King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Ernie Harwell on his rude treatment by Fox: "I didn't mind." Plus his thoughts on the network's "bells and whistles" baseball coverage.


Salon Staff
July 15, 2005 6:15PM (UTC)

When I reached Ernie Harwell Thursday afternoon my in box was still sizzling, e-mails pouring in from readers angry over Fox's treatment of the broadcasting legend on the All-Star Game telecast Tuesday night.

As I suspected, Harwell's reaction to Jeanne Zelasko rudely cutting him off in the middle of his answer to a single question put to him on the air by Zelasko's co-host, Kevin Kennedy, was mild as could be. "I didn't mind," he said.

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He may be the only person in greater Detroit and beyond who didn't.

We chatted for a few minutes about the incident, Fox's treatment of baseball in general, and his "retirement," which includes work for the local Fox affiliate.

This is a good time to note that all the guff I've been giving Fox over its baseball coverage over the last few years has been aimed at the national network broadcasts. The local Fox and Fox Sports affiliates tend to do a much more solid job, gearing the broadcasts to baseball fans.

Harwell and his wife, Lulu, have moved from their house to a seniors complex in suburban Detroit, which Harwell calls "magnificent, it's like being on a cruise." I asked whether "Miss Lulu," whose gardening adventures were a staple of Harwell's Tigers broadcasts, still had a chance to pursue her hobby.

"Oh, yes, all the residents here who want a garden can have one," he said. "But we don't call them plots around here."

I thought, and a lot of my readers thought, that Fox treated you kind of rough. They were rude to you. How did you feel about it?

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Well, I didn't pay too much attention. The situation was I had done this little video the day before at Tiger Stadium for them, and they put it together, made about a minute and a half out of it, and the plan was to follow with an interview.

We rehearsed the interview with Kennedy and the lady there [Zelasko], and they said fine. When the time came they brought me up there and he asked me a question. I think a local station here timed it. The question took about nine seconds. And then I was on for about 15 seconds, and that was all.

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And I didn't mind. That was OK. People got upset about it but I know how those things happen. Probably somebody yelled in her ear, "You've got to go on, get going on something else."

I've heard it was the talk of Detroit the next day.

Talk radio got on it, you know, the usual. I guess we're going to do another TV interview on it tonight [Thursday] with Channel 2, that's the local Fox. It wasn't any big thing. I didn't mind.

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Did Fox apologize at all?

Well, they called Mr. Spicer, I think the local Channel 2 sports called him and I think he was representing Fox but I'm not sure of that. [Gary Spicer, Harwell's longtime friend and attorney, said that Fox Sports Detroit executive producer John Tuohey called his office and did offer an apology.]

They called to apologize?

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Yeah. But I don't need an apology. That's fine, you know, those things happen.

I agree those things happen, but it really made me angry, and I think it would have made me angry even if I hadn't ever met you. I wrote about this yesterday. I thought it was symptomatic of a lack of respect that Fox has for baseball on its broadcasts. I wrote about this lack of respect for the game, and I have to say I got a flood of e-mails, and it was an amen chorus. Almost nobody disagreed with me, and hardly anybody ever does when I write about this stuff. Fox is trying to appeal to the casual fan, and they're just giving the real fans short shrift.

I've always felt that the game should be paramount, but that seems to be an old-fashioned way of looking at things. I think most people tune in to the game because they're interested in the game and they want to know the progress of the game and the score and what's happening.

All the other stuff is sort of bells and whistles. I guess some people like it, some people don't like it, but my feeling has always been that when TV puts an interview on in the corner, it makes it more of a documentary than covering an event.

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But that's my opinion, I've had that opinion for years. As soon as they started, everybody came up with something to outdo the guy who did whatever he did previously.

I think what happens is they know I'll tune in. They know you're going to tune in if you're sitting at home. They know there's nothing they can do to drive baseball fans away from, say, the World Series. They've got to go get people who aren't interested in baseball but might tune in if they can make it a big enough event. But that very process disrespects us, the baseball fans.

And I question how many people, just because they're going to put something else on football or baseball, will that really attract them or not? The basic intent is to put on a game. Maybe they do attract people that way. I don't know.

One of my readers had a good point. They said Fox doesn't seem to gussy up football like this. They pretty much show you the game. They have some fancy graphics and stuff, but they show you the game.

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That is a good point.

The packaged piece you did for Fox from Tiger Stadium, did you get paid for that?

Yup.

How much input did you have on that? The reason I'm asking is that I thought that was an unusually classy piece for Fox.

Well, I really didn't have a whole lot of input except to answer the questions. They just had a guy ask me the questions and I tried to answer them the best way I could. I guess they must have had 10 or 15 questions, some of them overlapped, and then a guy went back to wherever they go and put it together. Of course, I didn't see it because I was down there on the field. I don't know what they put in.

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It was nice.

That's good. I'm glad to hear that.

They must have got the one guy who works for Fox who cares about baseball.

OK, well I'm glad. [Laughs.]

I just didn't want to make a big deal of this because it was something that you and I know happens. The director probably told the young lady, "Move along. Don't let that old guy keep blabbing away."

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But the reason people got offended -- I think we all understand TV operates by the quarter minute, and we've all seen the director waving his hands. But the way she did it, the way she jumped in: "We could go on and on," she said, as though you were rambling on and on.

I went on 15 seconds, I think.

What did you work in radio, 60 years?

Yeah.

I figure if they'd have said, "You have 15 seconds," you probably could have come up with a 15-second answer.

The most ironic thing, I think, is the thing I pride myself on the most is I'm brief. And I hate for people to be verbose. And here I am, I'm getting the tag that I'm a verbose old guy.

That's right. You're just prattling on like an old fool.

Full of sound and fury!

I'm glad it didn't offend you as much as it offended me.

Well, I appreciate your support, King.

What are you up to these days? Are you still writing your column?

I write a column in the Free Press every week, and I do about 26 vignettes on the local Fox, where they just stand me up and I ad-lib some kind of a thing and it goes into a show called "Tigers Weekly," which is on every Saturday.

And then I also work for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I'm their spokesman. We signed a 10-year contract with a 10-year option, so I've got to be 106 when it's fulfilled.

I think you'll make that.

I'm gonna die trying.

Previous column: NHL lockout ends; Fox lies to fans

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