April 30 2009 12:00 AM

Ernie Harwell was the announcer for the Detroit Tigers for 42 years. At 91 years old, he is a healthy spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan advocating walking.

Whatis it about walking that you like so much?
Walking is a great exercise because it’s so simple. Anybody, he, she or handicapped can do it no matter what age. It’s inexpensive, you don’t need a lot of equipment and you can do it most anywhere. Even if you have to do it in a room you can walk back and forth. And if you can get outdoors, that’s even better. And you can do it solo, which is great or do it with other people and exchange ideas and have a conversation. Or you can do it solo and pray while you walk or sing while you walk or talk to yourself or keep quiet.

How do you get people to want to walk?
You have to tell them how beneficial it is. We walk with them, too. When we’ve had those walks, they’ll bring out a lady and they’ll loosen up everybody with some exercises and stretching and things like that. And then we just say, ‘Well, follow me.’ We’ve usually got a walking course and we go down to the river or into a park; something like that. We’ll have 70 people come along.

Ive read that when you traveled to different cities for ballgames you would take walks. What’s a good walking city?
Most of the cities were pretty good. Sparky Anderson and I used to walk from 1984 on. The better cities were when we were near a park. Like in Minnesota, we were near a park. In Milwaukee we could walk down the street a little bit and get over on the lakeshore. Those are the best type of places. Sometimes in Cleveland, where there’d be a good deal of traffic, we’d just go straight to the ballpark and walk around the ballpark on the outside.

Do you like Comerica Park?
I like Comerica Park, I really do. The construction was excellent. They put good construction materials in there. They’ve got a lot of things for the non-baseball fans. If they want to come out they can have a good time without even seeing the game. And still, the attractions that bring people in outside of baseball are away from the diamond. So if you’re a purist, you can sit in the seats and not worry about the merry-go-round and the food court and those things. You can be a complete baseball fan. They’ve got it going both ways, and I like that.

During a broadcast you would say interesting things like, “He stood there like the house on the side of the road.” How did a saying like that come about?
When I was a youngster in Georgia I was tongue-tied. The public schools in Atlanta had a rule that every pupil had to debate or make a speech every month. Because I was tongue-tied it was tough for me and my folks. They didn’t have much money, but they got up enough for me to see what we’d call nowadays a speech therapist. Back then we’d call them an elocution teacher or an expression teacher. She helped me with my handicap. And through the grace of God and her help, I officially overcame it. A lot of people when they hear me talk they still think I’m tongue-tied! But, I had to recite these poems. And one of the poems I had to recite was called “The House By the Side of the Road” written by Sam Walter Foss back then in 1885 or something like that.

When you first started out, you were working for newspapers, correct?
Well, my first job in papers was at The Sporting News, which was a baseball paper. When I was a kid The Sporting News was a bible of baseball. We didn’t have any national news and they would have the box scores of every team in the country. It was published in St. Louis. I was a great fan and I was 15 or 16 years old. And I sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of The Sporting News and suggested that I should be the Atlanta correspondent. It was a stupid thing to do because I had never written anything in my life and he didn’t know I was only 16 years old. So he said, ‘Send some stuff in, if it’s OK, you got the job.’ So I wrote a couple things and they published them and I was working for The Sporting News. I wrote for them from then on. Even after I came to Detroit, I was working at The Sporting News. Then on the strength of that I got a job in the Atlanta Constitution sports department. They gave me a job reading copy and writing headlines. I worked for nothing for a while – then they paid me a dollar a day.

Did you develop your own tone and inflection?

No. I hadn’t made any real effort. You know, I wanted to be as clear as I could. I had a southern accent, naturally. I didn’t make any effort to go more south or not have it. What happened happened. I took some singing lessons at WSB (in Atlanta). In those days they didn’t have records and that’s hard to believe that a radio station didn’t play a record. They had all live music. They had an orchestra and a piano player, a symphony and a hillbilly unit. In the symphony orchestra they had a Russian guy who played the fiddle and to pick up a few extra bucks he would teach the announcers singing lessons to help their voices. You know, basic things like breathing. It helped, but the thing about sports is they didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to voice; it was more content.

How do you think the Tigers are going to do this season?

Well, I think they’ll do pretty well if they get good pitching. That’s all of a mamby pamby-answer, but it’s true. If you get good pitching you win, if you don’t you don’t. And right now I think their pitching is a little on the iffy side. They’ve got some young guys with bad arms and don’t know if they’ll be coming back. (Armando) Galarraga had a good year; we hope he’ll have another. (Justin) Verlander has been sort of up and down, you don’t know about him. Your guy (Edwin) Jackson has got a great reputation; hopefully he’ll come through. We just don’t know. We know they’re going to hit pretty well. If I had to really make a guess, I’d say they’d be a contender but they probably wouldn’t win the division. Who knows? Last year Tampa Bay