Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ernie Harwell Final Tribute

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

It was 36 years and 51 weeks ago on May 11, 1973., that my Grandfather Sidney Morganroth passed away due to a valiant battle with lung cancer at age 55.

Now another close person has fallen to this devastating disease.

On May 4, 2010, former legendary Detroit Tigers Play-By-Play Radio Announcer Ernie Harwell, 92, lost a courageous battle with incurable bile duct cancer.

When Ernie announced that he had this disease on September 3, 2009, I knew this day would eventually come. As many prayers as I would say, I knew the day of mourning would cause me a gut wrenching feeling internally.

This was a man that I had so many memories with.

Ernie was a "Father Figure" to me.

When the Detroit Tigers visited Bank One Ballpark for a weekend series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, we spent Fathers Day together eating lunch while I drove him back to his Phoenix hotel the entire trip. We talked about life and baseball.

At 9:15 PM on May 4, my ex-girlfriend Michelle Milgrom Lebowitz Cinelli was the first to notify me of Ernie's death leaving a very touching voice mail message offering her condolences. Michelle, a native from Detroit, knew that Ernie was a mentor in my life and her class making this call, showed what respect and deep fondness that I still have for her!

The next call came from my closest friend and adopted older brother George Eichorn at 9:34 PM. For years, George, Ernie and I enjoyed many awesome times together with Ernie at Tigers games, at Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association (DSBA) meetings, plus we met at various places together for lunch.

That doesn't count the numerous times I spent with Ernie alone.

When I wrote my first tribute on Ernie Harwell on December 29, 2009, I had the opportunity to express my feelings hoping he would see the story and know how I felt about him. Eichorn made sure Ernie did see it by posting it on the DSBA website.

The best birthday present that I received was an e-mail that Ernie wrote me at 8:16 PM that night. It read, "dear scott--that for that beautiful tribute. you were much too good to me. love you--ernie harwell="

It took me two days to digest this e-mail. Ernie was always the most even keeled person that I've ever been associated with. He always taught me to do my best to stay as calm as possible despite the tons of adversity that we get hit with in life.

I've worked hard to get better with this and I'm still trying real hard to improve in this area.

Here is the e-mail that I wrote back to Ernie on December 31, 2009 at 7:44 AM.

"You're very welcome Ernie!

I wish I could have written more but I wanted to use the best memories I had, realizing that it wasn't quantity but quality!

You mean more to me than you'll ever know! And we did have a lot of fun together! You're in my thoughts and prayers every day! I don't think about you passing away, just that you continue to live life the way I've always believed it should and that's "I Live Everyday As If It Were My Last" but you've done a Much Better Job than the Majority of us out here. I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH & Happy New Year to You and Your Family. Your e-mail on this date was the best birthday present I could have received on No. 47.

Thanks again and I'll continue to stay in touch and hope to hear from you when you get a chance.

Love,

Scott Morganroth"

I did proceed to write Ernie a couple more times but I knew with the tremendous amount of letters he was getting that there was a strong possibility he wouldn't write back. That proved to be the case but I was fine by that. At least he knew that I cared.

When I wrote my tribute to him on December 29, 2009, there wouldn't have been enough space on my hard drive to explain the volumes of memories I had with Ernie. So I had to limit it to the best memories.

You can find that original story in the archives on my blog.

As I was sitting at Denny's Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale eating breakfast with my housekeeper Doris Burks, I received a phone call from my adopted younger brother & college buddy Stuart Bloom at 7:55 AM.

Stuart also offered his condolences to me but what made Bloom's call more emotional was on April 29, 2010, his older brother Howard Bloom passed away at the age of 58. For Stuart to call me at undoubtedly one of the most difficult times of his life, is one of the classiest gestures I've ever experienced in my life! Here is a guy who was unselfish and put his pain aside to make sure I was OK!

I told Stuart when he came to Delray Beach for his brothers memorial that weekend that I would be there to offer him support under the following condition. It was that we'd give each other the "Biggest Hugs" we could and aside from telling each other that we loved one another, not many words would be exchanged since our "Actions Would Speak Louder Than Words." He easily accepted this condition! To this day, I'm grateful for the honor that he bestowed upon me for allowing me to stand-up at his wedding to his lovely wife Marilyn!

As she was for my back surgery, Burks was here for me during this tough time. She held my hand across the table as I was talking to Stuart and when the conversation with Bloom was over, Doris asked me if I was OK? My answer was, "No I'm not OK! I don't care how old Ernie was, his death kills me inside. A part of me died when he passed away, but I know one day, we'll be reunited one day hanging out for lunch or attending Regular Season or Spring Training games again."

