White Sox

After White Sox announce 2018 will be his last season in booth, Hawk Harrelson reflects on baseball, hate mail and chasing truck drivers

After White Sox announce 2018 will be his last season in booth, Hawk Harrelson reflects on baseball, hate mail and chasing truck drivers

Hawk Harrelson’s legendary broadcast career with the White Sox is about to be put on the board.

The longtime White Sox announcer will spend his final season in the team’s booth in 2018, calling 20 games at Guaranteed Rate Field before moving to an ambassador role with the team in 2019.

Harrelson started calling White Sox games in 1982, the beginning of a four-season stint in the booth before he became the team’s general manager for the 1986 season. After that came two years broadcasting for the New York Yankees, but he returned to the South Side and has been calling games for the White Sox ever since.

That’s 33 seasons of “he gone” and “can of corn” and “Kansas City special” and “you gotta be bleepin’ me” and “TWTW” and “put it on the board.” Next season, his 34th, will be his last.

Harrelson talked to the assembled media after the White Sox made the announcement Wednesday, and the 75-year-old announcer famous for wearing his emotions on his sleeve showed them once again, choking up as he talked about what is now an official end to his broadcast career.

“After all these years? After so many strikeouts and so many fat sand wedges and over 6,000 games I called, it’s about that time,” Harrelson said. “It’s getting there. I still love it. But I want to spend more time with the grandkids.

“The White Sox, this has been the greatest ride of my life, and it’s been a lot of fun with these fans. I’ll never forget anything that has to do with this, nothing. I’ll remember it forever.”

While spending more time with his family seemed to be the primary reason for Harrelson’s decision, he also alluded to his lengthy commute from Granger, Ind., and his drives back late after games. And of course he did it in his trademark style.

“Living in the Eastern zone and working in the Central zone, after the games are getting longer, that makes my trip with my temper — semi-truck drivers and my temper don’t mix. Not at 3:30 in the morning, especially when it’s raining, because I’ve got an axe handle in the back of my car along with some mace,” Harrelson said to laughs. “And I’ve literally chased some of those guys before. I’m just glad I haven’t caught anybody because one of us would’ve been knocked out.”

Harrelson will be remembered for tales like that one. An entertainer as much as a baseball announcer, Harrelson’s catchphrases, nicknames and stories about his playing days along famed players like Carl Yastrzemski have become part of his appeal to many — as well as part of why he’s not necessarily beloved by many others.

Yes, Harrelson sometimes seems to generate as many complaints as he does laughs. But don’t think that bothers him. He chuckled over receiving his fair share of hate mail over the years.

“I’ve learned over the years that I’ve got very, very thick skin,” Harrelson said. “And some of the best laughs and fun I’ve had has been reading some of the fan mail: ‘Hawk, you stink.’ And of course there’s a lot more on the other side that I appreciate. I still get a tremendous amount of fan mail. And as long as that happens, that says something about longevity in announcing.”

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Regardless of how one evaluates his announcing, though, what is an indisputable fact is his love of the White Sox.

In addition to being the team’s play-by-play voice, he’s also been its biggest fan. The elated howls of “these kids won’t quit” and the angered cries of “dadgummit” have shown just how much he has in common with the folks in the stands and watching at home.

Wednesday, in addition to saying how much he’ll miss those fans he shared so much with, he talked about what a joy it’s been for him to spend decades on the South Side.

“The White Sox have something special, and if you talk to a lot of players around baseball, the ones who have been here, they love it. To me it has been the greatest organization … in baseball,” he said. “There’s not a better organization in baseball than the Chicago White Sox. It’s just that simple. You can tie us but you can’t beat us. To be in the situation I’ve been in, I’ve been blessed to have been in this situation for all these years.

“(Jerry Reinsdorf is) the best owner in sports. You get other guys — for an example, we had some scouts the other day in Phoenix talking, three of them. And one of them said, ‘Hawk, I’m coming to see you guys next home stand. I’ve got to meet Jerry Reinsdorf. I just want to go up and shake his hand. I’ve got to meet him.’ And the other guys chimed in. Not many owners brought seven world championships to a city, and he’s not done yet.”

Harrelson’s swan song from broadcasting next year will help him advance toward his goal of spending parts of eight decades in professional baseball, a stated legacy he wants to leave for his grandchildren. After so many years in the game, you’d think Harrelson would have learned all there is to learn.

Instead, he’s learned perhaps the hardest thing to learn: that he still doesn’t know this game. And that’s what he’s going to miss most.

“Anybody tells you they know baseball, they’re full of it,” Harrelson said. “Nobody knows this game, that’s how beautiful it is. It changes all the time, and anytime a game changes, all of the sudden you don’t understand it."

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”