William Earnest 'Ernie' Harwell (Jan. 25, 1918-May 4, 2010) Attorney/agent loses valued friend, client

By John Minnis

Legal News

Grosse Pointe attorney S. Gary Spicer lost more than a client with the death of Ernie Harwell. He lost a long-time friend.

"I believe the next 24 hours will be monumental in Detroit," said Spicer on the eve of Harwell's lying in repose at Comerica Park on Thursday, May 6. "The Tiger organization has done a wonderful job in preparing for his viewing."

The Hall of Fame broadcaster's body was to be laid out next to his statue near Gate A, the main entrance, from 7 a.m. to midnight. At 6:30 a.m. when Harwell's body arrived at Comerica Park, there were already 200 fans and mourners waiting in line. The Tiger organization vowed to keep the viewing open as long as there were fans waiting to pay respects to the "Voice of the Tigers."

William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell, 92, died in his Novi home with his wife, Lulu, at his side on May 4, 2010, just eight months after he had announced to fans at Comerica Park that he had been diagnosed with inoperable bile duct cancer.

Harwell came to Detroit in 1960 from Baltimore, joining George Kell in the broadcast booth. For more than 30 of those years, Spicer was Harwell's friend and agent, or "corporate counsel," as Spicer prefers.

Spicer, a former General Motors financial manager, began his practice representing entertainers and athletes almost immediately after earning his law degree at the former Detroit College of Law, now the location of home plate at Comerica Park.

His clients have included such Tigers greats as Dave Bergman, Darrell Evans, Kirk Gibson, Larry Herndon, Jack Morris and Lance Parrish.

The first decade of Spicer's representation of Harwell was relatively routine since the broadcaster was happily under contract with WJR Radio and the Detroit Tigers. That all changed in December 1990 when the Tigers under owner Tom Monaghan and general manager Bo Schembechler decided to go in a "new direction."

Good friend and counsel Spicer was on hand to help Harwell through the media frenzy and public outrage that ensued. When Monaghan sold the team to another of Spicer's long-time acquaintances, Mike Ilitch, the door opened to get Harwell back on the Tigers' broadcast team, and the new owner jumped at the chance.

"He had a very close relationship with Mike Ilitch," Spicer said.

After Harwell voluntarily retired at the end of he 2002 season, Spicer was again on hand to guide the former broadcaster into a new career path--that as a corporate spokesman.

Harwell enjoyed a long relationship with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, becoming as recognizable a symbol of the health insurer as its ubiquitous logo.

"Today, we lost an honorable man, a gentle human being, a connection to a more innocent time and a voice that will always bring thoughts of spring," said BCBSM President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp. "With heavy hearts but fond memories, the Blue Cross family extends our deepest condolences to the Harwell family, especially Ernie's beloved wife, Lulu.

"Ernie Harwell positively influenced tens of thousands of lives by working with Blue Cross to promote physical fitness, walking and health. He loved people, and never quit in his efforts to inspire people to stay fit and active. His wit, humility and genuine love of life made it so natural for him to connect with people. Our walks with Ernie, his inspirational words, his daily commitment to fitness and his warm and gentle nature will remain in our memories and will forever be part of Blue Cross's heritage."

"He was such an intelligent, multi-talented man," Spicer said. "Most people didn't have any idea of the different talents Ernie Harwell had. He became one of the major corporate spokespersons."

Harwell was a prolific, and talented, wordsmith. His 1955 essay, "The Game for All America," is a baseball classic. He has authored numerous books and songs. Various artists have recorded some 66 songs written by Harwell. Harwell also made numerous film and TV cameo appearances, including "Cobb" and "Cooperstown." His "voice" can be heard in countless other productions.

Harwell was among the leading collectors of baseball memorabilia. To preserve his client's collection, Spicer worked with the Detroit Public Library to set up a room dedicated to Harwell at its main branch in 2004. The collection is reported to be worth $2 million.

"It is the second-largest collection of baseball memorabilia outside of Cooperstown," Spicer said.

Harwell was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and, predictably, his acceptance speech was one of the best ever delivered.

While Harwell was one of those few individuals universally identifiable by first name only, Spicer always referred to his client and friend as "Mr. Harwell."

Spicer said he "never heard an unkind word" come out of Harwell.

"One moment with him," Spicer said, "and you felt like he was your best friend."

Veteran Detroit baseball writer and official scorer Chuck Klonke said Harwell is going to be missed at the ballpark.

"It hasn't seemed the same at Comerica without him making an appearance every few games," he said.

Harwell's ability to remember names was legendary.

When Klonke was scoring, he would often have his grown son or daughter record stats on mlb.com for him.

"I think the highlight of my kids' working at the park doing mlb.com," he said, "was meeting Ernie. And when he'd see them again, he remembered their names."

Klonke was humbled when Harwell would ask him a question.

"When Ernie was writing his column for the Free Press," Klonke recalled, "he used to get letters asking scoring questions. Then he'd come to me with the letters and ask me for the answer--this from somebody who's been around the game longer than I've been alive."

At Wednesday's game in Minnesota, the day after Harwell's death, Tigers players and coaches' uniforms were already sporting a black patch bearing the initials "EH" in honor of Harwell.

"The players and management put patches on their uniforms before they returned home from their road trip," Spicer said. "That is a real sign of respect."

Published: Fri, May 7, 2010