Ernie Harwell in 2002. (Los Angeles Times )
BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A player was once traded for an announcer!
Cliff Dapper was only twenty-two years old when he made it into the major leagues for the Brooklyn Dodgers early in the 1942 season.
The Dodgers had two catchers, Mickey Owen (who was an All-Star the previous season) and Billy Sullivan. Sullivan got the majority of the playing time early in the season. Roughly fifteen games into the season, Dapper was given a short trial as the Dodgers back-up catcher. He played in eight games in late April and early May, starting four of them. Dapper responded to his big break by hitting .471 with a .526 on-base percentage and a .706 slugging percentage (and behind the plate, he made no errors in his eight games).
For whatever reason, though, Manager Leo Durocher chose to send Dapper back to the minors and just ride Mickey Owen the rest of the season. Owen started 116 of the Dodgers' final 133 games, including a remarkable stretch where he caught 39 of the last 41 games (Sullivan caught all the other games).
The Dodgers ended up winning 104 games and Owen made a second All-Star team while also finishing fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting, so it is hard to argue too much with Durocher's decision (although the Dodgers ended up in second place to the St. Louis Cardinals' 106 wins). In addition, to be fair, Dapper had not put up numbers in the minor leagues anywhere close to what he did in his short stint in the majors, so Durocher likely felt that it was a fluke and that Owen and Sullivan were more dependable.
Dapper would never play in the majors again. He served in World War II from 1943 to 1945. When he returned from military service, he had lost weight and with it, some of his strength. He was still doing well enough for the Dodgers' minor league affiliates that the Detroit Tigers tried to pick him up in 1947. The Dodgers refused to let him go.
However, in 1948, he finally left the Dodgers organization and it was in a transaction that Dapper would be remembered for for the rest of his life...the time he was traded for a radio announcer!
William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1920s. He was an avid fan of the independent Southern Association team, the Atlanta Crackers. He became a batboy for the Crackers when he was just five years old (he was the batboy assigned to the visiting team).
After Harwell graduated from Emory University he went to work at the Atlanta Constitution as a sportswriter. He also became the radio broadcaster for the Crackers in 1943. He then spent four years in the military. He returned to the Crackers broadcast booth in 1947.
In 1948, legendary Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber suffered a bleeding ulcer and could not serve as the lead Dodgers broadcaster. The Dodgers still had Barber's partner, Connie Desmond, but they needed another announcer, so Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey went out to find a suitable addition to the Dodgers broadcast team and settled on Harwell. However, Harwell had a contract with the Crackers and Crackers President Earl Mann was not going to let his announcer go without compensation.
That compensation turned out to Cliff Dapper. Dapper went to the Crackers and had a strong year, hitting .280. He impressed the team enough outside of his hitting that they actually named Dapper manager of the Crackers for the 1949 season.
Dapper actually returned to the Dodgers minor league system for a single season in 1950. He then moved on to Pittsburgh's minor league system, where he played and managed all over the Pittsburgh system for the next six seasons before finishing his baseball career in 1957.
Harwell left the Dodgers in 1950 to work for the New York Giants. He joined the Baltimore Orioles as their first announcer in 1954. In 1960, he joined the Detroit Tigers, where he would call Tiger games for pretty much the next 40 years (not counting his short stint with the Angels in the early 1990s when the Tigers foolishly let him go before bringing him right back).
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. Even after his retirement in 2002, Harwell would occasionally do Tiger games, or at least parts of Tigers games. His last appearance in the booth came in 2007. He passed away in 2010.
In 2002, Harwell and Dapper met for the first time when Dapper came out to visit Harwell during a celebration of Harwell's career in honor of his retirement. Dapper passed away in 2011.
The legend is...
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