I can't think of too many occasions when public outcry over the firing of a radio personality has resulted in the decision being reversed, and the person being re-instated. But, Ernie Harwell is one.
You remember that, right?
Then-Detroit Tigers flagship WJR-AM decided it was time to put Ernie out to pasture, and bring two new broadcasters in to do the Tigers' play-by-play on the radio. Fine broadcasters themselves, but given the situation, they ended up being the Deborah Norville of Tigers broadcasting, seen only as the replacement for the predecessor who never should have left.
So, Ernie was back - deservedly.
I met him several years ago. I was sent to a Detroit Tigers affiliate event, representing WKZO. We were in a suite during a Tigers game at Comerica Park. What a spread, too. But the highlight? We were told Ernie would come down during his three-inning break from play-by-play.
Before we knew it, there he was. There was something of a receiving line that we all formed, waiting for our chance to have a few words with the man whose voice was so familiar, so soothing, so welcoming.
He greeted every person, all radio people themselves, asking where they were from and if they were enjoying the game. I think every single one was a little starstruck - something we radio people usually get over quickly. But with Ernie, it's different.
He chatted with everyone in the line, even signing copies of one of his books, which had been released not all that long before.
He got to me finally, and I introduced myself, mentioning I was from WKZO. His eyes got wide and I could tell those call letters struck a chord.
"How's things in Kalamazoo?" He asked.
He started to name all the people he knew from WKZO back in the John Fetzer days. Of course, the man responsible for WKZO getting on the air ended up being the owner of the Tigers a long time ago. He was Ernie's boss, like he was for many of us in Kalamazoo.
What I thought was going to be a quick introduction ended up being a conversation of several minutes. On top of that, Ernie spent his entire three-inning break with all of us in the suite.
Tonight, Comerica Park will pause to honor Ernie's 50-year career in play-by-play. This Sunday, the Lions will do the same at Ford Field. At 91, Ernie Harwell has terminal cancer.
"I feel a calmness and a relaxation about this thing," he said recently, noting that his family and doctors have been wonderful.
So, Ernie approaches this with the same grace and honor for which he is known.
He wants to thank the fans for their support? Thank YOU, Ernie Harwell, for being there when we needed a soothing voice; a friendly voice. A dependable voice.