"Grab some bench!"
"Sit back, relax and strap it down!"
"You can put it on the board, yes!"
"And this ballgame is ovah!"
No broadcaster in the history of baseball has created more words and catchphrases for the sport than Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.
And it’s not even close.
"Chopper two hopper"
"Right size, wrong shape"
"Grab some bench"
"Rack ‘em up"
"He got a cookie right there"
"Cinch it up and hunker down"
"Don’t stop now boys"
"You can cancel the postgame show"
You could go on and on and on.
As the longtime play-by-play announcer of the White Sox, the distinct language Harrelson invented altered the tectonic plates of broadcasting. His pioneering terminology, both catchy and grandiose, can fill a book. His love for the South Siders ran so deep, he bled White Sox black and white in the booth for 34 years.
And when the winner of the Ford Frick Award is announced on Wednesday at the MLB Winter Meetings, inducting one broadcaster into the Hall of Fame, no offense to the seven other worthy candidates, but that person has to be Hawk Harrelson.
It’s time. It’s past time.
“How he’s not in the Hall of Fame is mind-boggling to me,” former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “I know a lot of the guys who have gone in on the Frick Award, and not that those guys aren’t deserving, but there’s no person on the planet that I know of who has done more not only to promote baseball and to promote baseball on television than him.”
The 78-year-old Harrelson has been a Frick finalist before, in 2007, 2014 and 2017, but he came up short all three times for an award that only once every three years is handed out to a team-specific broadcaster like him.
Did Hawk’s blatant homer-ism rub opposing fans and opposing players the wrong way? Yep. Probably some broadcasters, too. Has that impacted his candidacy for the Frick Award in the past? Probably.
But Harrelson didn’t broadcast games to make friends with other teams. He was there to serve White Sox fans, and whether you loved him or hated him — there’s really no in between with Hawk — his rooting interest for the team that employed him went so deep, the stories and quotes are legendary.
“When we play the Cubs, I want to kick their you-know-whats,” Harrelson told me in a 2017 interview.
How many broadcasters would ever say something like that on the record? I can only think of one: Hawk Harrelson.
When he feared that former White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier broke his jaw diving into the stands for a foul ball in 2016, Harrelson literally left the booth and rushed into the clubhouse for a medical update.
How many broadcasters do you know who would actually leave their post during a game to check on the well-being of one of the players? Again, I can only think of only one: Hawk Harrelson.
He was a homer who cleared the bases every time he stepped up to the microphone, whether the White Sox won or lost.
“Harry Caray is in the Hall of Fame. There wasn’t a bigger homer in the history of the world, right?" Pierzynski said. “Every year that goes by that he doesn’t get in, to me is just a joke.”
It makes sense for Pierzynski to feel this strongly about Harrelson, who’s been a father figure/glorified uncle to Pierzynski since the catcher was a teenager growing up in Orlando, Florida.
But now, sentiment about Harrelson repeatedly getting snubbed for the Hall has been building well outside of Chicago. Support for his candidacy around baseball is getting louder. One might say even raucous, like Hawk himself.
"I know the backroom conversation is, 'But oh, he was such a homer.' Well, isn't that whole doggone point? Isn’t that the idea?” said Matt Vasgersian, the MLB Network host and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," on a recent edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast.
“Don’t White Sox fans when they turn on a White Sox game want to know the perspective from their own team? So he would root a little bit, ‘Come on, Robin! Come on, Robin!’ The snotty, persnickety broadcaster who doesn’t think he’s above the fray would say, ‘That’s not the way you’re supposed to play it.’ No, that’s not the way you’re supposed to play it if you’re a national broadcast where you have to do it down the middle. But Hawk works for the White Sox. He was doing the games for White Sox fans, and nobody served their home fans better than Hawk Harrelson, ever. Ever in the history of this.”
Vasgersian doesn’t have any localized skin in the game, oh, like I do. He grew up in Northern California as an Oakland A’s fan. Incidentally, Harrelson lost the Frick award in 2017 to the late Bill King, who called A’s games from 1981 to 2005. Harrelson’s competition this year is Joe Castiglione, Jacques Doucet, Tom Hamilton, Pat Hughes, Ned Martin, Mike Shannon and Dewayne Staats.
“I’m not anti anybody else, I’m just so much pro Hawk than I am anybody else,” Vasgersian said. “It gets me when anyone else gets in before Hawk.”
Vasgersian is so fired up about Harrelson’s case this year, he’s making it a personal mission to get Hawk into the Hall. The winner is announced Dec. 11.
