I first met Ernie Harwell in the summer of 1984 when I was 13 years old. A Tiger Stadium security guard known as “Tiger Joe” tipped me off that Lance Parrish was inside the stadium shooting a pre-game commercial. I was working across Cochrane street at my souvenir stand at the time. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the game day crowd had yet to gather.
Tiger Joe let me slip through his post at Gate 13 to catch a glimpse of the action. As soon as I walked through the tunnel leading to the field, I could hear “The Voice.” It was the man from the radio who I listened to every time the Tigers played.
My attention immediately turned to Mr. Harwell — and I ran right past Lance Parrish. I was so excited to see Mr. Harwell that I went right up to him and shook his hand. I told him, “Mr. Harwell, I run the souvenir stand right across the street. If you ever need any Tigers hats or souvenirs, just let me know!”
Ernie laughed and patted me on the head. He thanked me and told me he’d be sure to do that. I walked out of Tiger Stadium in complete awe. Over the years, I have met many Tigers players — but the thrill of meeting Ernie Harwell tops them all.
A few years later, when my family opened The Designated Hatter (now Detroit Athletic Co.) just west of Tiger Stadium, Mr. Harwell was a frequent guest for book signings and autograph sessions. His voice never failed to resonate throughout the building as fans lined up to shake his hand, share a story and take his picture.
One of the most memorable moments for me was when a young boy (probably around 8 or 9) walked up to the table where Mr. Harwell was seated and asked if he could take his picture. The boy pulled out a camera and pointed it at Mr. Harwell — but the poor little guy’s hands were shaking so badly, he couldn’t press the button to snap the photo. The people in line behind the boy were obviously getting annoyed and the little boy’s hands started to shake even worse. At that moment — a moment when most famous people would lose patience — Mr. Harwell smiled at the boy and kindly said, “Now son, take your time.” The boy’s hands immediately stopped shaking, he steadied himself, and took the picture.
I will never forget that moment as long as I live. In an instant, Mr. Harwell provided a lifetime lesson in patience and kindness with five simple words. Ernie had an uncanny ability to make every person he spoke to feel as though they were the most important person in the world. Even a 13-year old street vendor — and a boy with shaky hands.