White Sox

Sox Drawer: Looking back at Hawk's broadcast past

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Sox Drawer: Looking back at Hawk's broadcast past

Monday, June 7, 2010
12:48 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

To understand how Hawk Harrelson became a broadcaster, you have to go back 35 years, to a golf course in Southeast Georgia and a helpless tree that was moments away from being severely beaten.

After retiring from baseball at the ripe old age of 29, Hawk felt he had a more promising future in golf. With a zero handicap, he traveled the country playing Mini Tour events, his wife Aris by his side.

That was until one day at Savannah Country Club, when temper fatefully met timber.

Playing in a foursome with Fuzzy Zoeller and Bobby Wadkins, Harrelson shot a 39 on the front, and something worse on the back. Hawk doesn't remember the score, just what happened when he stomped off the 18th green.

"I took my clubs off the cart and crushed them against this big oak tree," Harrelson recalls. "I broke every club in the bag. And I saw my wife walk off the course in tears and I said either I have to get out of this game or Ill lose my wife. And I did. I decided to retire. The very next morning I got a call from the Red Sox and they said, 'Hawk' we want you to come up and interview for the analyst job.'"

Hawk was hired for the 1975 season. His first broadcasting partner was Dick Stockton, a man he refers to as "Richard."

And how did Hawk do that first year in the booth?

"I sucked," Harrelson admits.

Part of the problem was the South Carolina natives pronounced Southern drawl which had Boston fans both confused and irate.

"I didn't know what I was doing and coming from the South, I'd say 'high fastball,' and the listeners thought I was saying 'half-ass ball.' So they were getting all these letters all the time saying, 'Please stop him from cussing on the air!'"

But now, over three decades (and three million "dadgumits") later, Harrelson is not just gainfully employed as a broadcaster, he has become a White Sox icon, enjoying his 25th season in the booth.

All these Hawkisms wouldcome from my playing days and everybody wouldhave nicknames. I still have a lot of nicknames for these guys. Some ofthem I cant use over the air,though.-- Hawk Harrelson, on the origins of hisHawkisms
Tonight at 9:30, Comcast SportsNet is airing a half-hour special, "Put it on the Board!: 25 Years with Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson," a wide-ranging interview program that covers the gamut of his announcing career. Yet, when I sat down with Hawk to do the show, he was quick to point out that this is not his 25th season with the franchise.

"Its actually been 26," he says with a laugh. "But we won't tell anybody that."

Are you talking about that one year when you were the White Sox general manager?

"Right. Let's delete that!"

Yes, Harrelsons one-year foray in the Sox front office in 1986 is not exactly legendary.

That is unless youre a fan of the A's or Cardinals.

After a 28-38 start to the 1986 season, Harrelson famously fired manager Tony LaRussa, who would go on to win five pennants and two World Series in Oakland and St. Louis.

No surprise, Harrelson says that being a general manager is the worst job in baseball.

"It was a situation where there had to be a bit of a turnaround in 1986 with the White Sox because they didn't have much at the minor-league level. Somebody had to come in and clean things out. When you do that, you got to shovel some stuff around and it's not going to be fun and there's no sleep. You might lay down. You might close your eyes, but you're not sleeping."

Who knows what would have happened if Hawk hadnt sacked LaRussa (or traded Bobby Bonilla for Jose DeLeon), but those decisions did create a domino effect that has forever changed the English language as we know it.

It led Harrelson back into the TV booth, first with the Yankees for a season in the late 1980's, before returning in 1990 to the White Sox, where over time he would popularize such catch phrases as:

"Stretch!"
"He gone!"
"Cinch it up and hunker down."
"Right size, wrong shape."
"And, this ballgame is o-vah!"

Our baseball vocabulary has never been the same. But for Hawk, he's never known anything different.

"I say the same things now that I said when I was playing right field in Fenway Park or Old Comiskey Park. Harmon Killibrew would come up to the plate in a big situation in a ballgame, he'd strike out, and I'd say, 'Grab some bench!' All these Hawkisms would come from my playing days and everybody would have nicknames. I still have a lot of nicknames for these guys. Some of them I can't use over the air, though."

But with cameras rolling, he freely admitted that there has long been two different Harrelsons, Ken and Hawk, who split time controlling the thoughts and words of the man we've come to know, or thought we knew.

"I've talked to some psychiatrists about it and they said it's very common," he said. "We all have alter egos, and I recall playing in Fenway Park and we were trying to win a pennant and Carl Yastrzemski would pop up or something, and I'd be in the on-deck circle and I'd say to myself, 'OK Kenny, get out of Hawk's way and let him go.' I would actually say that to myself.

