What gets under the skin of Chicago White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson?
White Sox losses.
White Sox losses.
And the modern baseball statistical analysis known as sabermetrics.
Bring up the computerized, math-based strategy that has taken hold of the game for the last decade, and Harrelson’s blood will boil. Throw in Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his Moneyball creation, and your tape recorder might burst into flames.
“It’s bull----, and [Beane] has proven it’s bull---- by the moves he’s made and the deals he’s made, and the games he’s lost. How long has he been there?” Harrelson told me in a 2011 interview soon after the Moneyball movie was released. “I think it’s one of the biggest farces I’ve ever seen in baseball. I said at the time it’s going to get a lot of managers fired, and it has.”
Now, Harrelson is set to appear on MLB Network on Thursday at 3 p.m. to face off with anchor Brian Kenny, a strong proponent of sabermetrics who called out Harrelson earlier this month after he said on the air that sabermetrics is “the most overrated thing to come into baseball” in the last 10 years.
Get ready for a friendly, but fierce, debate.
“I told the White Sox, I won’t do the show unless Brian Kenny is on it,” Harrelson said Wednesday. He admits he’s a big fan of Kenny’s work. Sabermetrics? Not so much.
“I am looking forward to speaking with Hawk, and he’s been a gentleman throughout,” Kenny said by phone Thursday. “He doesn’t deserve to have the replaying of my rant thrown in his face and I’m sorry about that. But I am reacting to a seemingly incessant backlash toward analytics. I don’t understand that thinking.”
Harrelson actually believes that a healthy balance of computers and old-fashioned scouting is good for the game, but in his mind the Billy Beane School of Baseball has tipped the scales to such a point that players are starting to behave less like human beings and more like robots.
“When you start inundating players with numbers and information, you lose something,” Harrelson explained. “I think baseball has lost a lot of its childlike qualities, and it’s a kid’s game. You take Mark Buehrle, he has never lost his child-like qualities. That’s one reason he can go out there and throw an 86-mph fastball and still compete and win. So if a lot of players lose it, the individual game loses it.”
The Moneyball book got rave reviews and has sold over 1 million copies worldwide. One person who hasn’t read it is Harrelson. He never will.
“I wouldn’t waste the money,” he said. “I’ve heard some guys who’ve read it. I’ve talked to some guys who liked it, and I’ve talked to a majority of guys who think it was a bunch of bull----, which if I read it, I’m sure that’s what I think it will be.”
Harrelson knows what it’s like to be a major league general manager. He held the job with the White Sox in 1985-86, and took many arrows to the chest for the firing of Tony LaRussa, who ironically went on to win the 1989 World Series with the A’s. That team happened to have a little-used outfielder that season by the name of Billy Beane.
We know what Harrelson thinks of sabermetrics. What about Beane as a GM?
“I think he’s the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history.”
So today it's Harrelson vs. Kenny. Old school vs. new school. Will we be watching?
As Hawk would say, "You can put it on the board ... yes!"