May 6, 2010 at 1:00 am

Booth partners learned much from Harwell

Paul Carey, left, and Ernie Harwell received much support from Tigers fans when they left the broadcasts in 1991. (Dale Young / The Detroit News)

Ernie Harwell restored Jim Price's faith. He also was patient with Paul Carey's conversion -- from the basketball court to the baseball broadcast booth.

And, typical of Harwell's style, he once accepted an invitation to speak at a meeting of young Dan Dickerson's fantasy baseball league.

The men who worked alongside Harwell, the Tigers broadcast great who died Tuesday at age 92, spoke Wednesday of a man's skills and idiosyncrasies that helped them become part of a broadcast team that, because of Harwell, transcended the radio booth.

"Maybe one of the reasons we got along so well is that there was quite a difference in our personalities and approaches," said Carey, who became Harwell's broadcast partner in 1973 and his co-pilot through the 1991 season. "Ernie got up early and exercised early. I got up late as I could and exercised as little as I could."

Carey arrived fresh from duty as the Pistons play-by-play announcer on WJR. Ray Lane, the longtime Detroit sportscaster, had left the Tigers radio booth to take a job in Cincinnati following the 1972 season. Carey applied for the job and got it.

And he just as quickly was welcomed to the grace and warmth of a Georgia gentleman who made anyone feel welcome.

Harwell appreciated baseball broadcasters who had earned their stripes in the minor leagues ahead of their promotions to the majors. But he never resented for a moment that Carey came from a different background.

Carey, though, was anything but alien to Harwell or to Tigers broadcasts. He had been the Tigers broadcast producer for eight years on WJR.

"I got to know how Ernie liked things," said Carey, who lives in Rochester with his wife, Nancy. "I got the feeling of the flow. I knew Ernie would like to pause, and let the listener enjoy what was just said, or what had just happened or been described. So I had gotten somewhat accustomed to the flow of things."

As they were able to lead personal lives that reflected their individuality, they were able to also carve out separate broadcast segments and styles. Harwell worked the first three innings, and the seventh through ninth. Carey broadcast the fourth through sixth.

Neither interfered with the other's shift, unless a pitching change, or a rain delay, made two-way conversation helpful. Harwell gave Carey his space, down to the cigarettes an admittedly keyed-up Carey needed during his three-inning stint.

"He didn't force anything on me, he didn't make me feel as if I was the No. 2 guy," Carey said. "He introduced me to everybody he could. Ernie just made things so easy. He was the most gentlemanly man I've ever met."

Carey had spoken with Harwell a week ago and knew the days were dwindling. It made Tuesday's news no easier, emotion evident in Dickerson's voice when it was left to Harwell's successor to tell the Tigers audience Ernie was gone.

For a moment, he could not continue.

"It hit me hard," Dickerson said before Wednesday's Tigers-Twins game at Target Field. "I thought I'd be able to, but I couldn't get it out. I hope listeners understood. It was the toughest moment of my career."

Tears welled up in Price's eyes again Wednesday while talking about what Harwell meant to him. The greatest effect Harwell had on Price was personal.

"I was disappointed in God that my son (Jackson) was born with autism," Price said. "I couldn't understand why this would happen. Ernie told me to look at the good in it."

And the good is that because of Jackson's ailment, Jack's Place, a foundation focusing on help for families affected by autism, was founded.

"Ernie made me a better person," Price said. "I would watch how he conducted himself, how he treated people. Hopefully that rubbed off on me. I really do. If it didn't, Ernie would be disappointed. I'm not as angry as I used to be."

Dickerson remembers when Harwell, who never met an invitation he didn't want to accept, came to Grand Rapids to speak to Dickerson's Rotisserie League banquet.

Years later, they would be paired again.

"The last game at Tiger Stadium was maybe the biggest time of my career," Dickerson said of the 1999 farewell to the ballpark. "I was supposed to join him (Harwell) in the booth for the last three innings because Jim was getting ready for the postgame ceremony. I was just going to keep Ernie company, stay out of the way, but Ernie asked if I wanted to do an inning of play-by-play. I didn't want to take away one of his last three innings at Tiger Stadium, but when he asked again, I said, 'Sure.'

"I did the bottom of the seventh and the top of the eighth in the last game at Tiger Stadium, with Ernie saying, 'Folks, you're listening to the major-league debut of Dan Dickerson.' "

Larry Osterman was the late George Kell's partner on Tigers telecasts from 1967-77 and later was play-by-play man on PASS telecasts. Osterman, too, spent years in the company of a man who early on was an icon to Osterman and became a friend.

"I'll never forget, my first spring training, 1961, and I'm the brand new guy on the block," Osterman said Thursday, speaking from Largo, Fla. "Ernie and George invite me to dinner in Ybor City, at a place called Los Novodadas. I thought that was absolutely stunning."

Stunning, and yet typical of Harwell, who never seemed to miss a chance at making someone's day, or night.

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