Emotional Kaline accepts award for Harwell
Tigers Hall of Fame outfielder praises late broadcaster
NEW YORK -- Legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, the iconic "Voice of the Tigers," was posthumously awarded the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in sports broadcasting on Wednesday night, just one day after his passing.
Tigers' Hall of Fame slugger Al Kaline accepted the honor on the late Harwell's behalf at Fordham University's WFUV Spring Gala at Gotham Hall in New York. The honor, Kaline said, was completely his.
"In baseball terms, it is like a manager asking you to pinch-hit for Ted Williams," Kaline said. "And you know ... Ted Williams was the very best."
Harwell, 92, succumbed to a year-long battle with cancer of the bile duct on Tuesday, passing away at his home in Novi, Mich. The poignant timing provided the event with a bittersweet backdrop.
Longtime friend and attorney Gary Spicer was scheduled to accept the award on Harwell's behalf but was unable to join Kaline due to the broadcasting legend's passing.
Following a video introduction by Scully, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame announcer, WFUV broadcaster and lifelong Tigers fan Claudia Marshall presented Kaline with Harwell's award.
Kaline again expressed pride in representing the legendary broadcaster's memory. "Mr. Tiger" recounted Harwell's illustrious career, prompting several "oohs" and "ahs" in the crowd. He noted that in 55 years of broadcasting, Harwell missed only two games -- one for his brother's funeral in 1969 and one for his induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 1989 -- taking the utmost advantage of the profession he valued "not as a just a job, but as a daily way of life."
Being honored with an award bearing the name of Harwell's good friend Scully would have "certainly been an honor to Ernie," Kaline said, as the late, great broadcaster thought his Dodgers counterpart was the greatest the game had ever known.
"With all due respect," Kaline said with tears in his eyes, "Tigers fans disagree."
While the festive night was no doubt a celebration of Harwell's successful life, Kaline admitted the evening had become one of conflicting emotions.
"I don't know how to answer that," Kaline said when asked about his feelings. "I'm so proud to have known him and be able to celebrate what kind of man he was. But on the other hand, I'm sad that I'm not going to be able to see him again."
Kaline's emotions were visible as he spoke to reporters about one of his closest friends.
"It's always hard," Kaline said, pausing to compose himself. "We knew that he was very, very sick. I last talked to Ernie back in Spring Training and, in fact, he asked if I would accept this award for him. ... We all expected it, but it's just like losing a parent. You know they are sick, you know they are going to leave, but you're never ready when it happens. We're very lucky we were able to have Ernie for so many years."
Even with the somber cloud that hung over the night, the same joy that Harwell carried into the broadcast booth each day continued to shine through.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg captured the mood of the evening perfectly, and was later echoed by Kaline, by noting that Harwell lived a great life and "should be celebrated with a smile on our face, instead of a tear in our eye."
Wednesday's celebration also honored CBS anchor Bob Schieffer and music legend Levon Helm for their contributions to their respective industries.
But for those in baseball circles, Wednesday night really belonged to the memory of Harwell. Even Schieffer couldn't hide his excitement about meeting Kaline and sharing his night with Harwell.
While Kaline and Schieffer posed with their respective awards, Schieffer couldn't stop himself from the chance to reminisce about his favorite Harwell memories with the Tigers great.
"I remember listening to Ernie Harwell on the radio growing up down in Texas," Schieffer said. "Sometimes when the weather conditions were right, we actually would get the Tigers' games. He was just really really good."
But as attendees at the gala heard again and again on Wednesday, Harwell might have been an even better person.
"You're not going to ever find a better human being than Ernie Harwell," Kaline said. "He was just a wonderful individual."
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.