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."