MINNEAPOLIS -- Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried to keep a stiff upper lip as he insisted Ernie Harwell should be celebrated, not mourned.
The tears in Leyland's eyes and the quiver in his voice said otherwise.
Leyland choked up while talking about Harwell, the beloved former broadcaster who died Tuesday at 92 after a battle with cancer.
"He was probably the constant cleanup hitter for the Tigers. The constant leadoff man," Leyland said. "The ever-ready defensive player. The ever-ready pinch runner. Most announcers aren't like that. Ernie was truly like that. This guy was the Tigers."
Then Leyland, the gruff, old-school, cigarette-smoking skipper, paid Harwell the highest compliment a baseball man can give.
"He was looked upon as a player, not an announcer," Leyland said.
The Tigers started getting word that Harwell died early in their 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. Even though many knew this day was coming, folks all around baseball mourned one of the game's true giants.
With a syrupy Southern drawl and buttery smooth delivery, Harwell called Tigers games for 42 of his 55 years behind the microphone, becoming one of the most treasured sports figures in Michigan history.
"That voice ..." longtime radio partner Jim Price said, his eyes welling up and his whisper trailing off.
Through it all, Harwell endeared himself to practically everyone he met, Tiger or not.
"He made a lot of great friends in this game and he's going to be missed dearly," said new Tigers outfielder Johnny Damon, one of the many players who never knew Harwell closely, but felt as though he did anyway. "You wanted to be the guy he talked to."
Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Kirk Gibson, a Michigan native who starred for the Tigers in the 1980s, had been bracing for this day for some time.
"He was Mr. Everything," Gibson said. "He was an icon. The saying that you treat people how you want to be treated, he represented that to its fullest."
Third baseman Brandon Inge was one of the few players on Detroit's roster who worked closely with Harwell, who retired from broadcasting in 2002. Inge found out early in the game and immediately started reflecting on his time with Harwell, from dinners to just chatting by the batting cage.
"I started to think of how cool it was to have Ernie Harwell describe my play and talk about performances and stuff," Inge said. "In my opinion, you haven't been a big league ballplayer until Ernie Harwell talks about you like that. That man was as genuine as they come."
Mariners radio announcer Rick Rizzs went to Detroit to replace Harwell in 1992, after Tigers ownership ousted Harwell from the booth. Harwell had told Rizzs the previous summer to apply for his job.
Tigers fans hated the change.
"That was probably one of the toughest jobs in broadcasting in the last 40 years," Rizzs said from the broadcast booth at Seattle's Safeco Field before he called Tuesday night's game against Tampa Bay. "It was obviously one of the most difficult jobs of anybody, coming in after a legend like that. ... We took our lumps in 1992, Bob Rathbun and myself."
By midway through that first season, Mike Ilitch had purchased the Tigers from Tom Monaghan. Ilitch brought Harwell back in a three-man booth. Rizzs worked innings three, four and five as Harwell's color analyst in 1992 and 1993.
"To hear that voice, to hear those stories, and to sit alongside a guy who lived that baseball history -- if he didn't report it, he probably actually saw it," Rizzs marveled.
Rizzs' voice then turned low.
"It's one of the saddest days in the history of the Detroit Tigers franchise. That beautiful voice, that famous voice, is now silent. But that voice is going to live on FOREVER," Rizzs said, jabbing his index finger for emphasis.
Shortly after word spread to the press box in Minneapolis on Tuesday night, a heavy rain started to fall before the sun started shining through, and a double rainbow bent over Target Field.
"I said this on the air, that was for Ernie Harwell," Price said. "It was a complete rainbow. You can't make that up."