When I got back to my house before the carpet cleaning guy was set to arrive, I showed her the autographs in my Sports Showcase. Doris gave me the sweetest smile and gave me timely hugs and kisses to show her support. When I asked this 75-year old woman who her favorite announcer was, the Chicago native said Harry Caray. I told her that Harwell and Caray are iconic Hall of Fame Broadcasters whose legacies will be unmatched in the eyes of baseball fans.

Although I didn't shed a tear and had the perfect shoulders to do so, at least I had Burks shoulder to lean on when I needed her.

At 1:29 PM, my Aunt Judy Strohl called me and she was always as supportive as she's always been. Judy told me that the Detroit area is obviously taking this passing as expected, extremely hard!

Finally, at 5:20 PM, another college friend of mine Bob Schultz, a Chicago native, expressed his condolences. He was quick to point out that I shouldn't take this loss too hard because of Ernie's age.

Schultz, an auto mechanics teacher in the Dallas suburb of Hurst, Texas., told me that he was mourning the loss of his 17-year old student that died four days prior to Harwell's death in a drowning accident. He talked about how nice the kid was, but being a sports fan, Schultz always enjoyed listening to Harwell's broadcasts on CBS Radio during the post-season as well as on WJR when the signal was strong enough. What a difference between the ages of 17 and 92.

I've always known that Detroit has been one of the best sports towns in the country. To see over 10,000 fans go to Comerica Park and pay their final respects to Harwell is just another major reason to feel how a city connects with it's heroes. I know that Tigers Owner Mike Illitch and President and General Manager were classy enough to interact with the fans.

Comerica Park was a great venue to say a Final Good-Bye to Harwell and as I found out, that's where he wanted to be seen in public last. However, I still wish there would have been a way to have that pubic viewing at the "Old Tiger Stadium Site." It's a place where Harwell worked so diligently to preserve and called the Final Game at Tiger Stadium. I know the City of Detroit is financially strapped but I'm sure Illitch would have found a way to pull this off. What better way to celebrate Ernie's life than at the Corner of Michigan & Trumbull?

Since his death can be viewed as a celebration, I'm glad that he lived to see his 92 birthday on January 25 and the New York Yankees won their 27 championship. It's only fitting that one of the greatest people and announcers see the most storied franchise win his last title while he was alive.

I always thought that if there was a man that would 100, Ernie was it.

But God was kind to Ernie and ESPN's story on December 29, 2009 written by Elizabeth Merrill that was titled, "For Harwell, there is still much to do" remains in my favorites on my computer. I've read it tons of times for various reasons! Now I've saved his other stories from the day he died.

I know that somewhere in heaven, Ernie has to be proud of all the people that he's touched with all of the tributes that he's received from fans, media outlets, etc. At least that he knew that when he was going to die, he tied up all of his loose ends planning a gallant exit. But listening, reading and watching these tributes of my idol, mentor, best friend, uncle and extended part of my family, just made me that much more proud of our association together that began in 1982.

While I know I'll never forget Uncle Ernie for obvious reasons, seeing him die in May near my Grandfather Sidney Morganroth will enable me to think of these heroes even more.

Although I know that Uncle Ernie will never see this story physically, I'm grateful that he was alive to see the last one. I'm glad that he was able to enjoy his family even more since learning of his declining health.

Even though I have travel restrictions due to my back surgery and would have loved to have been at Comerica Park to pay my final respects, my heart and mind were there as it has been so many times over the years.

When I completed this story at Hooters in Boca Raton, on May 5, 2010, my waitress Samantha, who was born in 1989, wanted to read this after I occupied her booth for 2 1/2 hours on a quiet day. Although Samantha hates sports, it didn't take her long for her to become a fan of Harwell's after reading this latest tribute. She told me she is spiritual and believes Ernie will read it one day in heaven. Just knowing what Harwell meant to me was all it took for her to realize what a tremendous person he was.

If Harwell is reading this, Good Bye, I LOVE YOU UNCLE ERNIE! I HOPE YOU REST IN PEACE!

Please send my best to all the baseball greats you'll be reunited with like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and many others. While Al Kaline may have accepted the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award for You on May 5, 2010, your legacy was etched in stone long before this honor. This was just icing on the cake.

The reason why I waited 11 days to post this is I wanted to make sure that all of my thoughts were in order so that I could express myself properly.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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