Heartbreaking news: Ernie Harwell, 91, has incurable cancer

From the Detroit News, Sept. 4, 2009

DETROIT – He’d been waiting for test results.

His voice last week sounded strong – as strong as always. By the end of the conversation, however, it didn’t.

Ernie Harwell, the treasured voice of the Tigers for all those years, has incurable bile duct cancer. In comments to the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, he said he won’t undergo surgery.

But in those same comments, he said he’s ready for the next adventure.

It’s been no secret lately that Ernie – as nearly everyone knows him – hadn’t been feeling well. He was in the hospital, then out. There’d been speculation about pneumonia. But most of all there’d been speculation something was wrong.

“Just feeling a little weak at times,” he said when called by The Detroit News recently. “We’ll see where this takes us. I know I’ll be in good hands.”
Now he also knows what was wrong.

“We don’t know how long this lasts,” Harwell, 91, told the Free Press. “It could be a year. It could be much less than a year, much less than a half year. Who knows? Whatever is in store, I’m ready for a new adventure.”

That’s Ernie for you.

Life always has been an adventure for him. From his boyhood days in Georgia, to serving in the Marines, to broadcasting Bobby Thomson’s famous home run for the New York Giants – to becoming a Hall of Fame broadcaster with the Tigers.

Life’s challenge will be an adventure as well.

“I’m ready to face what comes,” he told the Free Press, “whether it’s a long time or short time. It’s up to my Lord and savior.”


  1. I remember going to see the Tigers play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in 1984. My sister went up to the broadcast booth and met Ernie, who was gracious as usual. He asked for our names and mentioned us during the game. Friends back in Detroit heard it and commented on it to us. Thanks, Ernie. Greatest. Broadcaster. Ever.

    And thanks for writing classic songs like "Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry)"

  2. I knew Ernie wouldn't live forever, but I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I've never felt closer to a legend or been treated better by anyone of his stature. Ernie has a way of remembering names and making you feel like a friend. God has blessed Ernie Harwell and he, in turn, has blessed all of us. I can't think of a finer gentleman, a more perfect combination of legend/common man or a better example of what it looks like to not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

  3. Isn't the News quoting the Freep a bit of a come-down? Has the JOA eliminated competition?
    Hope I have Ernie's class when I check out.

  4. Gregg, I am with you. He is accepting his fate with dignity and respect. I suspect that the disease is further along than they are portraying, but it would be great to have Ernie throw out the first ball at a playoff game in October and get one last standing ovation at Comerica. There would not be a dry eye in the house.

    The ritual of spring will not be the same next March. Gentlemen, enjoy each and every moment. We are not promised anything.

  5. I guess this is where we all tell our stories about how Ernie touched us personally, even if it was just a little bit. I went to a speech he gave in Cleveland after his "first" retirement. At the end of his address, he squatted at the foot of the stage, catcher-style (hey, he was "only" 75 or 80 then)shaking hands and signing autographs. I told him how much I treasured his work and the memories it gave me, and asked him to autograph my 1968 Tiger Yearbook. He was humbled. "Gee, are you sure you want me to deface this? Where do you want me to sign it?" I told him I would be honored if he signed it right on the cover in big script.

  6. I too was saddened to hear the news. I also fear that his time is more limited than they are leading us to believe. Ernie is the Tigers! Ernie is a man of deep faith in a sporting world that does not accentuate faith. I have a few things Ernie has autographed and I will treasure them always. Ernie will never be replaced.