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Ernie Harwell, beloved voice of the Tigers, dies from cancer at 92

DETROIT — Longtime Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, beloved by generations of fans who grew up listening to his rich voice, Southern cadence and quirky phrases on the radio, died after a months-long battle with cancer. He was 92.

Mr. Harwell died about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in his apartment at Fox Run Village and Retirement Center in the Detroit suburb of Novi, said his attorney and longtime friend, S. Gary Spicer.

His wife of 68 years, Lulu, and his two sons and two daughters were at his side, Spicer said.

"There wasn't a nicer person," Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline told the Detroit Free Press. "He had time for everybody. He lived here and stayed here. He didn't just work here and then go away in the offseason. He would have young announcers up to his booth all the time and give them advice. He had time for everybody."

Mr. Harwell, who called Tigers games for four-plus decades, announced in September that he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the bile duct. Then 91, he took the news with characteristic poise, saying he planned to continue working on a book and other projects.

"Whatever happens, I'm ready to face it," he told the Associated Press on Sept. 4, 2009. "I have a great faith in God and Jesus."

Mr. Harwell's body will lie in repose at Comerica Park on Thursday beginning at 7 a.m. and "until the last person who wishes to pay their respects" has done so, Spicer said.

"It might be an all-night vigil," he said.

There will be no public memorial service, and the family will hold a private service.

Shortly after Mr. Harwell's announcement about his illness, the Tigers honored him during a game against the Royals, showing a video tribute and giving him a chance to address the crowd at Comerica Park.

"In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey," Mr. Harwell said. "The blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan."

Mr. Harwell spent 42 of his 55 years in broadcasting with Detroit as its play-by-play radio voice from 1960-91 and 1993-2002.

Beyond his consummate broadcasting skills, Mr. Harwell's cheerfulness and friendliness made him a local treasure.

At home games, he would report that a foul ball had been caught by "a man from Ypsilanti" or "a lady from Muskegon." Pretending that he knew where the fans lived added a distinct local feel to his broadcasts.

When he was 12, Mr. Harwell asked Babe Ruth for an autograph. Ruth pointed out that he didn't have any paper. What happened next became the title of a book by Mr. Harwell: The Babe Signed My Shoe.

On the day of his career-ending broadcast in 2002, he said, "I look on life as a joyous adventure."

"The thing about him that stands out to me is that he treated me like I was a big-league manager as I was the bench coach for the Anaheim Angels at that time," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Knew you by your first name, wanted to sit down and talk to you, very engaging, very bright. A wonderful man."

Ernie Harwell, beloved voice of the Tigers, dies from cancer at 92 05/04/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 6:30am]
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