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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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Nick Madrigal's four-hit day shows what White Sox newest core member can do

Nick Madrigal's four-hit day shows what White Sox newest core member can do

We knew we'd see a bunch of base hits off the bat of Nick Madrigal.

We didn't think we'd see them all in one day.

After going hitless in his first two games as a big leaguer, Madrigal ended his 0-for-8 start to his major league career with a four-hit game in Sunday's White Sox win over the Royals.

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"I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, I’m going to be honest with you," Madrigal said after the game. "It’s something I was thinking about, and it’s a huge of sigh of relief one I got the first one."

He got the first four in four consecutive trips to the plate Sunday, the second of back-to-back offensive eruptions the White Sox capable lineup unleashed on Royals pitching this weekend. A 1-4 start has yielded to a four-game winning streak for the South Siders, a team that looks more complete with Madrigal in the lineup.

Pegged as the second baseman of the future since he was drafted two summers ago, he's now the second baseman of the present, with manager Rick Renteria declaring, regular days of rest aside, that you'll see Madrigal in his lineup every day moving forward. You wouldn't expect anything less for the newest member of the White Sox impressive young core.

Folks have been anticipating the arrival of Madrigal's different kind of hitting style for a while now, simultaneously wondering if a high-contact, singles-hitting guy can thrive in modern baseball, which is so often defined by patience and power.

Madrigal's just three games into his career, so the answer to that question will have to wait, even though it's already looking like his approach is a valuable addition to a potent White Sox lineup. But Sunday, he delivered as advertised. He knocked out four singles, going the other way to right field for his first big league hit and bouncing one up the middle for No. 2.

If you were playing Madrigal bingo, you would've marked off spots on your card.

You would have, too, after a display of his much touted high baseball IQ. A game that finished 9-2 was still a low-scoring tie in the seventh inning, and it was Madrigal who broke the 2-all deadlock. He led off the inning with a single and went from first to third when Luis Robert followed with a base hit. It was a heads-up play that allowed him to score when José Abreu grounded a ball through the infield two batters later.

Considering the White Sox ended up hanging a seven spot on the scoreboard that inning, it's not like Madrigal's base-running play made the difference in the ballgame. But it certainly showed off what the team's new everyday second baseman is capable of.

"His approach has been making adjustments to everything," Renteria said. "I think he was a little calmer, and after the first hit he was even much more relaxed. When you get to the big leagues, you want to get that one out of the way, and everyone was extremely ecstatic for him. It loosened him up."

RELATED: White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal arrives, was 'a little mad' missing opener

It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that Madrigal should've been doing this kind of thing at the major league level since Opening Day. Certainly he'd argue that.

"Once they told me (I wasn't going to be on the Opening Day roster), it was kind of hard to hear," Madrigal said. "Once I went down to Schaumburg, I stayed positive. I knew my time would come. ... I was hoping it would be soon and just a couple of days in. It was definitely tough to hear, to be honest with you."

But while the White Sox have talked about 2020 playoff expectations since January, the ultimate goal is to be a contender for as long as possible. While the supposed "developmental years" of this rebuilding project are over, that doesn't mean there aren't two guys in the White Sox lineup — at the top and bottom of it Saturday and Sunday, with Robert batting leadoff and Madrigal in the No. 9 spot — who can count their major league games without taking their shoes off.

In other words, there's still developing and growing and figuring things out to be done.

But it doesn't look like Robert is having much trouble adjusting to major league pitching, though, and Madrigal, now the owner of a four-hit game in just one weekend of big league action, might follow suit. If the new second baseman can strengthen the lineup even further — a lineup he said, by the way, hasn't even fully clicked yet, despite the 20 runs and 35 hits it amassed over the last two days in Kansas City — then those playoff expectations could become reality.

"That was one of the things they said once I went down," Madrigal said, "once I got here, they would be looking at me for a big role on the team."

He's here now. And he's already showing off what he's capable of doing.


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Streaking White Sox turn slow start around: 'All these games are must-win'

Streaking White Sox turn slow start around: 'All these games are must-win'

Playoff mode, from Day 1.

Remember? That’s how the White Sox were approaching this most unusual, 60-game season, a two-month sprint to October where every game was said to mean so much. A fast start was critical. And so the players were going to treat every game like a playoff game.

