Hawk Harrelson: 30 Years To Life

He did it again.

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson went bonkers yesterday, spewing one of his more memorable rants after home plate umpire Mark Wegner ejected rookie pitcher Jose Quintana in the fourth inning of a game against the Rays.

“What are you doing? He threw him out of the ballgame? You gotta be bleepin’ me!” Harrelson shouted. “What in the hell are you doing? What are you doing, Wegner? You gotta be kiddin’ me! That is so bad, that is absolutely brutal!…That is unbelievable.”

For Hawk haters, it was another example of an egomaniac running amok. It recalled another instance earlier this season when Harrelson was so upset he allowed 63 seconds of silence to pass on the air.

One survey recently ranked Harrelson and Steve Stone the worst broadcast team in all of baseball.

Despite all this, most Sox fans adore Hawk. They appreciate his devotion to Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and all things South Side. They adore his aphorisms and gift for storytelling.

“He tells you what is happening and he is not afraid to be critical, but there is no doubt about who he wants to win,” said George Will, the newspaper columnist and baseball fan, before a recent game on the South Side. “You tune in because you want them to win, and he is on your side.”

This season marks 30 years since the Savannah, Ga., native arrived in Chicago as a broadcaster for the Sox. He moved to the front office for one interesting season in 1986 (his signature move was firing manager Tony La Russa), and then went on to New York to broadcast Yankee games for two years. But he returned in 1990 to Chicago, where he’s been engaging audiences ever since.

ChicagoSide caught up with Hawk recently and asked him to review the past three decades. So, as Harrelson might say, Sit back, relax, and strap it down. We got a whole lotta work to do.

…On being a homer
HAWK: That to me is the greatest compliment that can be paid to an announcer. I want the White Sox to win. When they win there is not one person happier than I am. When they lose there is no one more down than I am. I have some detractors, as every announcer does, and I have fans who love the Hawk, and I think one of the reasons why is that I am a White Sox guy and I give the other team credit but I want the White Sox to win.

When I am doing a game and I have to bite my tongue, they know by my silence, which is the greatest communicator of them all.

…Sox v. Cubs
HAWK: When I got here this was a White Sox town. The Cubs had 600-700 people in the ballpark. What hurt here was SportsVision and then the stadium issue. When I took over [as general manager] in ’86 and I got the books, we were spending more on the maintenance of the old Comiskey Park than we were on the minor league system. That ballpark was literally falling down. When Jerry [Reinsdorf] started campaigning for a new ballpark, that on top of SportsVision, left a bitter taste with a lot of the fans.

…Coming to Chicago
HAWK: I had three years left on a contract but I always loved Chicago. I always loved going to Chicago and we had a lot of relatives in South Bend. That was the biggest reason…the nephews and nieces are just like sons and daughters to my wife and I. They had talked with Don Drysdale and they would love to have Don and myself come out and be a team there, that was very, very attractive.

Don Drysdale was a guy who couldn’t be intimidated and I can’t be intimidated. [Predecessors in the booth Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall] had a big following, and at the old ballpark the fans were sitting right below us, and there were some fans at the 7th inning stretch and they would say “Harry, Harry.” But Don and I would look at each other and smile.”

…On Frank Thomas
HAWK: I used to tell him don’t talk. When you put a microphone in front of him, he changed a little bit. That’s not just Frank. There are a lot of guys like that. Frank Thomas has been misquoted so many times. Frank Thomas played hurt. I hate the term “warrior” because that takes away from the real warriors, so to speak. Frank Thomas was a trooper. I never saw him dog it one time.

…On Billy Martin
HAWK: Billy and I were close and he really wanted the job [of manager in 1986.] We talked for a couple of hours. Finally I told him I wasn’t going to make the move. He wasn’t happy about it, but he understood. As much as I loved Billy…he had a short shelf life. But after a couple of years the players got tired of that because it was an in your face approach. I knew that, and that was one of the reasons I didn’t hire Billy. He was never that close to being hired by the White Sox.

…Howard Cosell
HAWK: He would always say, “Why don’t you want to do baseball [broadcasts] with me?” and I said, “Because you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. He would start laughing and say, “Don’t tell anybody.”

…Albert Belle
HAWK: Albert Belle had possibly the greatest second half I had ever seen [in 1998.] You couldn’t get him out….It’s apparent to me now that Albert is one of the worst guys we ever had on the ballclub. He was tough on the kids. It was all about him. We’ve been lucky that Jerry has always wanted to acquire players with character but I would say in my time with the White Sox we have had some of the best guys year after year after year. But with Albert I hated the way he treated kids. They were afraid of him. He was not nice to fans. I saw him do things like pushing fans out of the way or not acknowledging a child wanting an autograph. I didn’t like Albert Belle.

HAWK: Except for the youth aspect of it, it doesn’t bother me one bit. Mark McGwire, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. When he was using, he was using it for recovery as he missed almost a year and a half because of plantar fasciitis. I watched that Congressional hearing and I was thinking the only thing those politicians wanted was face time. We didn’t start the steroid era, football did. Baseball became the poster child for steroids….Mark McGwire hit 49 home runs as a rookie when he was a tall, thin guy. Sammy always had big power. Am I saying Sammy did not take steroids? I can’t say because I never saw him take it. With over 600 home runs I don’t give a shit what you take, you have to be strong.

…How much longer?
HAWK: I literally want to die in the booth. I want to call a home run and say, Put it on the board and then he gone!

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DANIEL I. DORFMAN is a freelance sportswriter living in Chicago.

STORY ART: Main image made in-house with photo of hawk courtesy Hello, I’m Chuck/cc. Photo of Hawk Harrelson courtesy Jonathan Lurie/cc.

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