Ernie Harwell’s Son Remembers

Gray Harwell knows baseball.

He grew up as the son of legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell.

Most importantly, Gray knows baseball fans. He went to Comerica Park in 2010 to thank members of a grateful city who wanted to pay their last respects upon Ernie’s death.

We can thank the Florida minister for sharing more memories of his father. His book My Father’s Faith is new for this season. Currently, the title is available only as an e-book, although a print version is expected in May.

Here’s Gray Harwell’s e-interview:

Q: When you were young, how did your Dad explain the mystique of autographs?

A: My dad never had to explain the mystique of autographs to me because as a boy I was after autographs from the ballplayers, just as the fans were trying to get dad’s. After an early Baltimore Orioles game ( 1956 or ‘7 ) I was in the clubhouse after the game with my dad when I naively asked a young pitcher who had just lost the game for his autograph. He turned a red angry face towards me and said, ” yeah, I’ll sign in in my blood”.

My mother and brother and I were so used to people coming up to dad for his autograph that we really didn’t even think anything of it  It was just the way it always was for us and we hardly noticed.

Q: How was your Dad with autograph requests by mail?

A: Dad always tried to respond to his mail. He remembered when he was just a fan himself and how much it meant to him when people he admired would write him back. Mom always helped dad with his mail, as a former English teacher she was his “spellcheck’ and editor for just about everything he wrote. At almost 93, she can still beat me at Scrabble!

Q: What baseball content will we find in your book?

A: The baseball content in my book is mostly a summary of the high points of dad’s amazing seven decades experiencing baseball history first hand. There are also some baseball stories that many have never heard, related especially to his faith.

I had the privilege of being the Bible study leader for the Tigers when they were World Champions in 1984. My Father’s Faith recounts some of the great experiences Dad and I enjoyed together in Baseball Chapel that year with Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, Howard Johnson and others. I also tell how sports writer, Waddy Spoelstra, and Dad were unlikely instigators of Baseball Chapel in the early ’70s.

Q: Anything else you’d like fans to know?

A: I would love your readers to buy My Father’s Faith because I think they’ll enjoy discovering what really made my dad the amazing man he was. As his youngest son, I tell “the rest of his story”, from a very personal perspective.

My mailing address is 12618 Grandezza Circle, Estero, FL 33928. The book in print should be available on amazon .com “in the next few days”, following your blog on the 13th. I’d be glad to furnish a bookplate with my autograph for any of your readers who purchase my book and send me a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

Bobby Hoeft’s Still Preaching For Ernie Harwell

On My Bookshelf!

Bobby Hoeft knows his Tigers. And how can a true fan and historian know the team without knowing legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell? Bobby amazed me with his response!

Q: What was your relationship with ERNIE HARWELL like?

A: “I was the Pastor of St. Paul’s  Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan, in 1977, when I received a phone call from “Waddy” Spoelstra, a sports writer for a Detroit newspaper and the founder of the MLB Chapel Program.  He was inviting me to lead the Tigers in their Chapel Hour on a Sunday in August…it took me one millionth of a second to say yes.

The Angels were in town so I still brag about being the only Pastor to actually preach to Angels.  On top of this humor I actually met an Angel! There stood Ernie Harwell with Waddy Spoelstra outside of the office door leading into Tiger Stadium.  They were waiting for me and my young son, Bobby II.

They expected me to lead Chapel with Ernie Harwell standing right along side of me!  They forgot that I was still a mere human being. The only way that I made it through leading Nolan Ryan and his crew and then Ralph Houk’s boys was to just let the Holy Spirit do His job!  These Tigers led by Rusty Staub and Ron Leflore were impressed and so was Ernie & me….that Spirit does good work!

That Ernie Harwell is full  of surprises.  Once on a Sunday afternoon I was enjoying a Tiger game on TV when my wife answered the phone.  She answered and then stood there like a house by the side of the road stammering: ‘It’s Ernie Harwell.’  And sure enough it was!  All at once it dawned on me.  How can he be calling me right in the middle of a ball game that he’s announcing?  So, I asked him.  His answer was simple.  ‘I make these call during the innings that Paul (Carey) is announcing the game.’
Then in 2003 he agreed to writing columns for the WBWF…Not only did he agree to do that he also said the following words of wisdom: ‘Anybody that loves the Tigers will also love WBWF!’

