No, seriously. I do.
And I realize that in the baseball blogo- and Twittersphere, that’s tantamount to having a Jar Jar Binks poster over your bed or writing in Wayne LaPierre for President. Better yet, look no further than Heave the Hawk, an entire website dedicated to his removal from the airwaves (slogan: “One First Rate City, One First Rate Douche”).
But I don’t give one kernel of a duck snort about Hawk’s crabby, caustic nature, his homerism, last week’s half-witted comments about advanced baseball statistics (“they got a lot of people fired”) or how many insults he snaps off at umpires who make questionable calls against his Sox.
When I have a ballgame on at home, there are only two announcers that entertain me every time: Vin Scully and Hawk Harrelson. Have you smacked your forehead and come back to your senses with smelling salts yet? Good. Now, let me explain…
Like literature, music, film, and art, baseball broadcasting is a matter of personal taste. This goes for the broadcaster’s voice, style, and level of class, but also for whether or not he/she satisfies the listener’s needs. Mine are simple and decidedly old school. If given no other choice I’ll listen to practically anybody, but to make me happy I ask for: 1.) A broadcaster who is engaged in every pitch, and 2.) A broadcaster with a voice that allows me to kick back with a cold one on a hot night and sink into the rhythm of the game.
Scully and Harrelson satisfy both of these cravings. (But this is a column about Harrelson, so I’ll end my tribute to Vinny here with the observation that when you have a Dodgers game on in the background, you can clean the entire kitchen, do three loads of laundry, never look at the TV screen, and still not miss a single thing that happens on the field.)
A small part of me is sympathetic to the Hawk because he was the lone bright spot in the Red Sox’s 1968 season when I was growing up in New England. It was an important year, coming off their pennant-winning Impossible Dream. The Tigers may have been flattening the American League, but Harrelson pounded 35 homers, knocked in 109, modeled a crisp blue Nehru jacket on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and kept our beacon of Fenway magic lit on the cleat-heels of Yaz’s Triple Crown heroics.
On the other hand, I also loved Nomah Garciaparra when he was in his prime, and that guy has no place in a broadcast booth. Hawk’s effortless South Carolina drawl, corny catch-phrases, deep baseball experience and unbridled, over-the-top passion make watching a White Sox game like sitting in the South Side bleachers with your eccentric Uncle Ken.
Publicly chastise the umpires? Call for Joe West’s suspension (as he did here)?
If you ask me, when you’re right you should tell it like it is.
Homerism? Shmomerism. WGN may be nationally syndicated, but there’s nothing in the rules that says a broadcaster for a local team needs to be objective. I’ve heard White Sox radio guy Ed Farmer (only occasionally, because I don’t care for his delivery), who is also a shameless homer. Harry Caray was a complete homer yet was totally beloved. Jack Brickhouse was even less objective than Harry and would yell like a banshee whenever a Cub went yard. So Hawk jokingly refers to the players on his field as “good guys” and “bad guys”, gets morose when the other team scores and this is somehow unforgivable? I don’t get it.
What Hawk and his dryly funny and smart color man Steve Stone thankfully never do is turn their booth into a nightly, headache-inducing talk show. In my mind, there is no worse trend in the last 40-odd years of sports broadcasting than this. I believe ABC gave rise to the disease with Monday Night Football and spread it into Monday Night Baseball featuring the insufferable Howard Cosell. Now, it’s almost everywhere; stuff three people into the booth, and fill the “empty spaces” between the action—when viewers might otherwise be thinking for themselves and feeling suspense—with endless topical lectures and debates. ESPN broadcasters are the worst, often missing events on the field because they’re so busy pontificating.
I don’t always agree with Hawk. I believe these newfangled sabermetrics improve our knowledge and understanding of the game, and I like when a baseball broadcaster or analyst can refer to WHIP, OPS or VORP without making fun of them. But it’s far from the reason I tune in to a baseball telecast. I have all the Joe Sheehan, Jonah Keri, Rany Jazayerli, and Fangraphs I need daily on the Internet, and can read them between innings if I need to.
I want something different from a TV broadcaster. I want a good tour guide to entertain and educate me while I sit back and relax and enjoy the action.
When he goes nuts, I forgive him, because I go nuts sometimes, too. The important thing is that he’s focused on every crumb of action and lets a ball game breathe, and I wish more announcers would remember to do that.