New stage play pays tribute to Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell

Apr 27, 2011

Ernie Harwell fans will get to relive some of the famed baseball announcer’s past in a new play called, appropriately enough, “Ernie.”

The play, which opens Thursday, Apr. 28 at the City Theatre in Detroit, was written by Mitch Albom. The story takes place on the night the beloved Tigers announcer gave his farewell speech at Comerica Park. Before his speech, he runs into a young baseball fan, who coaxes Harwell to reflect on his own life.

The play also includes vintage footage of Harwell, including some of his most famous calls.

Veteran Michigan actor Will David Young plays Ernie, which he calls "the biggest rush" he's ever experienced:

"So many people considered Ernie a grandfather figure, uncle figure, father figure. People who knew him well considered him a mentor with his gentleness, humor, humanitiy; it’s daunting playing a figure like that."

As for that famous Harwell cadence? Young says he tried to get into "that touch of Georgia twang."

In a Detroit Free Press column, Albom talks about how the play came to be:

It was Ernie's idea.

I was visiting with him and his wife, Lulu, in their home in Novi, in what would be Ernie's final autumn on this Earth. His friend and attorney, Gary Spicer, was there, and since Ernie was much too modest to bring it up, Gary did.

"We were wondering if you'd consider writing a play or movie about Ernie's life."

Ernie quickly looked at the floor and shyly mumbled something like, "Only if you feel it's worthwhile" -- but how could anything about Ernie not be worthwhile?

So I said I would consider it. Sadly, Ernie, who already was sick with cancer, grew too ill to spend much time on it. The idea was shelved.

After his death last May at age 92, I often found myself thinking about that visit. There was so much grace in that room, even as we sat with small bowls of butter pecan ice cream, so much history and baseball and Americana, and the most humble man I'd ever met asking if his story could be told -- "only if you feel it's worthwhile" -- that I was drawn to a yellow pad and started jotting ideas. The ideas turned to scenes, the pad turned to a keyboard, then a printer, then a script, then a casting call.

The play has an open run at the City Theatre, which is a block away from Comerica Park. Several of the show times are scheduled so people can take in the play before they go to see a Tigers Game.

Harwell called Tigers games for 42 years before he died of cancer in 2010.