Very few Chicago residents have no opinion on Hawk Harrelson.
Baseball fans — and those who don’t pay attention to the game, an example of how transcendent Harrelson is — either love the guy or hate the guy. His supporters marvel at his passion for the White Sox, how much he’s given this team and how he lives and dies with every pitch, and they can’t imagine what comes next, an era of White Sox baseball without Harrelson as the narrator. His detractors decry what they believe to be a lack of professionalism in the booth and have been counting down to this day for some time.
Whether you loved it or hated it, the Hawk Harrelson Era is ovah, given its final sendoff with the finale of this weekend’s Crosstown series Sunday afternoon on the South Side. And whether you were sad or joyful, Harrelson doesn’t care. What’s important to him — and what is an inarguable point no matter what side of the fence you sit on — is that he was always himself through every minute of his decades in the booth.
“I get a lot of letters every year,” Harrelson told an assemblage of reporters before Sunday’s broadcast. “I get close to 100, maybe, from the young college aspirants who seek to become an announcer. And (they write), ’Is there any advice, Hawk, you can give us?’ I tell them, ‘Yes, be yourself.’
“Curt Gowdy and Howard Cosell both told me exactly the same thing: Don’t try to please everybody because you can’t. The guys who try to please everybody really don’t last a whole bunch of time. I’ve been behind the mic for 42 years: seven with Boston, two with the Yankees and 33 with my Sox here. And I don’t try to please everybody. There are a lot of people out here I piss off.
“It doesn’t bother me because of the fact that I’m going to say what I think. Always have and I always will.
“Especially about the Cubs.”
Yes, it’s fitting that Harrelson’s final game came with the White Sox facing off against their Crosstown rivals. He’s had a particular sore spot for the North Siders, going as far to say that he’ll never again set foot inside Wrigley Field. And this was his pregame thinking as he prepared to wrap up an incredible, highlight-filled career Sunday: “Right now, the only thing I want to do is take this game and kick the Cubs ass.”
But the Cub fandom that invaded the South Side these last three days can serve as a nice foil to Harrelson as he rides off into the sunset. So many of them have been Harrelson’s most vocal critics. He hasn’t changed a bit for them or any other critics, regardless of their rooting interests, and because of it he’s going down as one of the game’s great characters.
That character of course came out again Sunday before he even went on the air, with some Hawkisms of a more recent vintage joining the oldies but goodies during his media session. When asked a serious question that had a bit of a serious answer, Harrelson had to lay another one out there.
“Last week was the first time it popped into my mind,” he said asked if he’s had any thoughts of regret over calling it a career. “I told my wife, I said, ‘Honey, this retirement issue might be overrated.’ All I’ve been doing is watching ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and turning a lot of Smirnoff into urine.”
One of Harrelson’s oft-repeated lines this year has been his prediction that the city is in for some of the best baseball it’s seen in the next several years, with the Cubs one of the game’s perennial contenders and the White Sox boasting the young talent throughout the organization to eventually reach that status, too. He said it again Sunday, relaying it as what he told Jason Benetti as he takes over play-by-play duties full time starting next season.
“Jason, who is going to be sitting in my chair for a long time, he’s a wonderful young man and a terrific announcer. I told him sit back, relax and strap it down because you are getting ready to go on the wildest ride you’ve ever been on,” Harrelson said, “because our club in two years is going to be a monster.
“It’s going to be fun to watch, and it’s going to be fun because the Cubs, they are good and they are not going anywhere. So it’s going to be fun to watch these two clubs butt heads.
“I think it has the chance to be the greatest decade in Chicago baseball history.”
Here’s hoping that’s the case. But no matter how good it gets, it will be a little less entertaining without Harrelson to call it.