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March 11, 1991 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-03-11

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The Michigan Daily - Sports Monday - March 11, 1991 - Page 3-

Mike Gill

Kell envisions Tiger
future past '91 season
Spring arrives once one hears the mellow Georgian voice of Ernie
Harwell throughout Michigan.
And on Saturday, the Arkansas twang of George Kell will cement
that notion when he kicks off the Tigers' television season.
Harwell and Kell go hand in hand. After all, it was Kell who
recommended Harwell to Tiger management in 1960 when there was
an opening in the radio booth. And because Kell took a year off in the
mid-1960s before moving to the television booth, both embark on their
32nd year behind the mike.
Sadly, for one, it will be his final year of broadcasting Tiger
games. When the Tigers and WJR decided to head in a "new
direction" Harwell was ill-advisedly sacked.
So it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that the Tigers
might decide to oust tradition and their much beloved voice on the TV
side too. Kell is entering his final year of a three year contract with
the team and WDIV television. However, he doesn't worry the least
about job security.
"I'll be back. I'll be back - let's leave it at that," he states
convincingly. He even adds, "I'll tell you what, after being here 31
years, the day the Tigers don't want me will tickle my wife."
So rest easy. Not all tradition can be ousted in one swing of the
bat. There will still be a familiar voice to be found somewhere in
1992.
Broadcasting on the TV side is quite different than radio - th
main reason Kell is still around. He grew tired of the daily grind that 7
162 game season produces, and left the business in 1964 to devote
more time to his business and family in the tiny community of"
Swifton, -Arkansas (population 1,232).
Tiger executive Jim Campbell knew a good personality and'
sportscaster when he heard one, and offered Kell a chance to return on
a limited basis as the team's television announcer. Since then, Kell
has been heard roughly 60 times a year. It allows him to maintain his
Arkansas residence, remain close to his family, and operate his
Newport car dealership. He'll tell you that a few years ago, the job
began to wear on him and he figured he'd soon hang it up. Now, he
feels stronger than ever.
This week he'll arrive in Lakeland and catch up on what's bee
happening with the Tigers. He'll meet the new.players, listen intently'
to broadcast partner Al Kaline's scouting advice and prepare to begin;
another season of telecasting.
"Al helps me tremendously," he says, speaking on the phone from
his car dealership. "I'll pick his brains for a while. In spring training
there always is a lot of hype on some of the new kids - from the4
media, and even from (Tiger manager) Sparky (Anderson). Al will say
'This guy doesn't have a chance,' or such. I get an unbiased opinion
from him."
However, it's not as if Kell goes into the season cold turkey. His
satellite dish picks up PASS, so he barely ever misses a game during
the season. For the past three years, the Swifton cable company has
picked up Detroit Channels 2 and 4, allowing him to catch all the
local Tiger reports.
Even though he had nothing to do with the cable company's switch
to the Detroit markeg it allows his longtime neighbors to see why Kell
has become so endered in Detroit Tiger fans' hearts: they see him
broadcast Tiger games.
"No one really knew what I did down here," Kell laughs. "Some
thought I did a pre-game show, some thought I did color. Now, all of
sudden, they know I do play-by-play.
"My next door neighbor said to me he knew I broadcast for Detroit
and he'd see me bail out of here at six in the morning. Now, he says
he sees me leave at six, turns on the TV set at 6:30 at night and sees
me broadcasting from Boston. My only regret is that since we've been
on the cable here, they haven't seen a good ballclub like we had in
the mid-80s."
Seeing the longtime resident suddenly on TV has not made Kell an
instantaneous star in Swifton.
He always has been.
Sure, he played 15 years of major league baseball, including six
with the Tigers. Sure, in 1983 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall
of Fame. But, in Kell's mind, he became a local favorite through his
upbringing, and because he was the son of the town barber, Clyde
Kell. Clyde was hired by the city years ago to play semi-pro ball, a
standard custom at the time.
"Without a doubt, he was the most respected man in Swifton,"
Kell exclaims, "and I wish I could carry the kind of respect my father
had. One fella wrote me a letter the day or two after he died and he
said, 'Swifton thought they were hiring just a baseball player. They
didn't know the kind of man they were getting when they got your
father."'
Although they now see Kell on local TV, the townspeople still re-
member him for his work ethic, friendliness, and as the man who at
times has preached at the Swifton Methodist Church. Yes, they too
are getting more than just an ex-baseball player.
As always, the often-imitated voice of the Tigers is ready to begin
calling another season of games. He calls the loss of Jack Morris "a

big blow," but is not as concerned about the Tigers' pitching problem
as some. He thinks Lou Whitaker's move to hit behind Cecil Fielder
"is ideal."
Tiger Stadium is known around the majors as having the best play-
by-play booths because it sits right on top of the action. Announcers
must be very alert and quick to move if a foul ball is fired back. Yet
despite the attachments Kell may have acquired from his numerous
years playing and broadcasting at Tiger Stadium, he believes it is
time for the Tigers to move.
"There's not enough restrooms and there's not enough room under
the concourse to move the people out," he says. "They've painted it,
repaired it, cleaned it, but I think it's time to move on. I hate to lose
Tiger Stadium, but if I owned the club, today I'd be looking for a new
stadium."
While weary to talk about the Harwell ouster, Kell is in the mood
for talking baseball, asking questions about the rookies, and joking
about his golf game.
Kell has only played the U-M golf course once. He played it with
his former Tiger roommate and current Associate Athletic Director in
charge of Alumni Relations, Don Lund. Lund once said, "When you
talk to George Kell, ask him about the shot he made here."
Kell quickly laughs. "I made one of the greatest shots ever hit on
that course," he says, "and Don won't let me forget it. It was my
second shot and I was behind a tree. Somehow I got it to bend right
around it and it rolled right to the stick. I still can't believe it."
Some still can't believe that Ernie Harwell will vacate the
airwaves at the conclusion of the season.

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