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."

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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