Take it from someone who knew the man personally. “Ernie” is as close as you will get to the real thing.
Mitch Albom’s two-actor play, returning for a second run at the City Theatre inside Hockeytown Cafe in Detroit, hits a grand slam home run. The story of the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster and Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell leaves you at the same time laughing, crying and cheering.
Will David Young reprises his role as Harwell, as he readies for a final bow at Comerica Park on September 16, 2009. Timothy “TJ” Corbett is back as “The Boy,” a somewhat-mysterious young fan (dressed in 1940’s-era kids clothing) who befriends Harwell prior to the scheduled ceremony. A thunderstorm conveniently delays Harwell’s on-field appearance that night.
Corbett does a solid job of convincing Harwell to play out his life – in nine lengthy innings – to the theater crowd. Harwell doesn’t want to talk about himself much and threatens to walk away after each inning. But Corbett is so convincing in his desire to hear just one more inning that he gets Harwell to continue.
These innings are masterful summaries of the announcer’s life and career. The cover his childhood days with a father he knew for too short a time, Harwell’s courting of “Miss Lulu” and their lifelong romance, his years in the Armed Forces, days with the Atlanta Crackers baseball team, stops in New York and Baltimore, the memorable 1968 Tigers, friendship with broadcaster Paul Carey and Ernie’s walks and conversations with Detroit manager Sparky Anderson.
The stage props are impressive. From the classic Major League Baseball footage from momentous events such as Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to the confetti explosion along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue following the Tigers’ 1968 World Series title.
Playwright Albom, director Tony Caselli, producer Marc Rosenthal and stage manager Megan Buckley combine for a delightful setting resplendent with baseballs, bats, mits, shirts, brooms and other props one would find inside the tunnels at a ballpark like Comerica Park. Video slips including the aforementioned Thompson and ’68 Tigers plus the ’84 Tigers, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Denny McLain, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Sparky Anderson.
Young’s depiction of Harwell’s “A Game for All America” and Ernie’s final words at the Comerica Park farewell is quite impactful and emotional. Corbett stays on his game as someone who Harwell thinks he knows from some period in his life. Together, the two make a dynamic duo and delightful entertainment.
If you are in Detroit, “Ernie” is worth seeing a second or third time and many people have. “I hope audiences will find the splendid game – and the even more splendid man – on the stage of this production” said Albom in his program message.
Editor Note. The following is Ernie’s biography, courtesy of the National Radio Hall of Fame:
Ernie Harwell is the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers. He began his career with the Tigers in 1960 and, with the exception of 1992, when he worked for the California Angels, his voice is synonymous with Motor City baseball.
Harwell was born on January 25, 1918, in Washington, Georgia, and is a graduate of Emory University. During World War II, he served four years in the Marines.
Harwell began his career as a radio commentator on Atlanta’s WSB in 1940. After working for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association, he made it to the big leagues in 1948, when he began broadcasting games for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He later did play-by-play for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles before moving to the Detroit Tigers in 1960.
Whether talking about the pitching style of Mickey Lolich with picturesque adjectives or the majesty of an Al Kaline home run with his signature call of “loooong gone,” Harwell’s vivid descriptions of games have earned him the respect of fans and his peers.
His excellence at the microphone has been rewarded with numerous trips to the post-season, including the broadcasting of the first American League Championship Series and three World Series.
Ernie Harwell was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1998.
Harwell died on May 4, 2010 in Novi, Michigan. He was 92. The Detroit Tigers made the announcement of his death.