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Vintage Leaf remembers Ernie Harwell, a Tiger Stadium baseball game and going 22 innings—without food

The recent passing of legendary Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell at the age of 92 touched many people across America. He was a beloved sporting figure in Michigan, particularly, having made the state his chosen home from 1961 onwards.

As the voice of the Tigers through a changing time in America, he was a soothing, comfortable constant right through to his retirement in 2002: always engaging, warm and inviting.

I can’t match any of the thoughtfully written pieces about Harwell’s life. I did not know him, though like thousands upon thousands of others, he was a part of my life as a youngster because I grew up just across the river from Detroit. I wasn’t a Tiger fan, but listened to thousands of Tiger games on the radio in the ‘60s and ‘70s, particularly, before he reached the revered status he ultimately achieved.

As a friend wrote to me this week, he loved Harwell’s voice. That was a large part of his appeal. He was more than a play-by-play guy, The fact that he was a gentle, faith-filled man who devoted so much time to important causes and “gave back”, made his death all the sadder, but his life all the more memorable.

Though this is a “hockey blog”, I’ll share a non-hockey memory that I have. Though it has nothing to do with Harwell himself, it does have to do with the team he was broadcasting for back in 1962.


Ours was a sports-oriented family. I was the youngest of five, including two older brothers. I was born in 1953.

Not only was I encouraged to play sports such as baseball and hockey, I was a huge fan.

When it came to baseball, my Dad was a passionate Yankees fan, just as he was an even more passionate Montreal Canadiens fan. Dad had seen Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and many others in person on a number of occasions and told me stories time and again about some of the finest ballplayers the game had known.

In truth, I was not a Yankee fan myself. Probably because my Dad and two brothers were, I chose a different path. In hockey that meant cheering for Toronto (link to How I became a Leafs fan) instead of Montreal and in baseball, I liked the Chicago White Sox because my first favorite player was their big home-run hitting first-baseman, Ted Kluszewski

In our family our Sunday morning routine was pretty much that, a routine. Raised a Catholic, we went to Church every Sunday morning, always 10:30 Mass. We would often, after Church, take an intentional detour and drive by new sub-divisions to look at new houses being built. We particularly spent time on streets near the Essex Golf & Country Club, later to become home for the Canadian Open of golf in 1976.

We also would work in the fields, as we grew strawberries some years and also sweet corn. I mention this because this particular memory occurred in late June, 1962—after strawberry-picking season and before the sweet corn ‘harvest’.

This particular Sunday morning, we were on our way home from church. No detour this time, just a quick stop at the local market, another semi-regular stop on the way home after Sunday Mass. As Dad got back into the car after picking up a few things for breakfast, he pulled out a pair of tickets and said, “Would you like to go to a ball game today”?

I knew right away this was no ordinary game. (We often went to see the local “senior” league team play at our nearby baseball park, games which were pretty intense and would often draw hundreds of people.) This was different. I grabbed the tickets and looked to see that they were tickets to see the Detroit Tigers play the New York Yankees, that very day, at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I was 9 years old and the happiest kid around that day.

We went home briefly and I got ready to drive with my Dad across the border from Windsor to Detroit. I can’t honestly recall, but I think we would have taken the Ambassador Bridge, instead of the tunnel. Tiger Stadium was not that far beyond the bridge. We parked the car quite a ways off, as it was cheaper.

I was so excited that morning after I found out about the tickets, I didn’t eat a thing. We arrived just as the game was about to start. Just walking through the turnstiles at a major league park was, as it no doubt still is for most youngsters, a dream come true.

I recall that we sat in the lower deck at old Tiger Stadium, way back though, to the right of home plate. That day, the “Yankee killer” Frank Larry, started on the mound for the Tigers and Bob Turley started for the Yankees. Both were excellent pitchers but on this day both were knocked out of the game very early on.

One of my vivid memories of my first game was that Roger Maris played (who had hit a record-breaking 61 home runs the season before) center field (he was usually a right-fielder) for at least some of the game, and he made two great over the shoulder catches on deep balls hit by Tiger catcher Dick Brown. I have little memory about seeing Mickey Mantle, the Yankees star center-fielder. I believe he started the game but left early because of his leg problems.

Anyone who has ever been to a major league game knows that one of the thrills of going to a game is having a “ball park frank”, a good old-fashioned hotdog. Now, I no longer eat meat, but in those days I could pack away hot dogs as well as any kid. I started agitating for a hot dog from probably the third inning on. My mother had even slipped me some money on the way out the door (she knew my Dad was not one to spend unnecessarily). But my Dad wouldn’t budge. He started by saying, “let’s wait a while”, hoping, no doubt, I would eventually give up.

Regardless, I didn’t stop asking for my hot dog, and dad relented, by about the 7th inning. Back we went to stand in line. Then back to our seats with one hot dog each—no mustard, no ketchup, no drink, nothing. Dad didn’t want to miss any of the game.

I had eaten it by the time I was settled back in my seat. It was the first thing I had eaten all day.

It is important to understand that, as an unspoken trade-off, I was cheering that day for the Yankees. I guess I figured it was the least I could do since my Dad was nice enough to surprise me with tickets to my first ever game. So I yelled loudly for the Yankees, for all the guys I usually cheered privately against (largely because of my Dad and brothers and the fact that the Yankees won all the time back then).

So I was hoping my good behaviour would bring me some kind of bonus. Maybe another hot dog. Dad said no. I offered to use my own money—at least the money my mom had slipped me—but all he would say is, “They won’t take your Canadian money.” As I look back now, I think Diefenbaker was Prime Minister in Canada, and our dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar, but regardless, I lost the debate.

The game went into extra innings. I’d keep asking for more food, and was surrounded by people who seemed to spend the entire afternoon eating, either food they had brought from home or from the concession stands. That didn’t help my hunger.

So we’re in extra innings and I’m starving. Dad keeps saying, “The game will end any minute now…we’ll eat when we go home”. Well, the game lasted a total of 22 innings. 7 full hours. Finally a back-up infielder named Phil Linz hit a (the most famous and one of the few in his entire career) home run to left field, and the game ended when the Tigers failed to score in the bottom of the 22nd inning.

The game set a record for the longest single-game in baseball history. The record stood for a very long time. It’s still in the history books, if I’m not mistaken, though other games may have lasted a bit longer since. It had started at 1:30 in the afternoon, and finished at 8:30 that night. By the time we filed out of the stadium, got back to where we had parked (far away from the field to save a few dollars), navigated through customs and were finally home, it was past 10 o’clock. My Mom was in bed. There was no food prepared, no “left-over” supper or anything.

I was hungry—real, real hungry. From bed, mom said, “I thought you would have eaten at the game”.

So had I.

Hey, it was a wonderful day. Great game. In fact, a record-breaking game. My first ever. It was a game I’ll never completely forget, because it was indeed my first. And I never let Dad forget, until the day he died in 1985, that I ate only one hot dog in 22 innings. maple leaf memories
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for letting me know about this one Michael. Wonderful memories visited by one of the staunchest sports fans that it is my pleasure to know. Think I'll have a hot dog for lunch and pretend that I am in old Tiger Stadium sharing it with a very hungry Canadian kid from across the river. Yours in sports, Dick W.