And his calls kept coming until May 4, 2010.  That’s the day that Ernie became a real ANGEL”

Coming Monday: Bobby Hoeft shares a game plan for collectors. 

Mike ‘Tiger Nut’ Micho Defines Detroit

“Does ‘Tigernut’ know
where my catcher went?”

Mike Micho is my kind of collector. Let other collectors dive into the scrum to get the starting nine’s autographs. Mike, the self-proclaimed “Tigernut,” (his handle on the forum) is telling the team’s story by collecting the groundskeeper, front office folk — anyone who helps Detroit win.

As his team savors its division title, Mike relishes every Tigers-related autograph. He’s not limited by faces in card sets. Mike keeps Detroit history his way. Here’s his epic hobby tale:

Q: How did you get started with Tigers autographs?

A: I`ve been collecting Detroit Tigers and other baseball/football/hockey/basketball autographs since 1989, however, I began specializing in Detroit Tigers players,managers,coaches,announcers, and other Tigers personnel TTM in 2001 after reading a book about the complete history of the club. It got me thinking and put the idea in my head to somehow attempt to collect at least one signature from everyone who wore the old English D from the 1934-35 A.L. Championship teams to the present. I didn`t really know if I could achieve this, but once I got started I became instantly hooked!

A handful of my signatures over the years have been in person from ballgames and card shows, but most of them have came TTM and with other trades/deals with other collectors.

Q: What was Tiger Stadium like for an autograph collector?

A: When Tiger Stadium was the home of the Tigers, it was a great place to get players signatures from both the Tigers and visitors dugouts. The dugouts were small and easily accessible, along with the open bullpens down each foul line. You were so close to the field, it was really wonderful.

At Comerica,I have found it to be much easier to get Tigers players to sign compared to the visiting teams,however,I`ve never gotten as many at Comerica as compared to Tiger Stadium.

Q: Are you Detroit area?

A: No,I don`t live near Detroit. In fact, I live 150 miles away in Mid-Michigan, Essexville, MI, near Lake Huron. I`m lucky if I get to 4 to 5 games a year.

I`ve been able to obtain many former Tigers greats at cards shows throughout the state of Michigan over the years, especially at a place called the Gibralter Trade Center located in Mt. Clements and Taylor, Michigan. These use to be huge card shows that took place twice a month. However, there aren`t as many shows lately, due to the economy in Michigan the last few years.

Q: Who are some out-of-uniform Tigers family members you’ve collected?

A: The non-players I`ve collected with the Tigers organization have included former GM`s (Randy Smith, Bill Lajoie), announcers (the great Ernie Harwell, Ray Lane, Dan Dickerson, Paul Carey),and even the head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. She`s one of the best in the game today. I sent Miss Nabozny a Signature Card to sign,and it came out great. Owner Mike Illich has also been kind enough to sign for me.

Q: Have you tried making Tigers custom “cards”?

A: I have on occasion made my own cards to have signed that simply have the English D on them. I found the perfect size on Google Images. Most of my signatures are on standard issued cards or Signature Cards. I`ve also got quite a few signatures on blank IC`s for some of the older players from the 30`s, 40`s,and early 50`s.

Q: What are the letters you mail like?

A: The letters I send are handwritten, always include how I became a lifelong Tigers fan, why I love the game and the Tigers so much, and what the team has ment to me over the years. I don`t believe “form” letters are personal enough, and I`ve even received notes back from mostly older players that say the same thing.
Most of what I send and ask to be signed are cards, but occasionally I have sent 8x10s, IC`s, and magazines (or photos I`ve taken at ballgames).

Q: Have you asked questions by mail? What answers have you gotten?

A:  I`ve received quite a few responses and notes from mostly the older players over the years, answering questions or thanking me for writing and being a Tigers fan. The strangest one I received was from  former pitcher Ron Nischwitz, who sent me a two-page handwritten letter,answering my questions and thanking me for writing. Then, two weeks later, I received another letter from Mr. Nischwitz asking me if I knew or knew how to locate a former player he had on his team when he coached baseball at Wright State University in Dayton,OH. in the 1980`s, who lived in Bay City,MI. (Essexville is a suburb of Bay City were I grew up). He stated this player was his catcher and was referred to him by Tony Lucadello, a scout for the Cubs and Phillies at the time. He then told me he`d really like to this players’ address or phone number, but never stated why? I loved it,he wanted me to play PI for him! I did look,but could never locate this player. Jokingly,I would have told him it would have cost multiple signatures for this information!

