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.

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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