more time, to make it final, to share a tear and a story with my fellow Tigerans, to show  solidarity in our grief over the loss of our treasure.

Ernie Harwell left us on Tuesday night after 92 years on this earth.  He had made it far longer than many of us will, and he made it longer than his doctors had predicted back in September when he got the news that he had inoperable bile duct cancer.  I could go on and on about the impact that Ernie had on my life, the stories of me and my family and Ernie on hot summer nights, but I have already done that in a previous post.  Besides, my stories are not unlike the hundreds of thousands of others that have been shared over the last few days.

Ernie was a man of the people, an everyone’s man.  Regardless of whether you had ever physically met him or not, you feel as if you have a close personal connection to him.  He became a member of your family as his melodic voice swept into your household every night bringing you the action of your beloved Tigers and that days quest for victory.  In turn, you felt like a member of his Tigers family as he invited you into his baseball world every night durring the season.  Everyone loved Ernie – white, black, Latino, young, old, disabled, executives, day laborers, unemployed – you name it, they all felt as if Ernie was theirs.  Everyone could identify with Ernie, everyone could relate to him.  He was an everyday ordinary man who had a fabulous job.

The Tigers brass knew this day was comming.  They (like the rest of us) knew that the day would come when their club’s heriloom would no longer be around.  And with class and style they granted our Ernie every wish and request he made of them for his final stage.  Ernie laid out his plans, made his requests and the club went to work.

Thursday was a day that no Tigers fan in attendance will ever forget.  I have been a Tigers fan since birth and for much of that time I viewed them strictly as a baseball team.  In my cynical adult age I saw baseball for more of what it really is – a business.  Thursday was the Tigers organizations chance to prove to their fans that they are more than that.  The Tigers franchise is a family not only only in the front office and locker room, but a family to their fans as well.

The scene was a somber one.  Soft classical music filled the area marked off by a simple black curtain.  Many enlarged photos of Ernie in various stages of his life lined the processional walkway towards Ernie’s very tasteful wooden casket.  The permanent statue of Ernie that lies at gate A (dedicated in 2002 at Ernie Harwell Day upon his retirement) served as a perfect backdrop for the event.  All around there were huge floral arrangements and mementos from fans and mourners.  Well wishers and mourners stopped to say one final goodbye to Ernie and then departed after a handshake and a smile.  Simple, tasteful and moving all at the same time.

The Tigers organization truly put on a touching and joyous event for it’s fan family.  The little things made this event so special and memorable.  Lines were long, but there were no squabbles, no arguments and kept progressively moving towards the entrance to the park.  The Tigers made it clear that everyone who wanted to pay their respects would have the opportunity to do so.  Gates opened at 7 am and would stay open well past midnight.  There were three lots of free paking (yes, free parking in downtown Detroit) for those coming to pay their respects.  In line, there were park employees assisting elderly fans with wheelchairs, another station was handing out water and coffee. After respects were paid and your final moment was over, a member of Tigers management was there to shake your hand and offer a kind smile.  CEO and GM Dave Dombrowski was available and visible nearly all day.  Once you were outside the park, you could stop and sign a huge letter of condolence wall for Ernie’s family.  It was truly a beautiful scene.  In all, over 11,000 Tigers fans came down to say their final goodbye’s to their summer family leader.

I have to tip my cap to the Tigers.  At a time when their fans needed them to be superior, they stepped up to the plate and delivered.  Ernie’s life motto was kindness to all, and the Tigers carried that tone all the way through the memorial event.  Not only did they extend the hand of kindness and gratitude to their fans, they did it in a fashion that Ernie would have been proud of.

“The world is a better place beacuse Ernie was in it – God speed Ernie.  Thanks for the memories.  You will be truly missed” – Shelly Riley


One Response to “Tigers Brass Show Their Class”
  1. Norm Coleman says:

    Tip of the hat for the piece on Ernie Harwell. I never heard him describe a game
    growing up in NY and living in San Francisco but I admire the man. The Tigers are a class organization. Best wishes, Norm

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