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Leyland celebrates Harwell's life

Leyland celebrates Harwell's life

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland might have a grizzled exterior, but those who know him know he can get emotional on occasion, whether it was the Tigers' American League pennant in 2006 or Kenny Rogers' 200th victory the same year.

Not surprisingly, Leyland had to gather himself to talk about Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell on Tuesday night, hours after he passed away from cancer at age 92. But mixed in with those tears of sadness were a few tears of joy, knowing the life Harwell led and the impact his life made.

"I want to clap," Leyland said. "I don't want to cry."

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He still cried, but in a way, he was happy. He also wanted to explain why.

"I don't want to look like I'm not respectful, but I look at it like a celebration. I really do," Leyland said. "He had a full life. He did so many things. He was so respected. He basically had a chance to say his goodbyes. That's a blessing. And we all had a chance to say our goodbyes. I mean, not many people in our game are that influential, and this guy was one of the most influential guys around the Detroit area. That's pretty good. That's hard to do. So I'm celebrating.

Leyland met Harwell when he was a player in Minor League camp. He remembered listening to Harwell during his first years broadcasting Tigers games, when Leyland was a teenager in Perrysburg, Ohio.

He knew Harwell the broadcaster. He quickly realized how great Harwell was as a person.

"Everybody knew who Ernie Harwell was," Leyland said. "When you met him, he was one of those guys you felt like you knew him all your life, and you felt like he knew you. I mean, Ernie never met a stranger, I don't think.

"Ernie Harwell treated me like I was a Major League Tiger for a long time, and I was never a Major League Tiger. I was over there 18 years, and he treated me like I was a big leaguer, and I was never a big leaguer."


"We should be rejoicing that he's not going to suffer. I think we should celebrate, and I think that's the way Ernie would want it."

-- Jim Leyland, on Ernie Harwell

Moreover, it's a remarkable life, which is how Leyland wants to remember Harwell. Four decades after first meeting Harwell as a player, Leyland talked with Harwell in the manager's office at Comerica Park back in September, shortly before Harwell made his thank-you speech to the fans. The peace that Harwell carried with him amazed Leyland.

"This is one that, I think, you rejoice," Leyland said. "I hope nobody takes me out of context here, but this is a celebration of life. The passing of Ernie is really a celebration of his life. It's not a tragic thing like what happens sometimes. He had a wonderful life, and I think we should celebrate that rather than mourn so much. We knew it was coming, but he had a very fulfilling life. ...

"We should be rejoicing that he's not going to suffer. I think we should celebrate, and I think that's the way Ernie would want it."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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