Well, if the season was a best-of-seven playoff series, the White Sox would have been eliminated after five games.

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Thankfully for them, it isn’t, and after a 1-4 start that had plenty questioning whether this was really a team poised for a leap into contention mode, the White Sox have rattled off four straight wins — including a sweep-capping 9-2 thumping of the Royals on Sunday — and are above .500.

“The morale is way better,” starting pitcher Dylan Cease said after Sunday’s game. “We're back over .500 now. Nobody was panicked. We have enough vets on the team to calm everyone down. It definitely feels better to be on the positive side of .500.”

There’s limited opportunity for a team still learning how to win to evolve into a winner in this short season. But that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity at all, and the White Sox are growing nonetheless.

It might end up being proven that this recent surge was perhaps an anomaly caused by a weekend series against a team that lost 103 games last year. While 20 runs and 35 hits in back-to-back offensive eruptions sure looked like a completed puzzle showing what it was capable of, we’ll see what happens when that same lineup gets another taste of Indians pitching or has to go toe to toe with the Twins again.

But there’s been more change than just the competition.

“I think we're in a pretty good spot,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “I think the first two series, it was more of trying to feel each other out. Even though a lot of these guys have played together for a while now, we have a lot of young guys who haven't been in the big leagues for a while. It's almost like a brand new team, if you can think of it that way. I think we're getting a sense of what we can do and how we can help each other out in different situations.

“It's starting to learn how to make adjustments. Obviously Minnesota got on us early for two games, but we went right back at them. We ended up losing the first game, but we started making adjustments from then. With the Indians, same thing, ended up winning the last game and we kind of saw and started feeling exactly what we can do in certain situations so that we're not giving up outs.

“We're getting on base, we're making pitches. I feel like making adjustments from one series to another, from one game to another, is going to be the biggest thing.”

RELATED: With Luis Robert on fire and Nick Madrigal aboard, the White Sox future is now

Grandal was one of a couple new White Sox veterans who predicted during “Summer Camp” that the team’s youth could result in either a really good start to the campaign or a really bad one. Who knows how long a “start” lasts, numerically, in a 60-game season. If it’s nine games, then neither of those ends of the spectrum came true and instead the White Sox are right down the middle.

But since the start looked anything but fast midway through last week, the positives have started coming in in droves. This young lineup has looked particularly excellent, with the trio of Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez and Yoán Moncada putting up big numbers. Jiménez has a .997 OPS, with Robert and Moncada following with marks of .979 and .890, respectively.

Then there’s Nick Madrigal, whose big league arrival alone had a positive effect, seemingly completing the puzzle at the big league level for a White Sox fanbase that’s been drawing up lineups of the future for so long. But he did more than just be in the lineup Sunday, putting together a four-hit day in just his third career game.

After shaky starting-pitching performances the first time through the rotation, not everything’s exactly fixed just yet. Reynaldo López is on the injured list, Gio González lasted just 3.2 innings in his first start for the team that drafted him 16 years ago, and Carlos Rodón hasn’t yet had the chance to bounce back from his first outing of the year. But Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease solved whatever was bothering them in their first starts of the season. Giolito responded with six shutout innings against the Indians, and Cease shone with two runs in six innings against the Royals on Sunday.

The small sample sizes and momentum-swinging stretches of this squeezed-down 2020 season could cause a whiplash of emotion and perception for the next two months. But for right now, things are looking up on the South Side.

“You can see, immediately, how much talent is on the roster, and to be out there with those guys, it’s a lot of fun,” Madrigal said. “I really don’t even think all of us have clicked at once yet. There have been glimpses of some guys getting hot, but I’m excited once everyone kind of clicks in the same game. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

As should come as no surprise, these pro athletes aren’t going to ride that same emotional roller coaster, at least not in their public comments. “Taking it one day at a time” is one of sports’ most used cliches — and for good reason, as it often seems to work, especially for teams that are really good to begin with.

But these White Sox are sticking to their guns that “one day at a time” means a whole lot more in 2020. Playoff mode isn’t going anywhere.

“We know all these games are must-win,” Cease said. “I think we're treating them like playoff games pretty much at this point.”


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