White Sox

Not next time, this time: Hawk Harrelson needs to be in the Hall of Fame

Not next time, this time: Hawk Harrelson needs to be in the Hall of Fame

"Stretch!"

"Mercy!"

"He gone!"

"Dagummit!"

"Gas!"

"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.

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Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

When will Nick Madrigal reach the majors?

That, now that Luis Robert's path to an Opening Day roster spot has been cleared by a big-money contract extension, is the most pressing of the prospect-related queries facing the 2020 White Sox, a team that, it should be noted, will be turning its focus away from the minors and toward playing big league baseball in October for the first time in more than a decade.

Not unlike Robert, Madrigal shredded minor league pitching in 2019, playing at three levels and showing just how successful his elite bat-to-ball skills can make him as an offensive producer. He stepped to the plate 532 times and struck out only 16 times.

There's a reason even Rick Renteria is already calling the 22-year-old "Magic."

The general feeling seems to be that Madrigal will start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, though with the waiting game apparently over on the South Side and the intent to win as many games as possible, perhaps a strong showing at spring training will see Madrigal starting at second base in the March 26 opener.

That's a question better answered after the White Sox have been in Glendale for a few weeks.

But Madrigal's goal is clear.

"I definitely want to be in Chicago as soon as I can," Madrigal said earlier this week at the team's hitters' camp out in the desert. "I know they have a plan for me one way or another, but I think that’s the ultimate goal: being in Chicago and winning with that team.

"I know this offseason there’s been a lot of moves, and I’m excited to be a part of that, hopefully, in the near future. The ultimate goal is winning. There’s nothing else at this point."

Madrigal might not have blown the doors off the minors like Robert, who finished with a 30-30 season, but he wasn't fazed by climbing through the system. Madrigal put up good-not-great numbers in nearly 50 games at Class A Winston-Salem but exploded for a .341 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 42 games at Double-A Birmingham before batting .331 and reaching base at a .398 clip in 29 games at Charlotte.

That he didn't even reach 30 games in a Knights uniform could signal that the White Sox might prefer a little more seasoning, but he didn't see any problems facing the pitching at Triple-A.

“Honestly, it wasn’t too different at all. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before," he said. "There were some older guys in the league, more consistent arms. I thought it wasn’t anything too different.”

Madrigal's earning high praise all over the place, rated among the best prospects in the game. He's earned rave reviews for his ability on both sides of the ball, picked by team executives (in an MLB Pipeline poll) as having one of the best hit tools and gloves of any player in the minor leagues.

There still might be some skepticism, or perhaps mere curiosity, as to how Madrigal's skill set will translate to the major leagues. Players like him, who focus on making contact and putting the ball in play, are becoming rarer in today's game, which sees a focus on power and launch angle and an acceptance of strikeouts. His manager, one of "Magic's" biggest fans, isn't too concerned about Madrigal finding success once he finally makes the jump to the bigs.

"Watching him swing the bat yesterday, I'm amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It's incredible," Renteria said Wednesday from Arizona. "He's actually filling out a little bit more. All these guys, we've seen them for the last four years, they're growing up. And even though Magic just joined us last year, you can see a difference in him, physically speaking.

"I think his skill set, in terms of his bat-to-ball skills, as he continues to develop, you may see a ball leave the ballpark here and there. But the fact he can put the bat on the ball and manage the barrel as well as he does, he'll be able to find holes. Continuing to improve upon and cleaning his swing path, staying through the ball a little bit more and still being able to use all parts of the field, his skill set will play. He'll find a way to get on base at a high rate through probably contact and eye recognition, pitch recognition."

Rick Hahn has said that he expects Madrigal to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign, so even if he doesn't make the 26-man roster out of spring training, keep your eyes peeled for a Madrigal sighting not too deep into the baseball calendar.

This is a matter of when, not if. So the walk-up music folks at Guaranteed Rate Field better start getting ready. Will it be "Magic Man" by Heart? Or "Strange Magic" by Electric Light Orchestra? "Do You Believe in Magic" by The Lovin' Spoonful is, of course, also acceptable.

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Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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