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Local recalls longtime friendship with Harwell

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May 05, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Baseball fans around Michigan grieved the death this week of Ernie Harwell, the beloved long-time Detroit Tigers baseball broadcaster. Locally, township resident Ward Stoddard remembered Harwell as not just the voice of Tigers baseball, but as a great person and friend of his for four decades.

"What I liked about him is that I was raised by a good Christian family and I wasn't always the Christian I should have been, but he was," said Stoddard, 95. "I never heard him swear or malign anybody, ever."

Harwell died May 4 at the age of 92, after a nearly year-long battle with cancer.

Stoddard was a devoted baseball fan who had been attending opening day games for years when Harwell arrived in Detroit in 1960 to do radio play-by-play for Tigers games.

"I knew if I could get acquainted with him, I could enjoy myself very much because of my relationship with baseball," Stoddard recalled.

Determined to make it happen, he went to the Tigers business office one day, met Harwell and got the announcer to agree to play golf with him. A lasting friendship was born. The pair golfed together for years, as many as 15-20 times per year when they were younger, at both Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Hills and also at a course in Lakeland, Fla., home to Tigers spring training.

"Neither of us were good golfers, but he never swore," said Stoddard, smiling.

For 20 years, the Stoddard and Harwell families got together at Christmastime for dinner at Forest Lake. Harwell was a fine father and a fine husband, very devoted to his wife Lulu, recalled Stoddard. Harwell would bring his friend into the broadcasting booth on many occasions, particularly during spring training and in the fall. Stoddard wasn't the only one who was lucky enough to be there, but he was always included and enjoyed hearing his friend call games. Some of Harwell's well-known phrases that particularly amused Stoddard were "Long gone!" when a homerun was hit, or "He stood there like the house by the side of the road," after a called third strike.

Stoddard's favorite Tiger is Al Kaline, but he doesn't recall Harwell ever declaring a favorite, and says that wasn't his style. He remembers a time he was frustrated with poor performance by a Tigers player and asked Harwell, "what the hell is that guy doing there?"

"Ernie didn't say anything, he would never malign anyone," he said. "He was the best broadcaster and all the broadcasters would agree."

When Stoddard and his wife Betty learned that Harwell died Tuesday evening, Betty said, "This sad period was expected, but not accepted."

Stoddard, who still works one day a week as a consultant for Service Brands, an Ann-Arbor based company, agrees, but noted that while it is difficult for fans to accept, Harwell was at peace with it. Stoddard recalled what his friend of strong Christian faith said shortly after he was diagnosed with the inoperable cancer.

"He said he was very fortunate, because he was going to a better home and a better life."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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