"I won golf tournaments like that. I was trailing Rick Rhoden down at Dan Marino's tournament a few years ago by five shots going into the last day and my friend Joe Heiden who was caddying for me said, 'We're not out of this thing, are we?' And I said, 'No, the Hawk's coming.' And I really believed that. And we went out and shot 31 on the back, went into a playoff, and I beat him on the first hole. The Hawk can do that."

But Ken could never do that?

"Never, never," he said. "He's the guy who protected me all my life, because I didn't want any problems. I don't want any trouble, but when I got in trouble, Hawk is the one who always bailed me out because he wasn't afraid.

"He won't come around all the time. Sometimes I need him and he won't be there. But other times he wants to jump in there and occasionally on the air, he will."

How much does Hawk come out today?

"Not as much as it used to be, but occasionally when I get upset, if we're playing bad or we make a couple of bonehead plays, he'll get in there and get in his two cents."

Mention your undying love for Hawk Harrelson in a sports bar, and you'll get more than someone's two cents.

A drink bought for you or possibly one poured over you.

Few broadcasters in Chicago history have been more polarizing than Harrelson, even amongst certain White Sox fans, who may not care for his style or never-ending stories about Yastrzemski and Catfish Hunter.

But that's Hawk. He is who he is. He bleeds baseball, specifically White Sox baseball. And to those people who call him a "homer?"

"That's the biggest compliment you can pay me," he said. "To me, that's the ultimate compliment you can give an announcer. I'd rather do that than walk the middle of the road or get up there and have no passion, no emotion.

"I have three guys who gave me advice. Gene Kirby, Howard Cosell and Curt Gowdy. They all told me the same thing. Don't try to please everybody, because you're not going to do it. And they were right. I've got some White Sox fans that don't like me and fortunately there are a heck of a lot more who like me than don't."

Tuesday, Hawk will find himself in the "catbird seat," a 2-0 count for a broadcaster who will be celebrated for years of verbally hitting the ball out of the park. He'll be honored at U.S. Cellular Field for "Hawk Harrelson Night." There will be pregame ceremonies, salutes from a number of special guests. Some might surprise you. Harrelson will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the first 10,000 fans will receive a special "Hawkisms" T-shirt with many of his popular catch phrases printed on the back.

What will it all mean? Judging by his reaction to this question, it will likely be emotional.

"A lot ... a lot," Harrelson said, his eyes tearing up a bit behind his sunglasses. "I just hope it's short and sweet. It's something that I really appreciate. Everybody likes to be thanked for a quarter-century with one team. It's just very heartwarming."

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

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USA TODAY

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

The White Sox farm system is baseball's best, according to one of the people making those rankings.

In the wake of Major League Baseball's punishment of the Atlanta Braves for breaking rules regarding the signing of international players — which included the removal of 12 illegally signed prospects from the Braves' organization — MLB.com's Jim Callis tweeted out his updated top 10, and the White Sox are back in first place.

Now obviously there are circumstances that weakened the Braves' system, allowing the White Sox to look stronger by comparison. But this is still an impressive thing considering that three of the White Sox highest-rated prospects from the past year are now full-time big leaguers.

Yoan Moncada used to be baseball's No. 1 prospect, and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez weren't too far behind. That trio helped bolster the highly ranked White Sox system. Without them, despite plenty of other highly touted prospects, common sense would say that the White Sox would slide down the rankings.

But the White Sox still being capable of having baseball's top-ranked system is a testament to the organizational depth Rick Hahn has built in such a short period of time.

While prospect rankings are sure to be refreshed throughout the offseason, here's how MLB Pipeline's rankings look right now in regards to the White Sox:

4. Eloy Jimenez
9. Michael Kopech
22. Luis Robert
39. Blake Rutherford
57. Dylan Cease
90. Alec Hansen

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

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MiLB.com

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.

They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.

But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.

Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate.  At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.  

Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.

Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.

But because he treated every game like it could be his last.

“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.

This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.

“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”

Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.

Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.

“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”

The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.

“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”

So Jirschele took the job.

He was 25 years old.

Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.  

“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher.  I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”

An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.

Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.  

In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.

“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”

Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.

“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”  

While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.  

“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that.  Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number.  Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”

Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.

“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”

Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:

Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball.  His stuff is just off the charts.”

Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that.  You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”

Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm.  I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”

Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”

Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.

Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.

“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”

Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists.  Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.

“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”