Q: Are you picky about what signed items you’ll collect?

A: Well, I feel “to each his own,” however, I don`t feel that way. I myself,am extremely happy if I can receive any former Tiger on anything. In fact,one former player from the late 20`s-early 30`s,catcher Ray Hayworth, I only have on a cancelled check,and I`m thrilled to death to have him!There are also a few players that only played a handful of games,or only played in the Tigers Minor League system that I have gotten a Tigers replica jersey that I`ve been getting signed since 1995 (it also contains HOF`ers George Kell, Sparky Anderson, Hal Nwehouser, Al Kaline).

Yes,I`d love them on cards,but just to have them is what`s important.

Q: Are you working on special hobby projects?

A: Well,since some of the Tigers signing has slowed down a bit,I`m currently sending out quite a few cards to have multi-signed by players, mostly RC`s of players from the 60`s and 70`s. Some also include former Tigers players/coaches that I still need.I`ve always thought multi-signed cards look great,and my favorite is a 1959 card of Pirates pitchers called “Buc`s Hurlers”,that I`ve got all 4 to sign. One player, Ron Kline (and former Tiger) was the first I got on it,and not long after he passed away. To me,it`s my favorite non-Tigers card I have signed. I`ve also begun picking up older Minor League cards of Tigers clubs to eventually get signed. As my wife says,”It just never ends!”

Q: Advice for team-only collectors?

A: My advice to anyone thinking of collecting a certain club: first, make sure you pick a starting point(year/season) of where to begin your collection, possibly the year you were born, last championship team,etc. Second, if possible, try to start with the oldest players (or other personnel) from that first season. I didn`t always follow that advice and ended up missing out on a few players before their passing. If you do miss out on some players,remember,always be on the lookout for possible trades or sales of former players on collector sites, it has helped me out a lot.

Thanks, Mike. I hope your Tigers give you some collectible October memories!

When Tigers Broadcaster Ernie Harwell Spoke, Pitcher Nate Robertson Listened! had this
Nate Robertson autograph for
$95. Too much?  I think he’d sign
for two stamps and a sincere

At last, I have the first response from my letters to veterans who played AAA ball this year. Check out the list of 10 I
sought out from this July post. I had forgotten how some players will save their fan mail until season’s end.

Pitcher Nate Robertson started game 1 of the 2006 World Series. I found the former Tiger in care of the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s top farm club.

I asked him about his Detroit days, getting to have an exclusive audience with legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Robertson replied:

“Ernie would share with every detail any story you asked about, but the most interesting story to me was the one about how he had a hand in getting Baseball Chapel started for the players and staff in the game.”

From his years in the game, I wanted Robertson’s take on who helped him most. One name surfaced:

“Jeff Jones is my favorite pitching coach. He’s done a very good job communicating on a professional and personal level.”

Lastly, Robertson made me question just how fictional the movie Bull Durham is! The mound conference scenes are high points in the movie.

Therefore, I asked this hurler what are the best or worst things catchers have said to him on the mound during a game. Robertson’s reply?

“I don’t know, never paid much attention. Ha!”

He closed his letter not with his autograph, but his favorite Bible verse: Matthew 22:37

Coming Friday: Meet Patrick Carter, ultimate Braves autograph collector!

Ernie Harwell’s Amazing Lulu

I double-checked a file and gasped. Earlier, I shared a letter I sent to Mrs. Ernie Harwell in 2002.

I had tucked away the inspiring response she sent. Here it is, on official team stationery from Comerica park. That famous “D” and the title “Ernie Harwell, Broadcaster” are all that’s seen at the top of the page.

The one-and-only Miss Lulu wrote:

“Dear Mr. Owens,

I swiped a piece of Ernie’s Tiger stationery to do this. I just want to thank you for your kind letter.

For me — and for Ernie — our journey through baseball took us to many wonderful places to live and many great people as friends and neighbors.

It has been a great life and a busy one — raising four children in spite of the baseball schedule. Our 61st wedding anniversary arrives on August 30th, the day of a possible strike.

Our faith in God has carried us through!


Lulu Harwell”

I found the image of the Comerica Park tribute flag and some vintage family portraits of Ernie and Lulu at the fascinating blog of their granddaughter, Anne Harwell. Anne is a talented artist. Art lovers and baseball fans will be glad they stopped.

%d bloggers like this: