Paul Keller fondly recalls the late Ernie Harwell
Local bandleader, musician and composer Paul Keller became acquainted with Ernie Harwell, the late longtime broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers. He wrote the following remembrance.
I join the whole baseball world today as we mourn the death and celebrate the fantastic life of legendary Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster and Baseball Hall Of Famer Ernie Harwell. Ernie was about as close to a perfect human being as one could find. He was kind, honest, friendly, genuine, professional, and multi-talented. Ernie was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was devoted to his God, his wife, family, friends and fans. It seems that he always had time for everyone. This was one of his many qualities that endeared him to the world.
Without going into an entire summary of Ernie's career and life, please allow me to share a few special personal recollections.
Like so many of us, I have strong and fond memories of sitting in the back yard on many summer nights with my family listening to Ernie call Tiger games. We all wondered how he knew, "That ball was taken home by a lucky man from Ypsilanti, Michigan." I loved his many other catch phrases, including the one whenever the Tigers were playing the Baltimore Orioles and the Orioles where threatening to score: Ernie would say, "Birds flapping their wings trying to getting something started!" Whenever I attend my own kids baseball games, I still use Ernie's lines like "Tigers need INSTANT RUNS!"
The photo of Ernie and my wife Michelle was taken at old Tiger Stadium 21 years ago (the summer before Michelle and I were married).
We snuck up to the radio booth and waited for Ernie to come out. He looked at us and said, "Well, hello young baseball fans! What are your names?" I said my name is Paul and this my fiancee, Michelle. Ernie exclaimed, "MEEEEEEEEECHELLE! What a beautiful name for a beautiful girl!" Thanks to Ernie, I still call my wife MEEEEEEEEEECHELLE.
Of course, his most famous baseball catch phrase was used often whenever a batter would take a called third strike, Ernie would say, "He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by! He heads back to the dugout, called out for excessive window shopping!" That is so beautifully poetic!
When I was composing my 2008 musical epic "The Michigan Jazz Suite," I included a song in tribute to Ernie Harwell and titled it "The House By The Side Of The Road."
I called Ernie up one day and told him about the song and the Michigan Jazz Suite. Ernie said, "Well, I'd love to hear that song. Come up tomorrow to my home and have lunch with me and Lulu (his wife of 60 years) and we'll spend some time together."
I was shocked and thrilled. We dropped everything that was planned for the next day and headed up to Novi.
When we arrived, promptly at noon, there was Ernie waiting for us with a big smile. He waved and said, "Welcome, Keller family! We have lunch all ready for you. Come on in!" I thought I was in a dream! We spent the next 4 hours visiting with Ernie and Lulu at their home in Fox Ron. He wanted to know all about me, my family and my music. We also chatted about baseball history, the present state of baseball and the future of baseball.
We also talked a lot about music. Ernie was a professional songwriter and was proud of his lyrics that he's composed for songs written by Tiger pitcher Bill Slayback. Some of his songs were recorded by B. J. Thomas and several other famous pop artists. Although he never made a lot of money from music, he did love it. Ernie told me, "In the music business, I have more no-hitters than just about anyone!"
Ernie and Lulu sent us home that day with autographed baseball for our kids, Tigers memorabilia which we will cherish and wonderful memories of one of the greatest days of my life.