The Detroit Tigers have been fortunate to have some excellent radio and TV broadcasters in their history.
For fans who grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s, Ty Tyson and Harry Heilmann were synonymous with Tiger baseball on the radio.
Beginning in 1960, Ernie Harwell manned the microphone for most of the remainder of the decade. His partner, Paul Carey, had a voice that sounded as if God himself were calling the game.
On television, George Kell along with Al Kaline were a beloved duo who combined a wealth of baseball knowledge with a folksy way of describing the action.
But one Detroit sports broadcaster who was often overlooked was Ray Lane.
Born in 1930, he went to old Mackenzie High School in Detroit, where he played baseball and basketball for the Stags. Growing up, Lane was glued to the family’s radio whenever the Tigers were on the air, and was a big fan of Tyson and Heilmann.
Lane got a baseball scholarship to Michigan State University, and majored in communications. He actually played minor league baseball for a couple of summers in the Chicago White Sox organization. “They found out I couldn’t hit anymore and that was it,” Lane recalled a half-century later.
He also played baseball in the Army while stationed at Fort Sheridan (Illinois). But Lane had dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster.
Following his stint in the military, he cut his teeth at various radio and TV stations in small Michigan markets like Saginaw and Cadillac, as well as in Waterloo, Iowa.
Lane’s big break was landing a gig at WJBK-TV in Detroit in the early 1960’s. A daily five-minute evening sports talk show quickly led to his being selected to do color commentary on Detroit Lions games.
Meanwhile, the Tigers owner at this time was John Fetzer, himself a broadcasting executive who knew a capable guy behind the mic when he heard one. Following the 1964 season, the Tigers were searching for a new TV guy, and Fetzer asked Lane to send in an audition tape. As Lane remembered it, “(Fetzer) called me up and…asked me if I would go to Puerto Rico where he had a winter team down there and do a couple of days of broadcasting…on a tape recorder as if I was doing it on radio…and also do a couple of games as if I was doing it on TV. So I went down there and made about four or five tapes…brought them back…he looked at them and that’s when he hired me to work with George Kell for two years.”
There was only one catch. Fetzer insisted that Lane give up his work in the Detroit Lions booth, to focus solely on baseball. Lane, who loved baseball most, was more than happy to oblige.
Lane moved from the television to the radio booth for the Tigers in 1967. He vividly remembers sitting next to Ernie Harwell during the game when the riots were taking place only a few miles away. The two of them watched the smoke from burning buildings rising beyond the left field roof at Tiger Stadium. “When you saw the black smoke, it almost looked as if someone was burning a bunch of tires,” Lane said.
But Lane also was a witness to the Tigers’ wonderful summer of 1968. Fans enjoyed his distinctive home run call (“Might be! Could be! It’s gone!) During the World Series, he hosted a pre-game show along with ex-Tiger Vic Wertz and Hall-of-Fame pitcher and broadcaster Dizzy Dean. Lane wasn’t fortunate enough to do the play-by-play that Series, but he was in the local radio booth (along with Harwell) in 1972 when the Tigers again made the playoffs. The two worked the American League Championship Series together. It was also Lane’s final season as an everyday Tiger broadcaster.
On his eleven years next to Ernie Harwell, Lane said, “Ernie was a true southern gentleman. He was a great sidekick.” They made a great team, with Lane’s sharp wit often leaving Harwell in stitches.
Even without the Tiger gig, Lane kept himself very busy. He became a ubiquitous jack-of-all-trades on radio and television. At various times, he called games for the Pistons, the Red Wings, U of M and MSU football, and U of D basketball.
He finally left Detroit in 1979, heading to Cincinnati to call games on TV for the Reds. But he made his way back to the Motor City in the late ‘90’s, doing occasional games in the Tiger TV booth.
Lane has trophy room full of hardware that he accumulated over the course of his career. Twice he was named Michigan Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (1969 and 1980). In 1997, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Perhaps his highest honors were receiving the Ty Tyson Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting in 2003, and the Ernie Harwell Lifetime Contribution Award in 2014, both from the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.