For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Those were the words with which Ernie Harwell began his broadcasts each spring for the Detroit Tigers. The famous passage came from the Song of Solomon from the Old Testament. With them, fans knew Tiger baseball was back.
Regardless of how many games the team won or how exciting they were to watch on the diamond, Ernie made the games fun to listen to. Much of that appeal came from his classic signature phrases.
Many broadcasters have signature calls and phrases, but Ernie earned a special place in the hearts of Tiger fans. He was like part of the family. Just as your grandpa may have special sayings he spits out every once in a while that make you smile, Ernie sprinkled his broadcasts (judiciously, never in grandiose fashion) with his personal calls.
How many can you remember?
“He’s out for excessive window shopping.” – When a batter took a called third strike.
“The Tigers need instant runs.” - Ernie would use this late in a game when the Tigers trailed.
“It’s two for the price of one!” – When the Tigers turned a double play. Was especially sweet when it involved Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
“That one is loooong gone!” – Ernie’s trademark home run call. It seemed he used this one a lot for the big power hitters like Rocky Colavito, Willie Horton, and Cecil Fielder. Perhaps his most famous use of this call was for Kirk Gibson’s second homer in the fifth game of the 1984 World Series. As he called the homer, the ballpark shook from the reaction of the crowd. Interestingly, when Ernie made his most famous home run call, the blast by Bobby Thomson of the Giants to win the 1951 pennant on national TV, he said simply, “It’s gone.”
“He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by.” – This was also trotted out when a batter watched a third strike buzz past him. It was my favorite. I rooted for called third strikes as a kid so I might hear Ernie say this one. The source of the line is a poem titled “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss.
“A fan from Pontiac will be taking that ball home today.” – Harwell is best remembered for how he connected with his listeners. This phrase is one way he created an allusion of connection by inserting a Michigan city name into his phrase. It was a subtle and clever way to give a shout out to his listeners in whatever community he chose.
Ernie is missed, he passed away in 2010. But his signature baseball calls can stay with us forever, as long as there’s someone alive who remembers hearing him on the radio.