“I’ve actually taken this pursuit, this quest, to the committee itself and members of the committee. Give me the names, give me the phone numbers. I'd like to have conversations with each of them and figure out why the vote doesn't go Hawk's way as it should have for a long number of years,” Vasgersian explained. “I don't think any of them would be honest with me because they know the next morning on (MLB Network’s) 'Hot Stove' if the vote doesn’t go Hawk’s way, I’ll out them. I will name names. I'm just so fed up with him not getting this award."
The voting committee consists of the 11 living Frick Award recipients, among them Marty Brennaman, Bob Costas, Tim McCarver, Jon Miller, Eric Nadel, Vin Scully and Bob Uecker. Plus, four broadcast historians/columnists.
Harrelson’s impact in the booth could often be heard in the White Sox clubhouse, where players like Pierzynski, Mark Buehrle and Paul Konerko would use catchphrases like “he gone,” “stretch,” “mercy,” and “dagummit” in everyday life, unrelated to baseball. They still do. They’re not the only ones.
“My wife says, ‘He gone,’” Vesgersian said. “Hawk’s vernacular has bled into the nomenclature of life. He’s made more of an impact that way than any other broadcaster that’s even in the Hall of Fame currently. I get so wound up about it, the fact that he’s been on the ballot, he’s been eligible for this very prestigious honor before and for whatever reason, the committee thinks it’s more appropriate to put a guy who’s been dead for 60 years in the Hall of Fame now as opposed to getting Hawk in. He should’ve been in the inaugural class in the Frick wing, as far as I’m concerned.”
Besides Harrelson’s catchphrases, there are also the memorable nicknames he created for White Sox players that in some cases became more popular than the actual names of the players themselves.
— “Big Hurt” (Frank Thomas)
— “Little Hurt (Craig Grebeck)
— “Black Jack” (Jack McDowell)
— “El Caballo” (Carlos Lee)
— “The Cuban Missle” (Alexei Ramirez)
— “One Dog” (Lance Johnson)
— “The Milkman” (Herbert Perry)
— “The Deacon” (Warren Newson)
He even gave me a nickname: “Our Chuck.” It follows me wherever I go.
“I think all that you can really ask for any broadcaster is to leave his mark on the game, and Hawk certainly did leave his mark on the game,” said Steve Stone — “The Stone Pony” — Harrelson’s broadcast partner from 2009 to 2018. “The one thing that you ask of a broadcaster is the exact same thing that Howard Cosell had, which was regardless of what your feelings are, on either side of the equation, you can’t be ambivalent. When you bring up Hawk Harrelson’s name, nobody is ambivalent. He has his ardent supporters, he has his detractors, but he has an opinion. If that’s the case, then you’ve done your job. I think for many, many years, Hawk did his job. I think he’s well deserving of the Ford Frick.”
Stone added, “I think his chances are good. I think this is his best chance yet.”
White Sox fans can only hope.
In a 2017 interview, I asked Harrelson if it hurts that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. He said no. I don’t believe him.
Pierzynski, who was sitting next to Harrelson, interjected, “It hurts me!”
“I want it for my children and my grandchildren.” That’s all Harrelson would say about the honor. Harrelson politely declined to be interviewed for this story. He’s choosing to stay silent about the Ford Frick Award until the recipient is announced.
“I want it so he’ll give a speech, because the speech will be epic,” Pierzynski said.
Dadgum right it will be.
Now that he’s retired, Harrelson’s legacy in the booth is one that should not only be honored, but finally appreciated throughout the game of baseball.
How unique was Hawk Harrelson? Ask yourself this: Who’s the next Hawk? It’s a simple answer. That person doesn’t exist. There will never be anyone like him ever again in baseball.
Even though his replacement, my colleague Jason Benetti, is one of the best play-by-play announcers working today, no matter how great Benetti is — and he is great — Harrelson was such a trailblazer. His words still echo on the South Side in the minds of White Sox fans when Jose Abreu goes deep: “You can put it on the board, yes!" And when Lucas Giolito records a strikeout: “He gone!” It will take decades for that to go away.
In that 2017 interview, I asked Harrelson, when all is said and done, how he’d like to be remembered. His answer was pure Hawk and truly encapsulates what the iconic White Sox broadcaster was all about.
“When they put me six feet under and they get the gravestone, I want a few things on it,” he said. “I want, ‘Here’s a guy who loved baseball. Here’s a guy who loved his White Sox. He gone!’”
You want that on your gravestone?
“I want that on my gravestone: He gone!”
But before that day comes, one line needs to be added, not just to the headstone, but to Harrelson’s legacy.
Hall of Fame broadcaster.
His name should be forever enshrined in Cooperstown. It’s up to the voting committee to make it happen.
Not next time. This time. What Hawk Harrelson gave the game of baseball is something to be remembered for all time.