Bob Birge's Irish Eyes Are Smiling

September 8, 2009 6:43 AM

Saying a prayer for the great Ernie Harwell

"For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Each year, before the Detroit Tigers' first spring training broadcast, Ernie Harwell would quote that passage from the Song of Solomon.

Although this isn't really related to Notre Dame or college football, we have to take a moment here to say a prayer for the great Harwell, the legendary Tigers' announcer who is dying.

Well, maybe we can relate this to football, because Bo Schembechler had the audacity to fire Harwell when the former Michigan coach was the general manager of the Tigers.

The harsh reality is that Harwell is indeed dying after the Tigers reported last week that he has inoperable bile duct cancer. In some respects, the news really shouldn't be considered surprising or a cause to feel down.

Harwell, after all, is 91, and no man lives forever. He has enjoyed a full, wonderful life, spending 55 years in baseball as a broadcaster and consummate gentleman.

Still, it is sad to know that someone who has been called the nicest man in baseball won't be around too much longer.

Growing up in Connecticut, I didn't get to listen to Harwell very often, but next to Phil Rizzuto, he was my favorite baseball announcer.

On those rare occasions when I did get to listen to him, I enjoyed his soothing voice and catch phrases ("Loooong gone", "He stood there like the house by the side of the road", "He's out for excessive window shopping; looked at one too many.")

He was the voice of summer on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull for four decades, and his call of the Tigers clinching the pennant against the Yankees in 1968, when racial strife was tearing apart Detroit, may have been his best:

"And the wind-up, and the pitch - he swings, a line shot, base hit, right field. The Tigers win it. Kaline scores, and it's all over. Don Wert singles. The Tigers mob Don. Kaline has scored, the fans are streaming on the field. And the Tigers have won their first pennant since Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Five. Let's listen to the bedlam here at Tiger Stadium."

A humble man in a business often lacking humility, Harwell handled the news of his cancer with the grace everyone knew he would.

If anyone could rival Vin Scully as the best baseball announcer who ever lived it would be Earnest William Harwell, born January 25, 1918 in Washington, Georgia.

Wouldn't it be special if the Tigers could give Harwell another World Series title in his final days? They came close in 2006, reaching the World Series.

Recalling how Schembechler once treated Michigan's most beloved adopted son makes me want Notre Dame to pound the Wolverines on Saturday even worse than last season.

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