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.

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

 

The White Sox take on the Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.97 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.40 ERA)

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Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Back with White Sox, Chris Sale ready to move on from 'fiasco'

Even though he felt isolated and experienced a five-day stretch he called “a fiasco,” Chris Sale was right where he wants to be Thursday, surrounded by White Sox teammates.

Shortly after a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, the pitcher echoed the sentiments of White Sox management in a 10-minute media session when he suggested he’d like to move on from a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property.

With the trade deadline only four days away, Sale wants to stay with the White Sox and hopes the current roster gets an opportunity to win. He also thought an incident in which he destroyed promotional throwback jerseys had been blown out of proportion.

While he didn’t apologize for his actions, the left-hander said he regretted letting down his teammates and fans who attended Saturday’s game. Sale, whose record fell to 14-4 after he allowed two runs in six innings, said he plans to address White Sox players and coaches soon and intends to let them know his level of appreciation.

“I want to let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at,” Sale said. “And let them know how much I appreciate them.

“I felt like I was out on an island, really. 7 o’clock rolls around and I usually know what’s going on. Sitting at the house sucks.

“I regret not being there for my guys. I’m a pitcher. I’m called upon every fifth day and when I can’t go out there for my guys and the fans, it gets to me.”

Similar to March when he pitched a day after ripping executive vice president Kenny Williams, Sale said his focus is back on the field. He declined to answer what he didn’t like about the throwback jerseys, calling it “counterproductive.” Even though the White Sox are on the outside looking in, Sale is hopeful he and his teammates can rally and make a strong postseason push over the final 60 games.

“I think everyone is making just a little bit bigger deal of this then it really is,” Sale said. “We are here to win games and from this point forward, I think that’s our main focus. We are going to come in every day and do our jobs and try to win ballgames, that’s at the forefront.

“I don’t like people filling in for me. I love what I do. I love pitching. I love competing. I love the guys that I’m surrounded by.”

“When I let them down, it hurts me more than it hurts them.”

Three days after he suggested manager Robin Ventura didn’t properly support him, Sale declined to discuss their future relationship and again diverted the conversation back to the field. When asked what was the biggest lesson he took from the ordeal, Sale said he wasn’t quite sure.

“I know you guys are trying to get in there and you guys have to write stories and stuff,” Sale said. “I understand. But they said their side. I said my side. I’m ready to talk about baseball and playing baseball and getting back to winning and getting the Chicago White Sox into the postseason. That’s my goal. That’s my focus. Anything else, that’s for you guys.”

While he admits that his competitive side may have fed into Saturday’s events, he also knows abandoning it would hurt him on the field. Sale said he was inundated by texts and calls from teammates past and present during his absence. That only strengthened his desire to win with the current group, Sale said.

“There’s no doubt my emotions have got me to this point,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the same person without them but stuff happens. Move on. We have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’ll just push forward.

“I’m here to win. I love exactly where I’m at. I have an unbelievable group of guys in that clubhouse. We’re pulling for each other, they are pulling for me and vice versa, through and through. I’d like to stay with this group of guys and make a push for the playoffs because I love those guys.”

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

White Sox find normalcy in Chris Sale's return from suspension

The word of the day Thursday around the cramped confines of the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field was normal, as in getting things back to it with ace left-hander Chris Sale taking the mound after serving a five-game suspension for “insubordination and destruction of team property.”

A completely abnormal story — Sale cut up the 1976 throwback uniforms he didn’t want to wear last Saturday and was sent home for his actions — gave way to a relatively routine evening. Sale allowed two runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts over six innings, though the White Sox lineup was shut down by John Lackey and the Cubs’ new three-headed bullpen monster in a 3-1 Crosstown loss.

“Things were pretty normal,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Guys got here, not a different clubhouse or anything like that. I think everything went fairly normal as far as him going out there and pitching and it was about baseball.”

First baseman Jose Abreu said things felt like an ordinary Sale start, even though the American League’s All-Star starting pitcher hadn’t pitched since July 18. He didn’t have his best stuff and wasn’t his sharpest, either — those three walks were his highest total in over two months — as he wasn’t able to consistently paint the corners with his explosive arsenal of pitches.

But, as usual, Sale worked quickly and kept his team in the game against one of baseball’s best offenses.

“He pitched a very good game,” Abreu said through a translator.

The Cuban first baseman added: “I think that we already moved on.”

Catcher Dioner Navarro agreed.

“He gave us a great outing, we just weren’t able to score any runs for him,” Navarro said.

Before the game, third baseman Todd Frazier said he and his teammates rallied around Sale and hoped a solid outing from the 27-year-old left-hander would put the bizarre incident squarely in the rearview mirror. 

“Some mistakes are bigger than others but you gotta understand that we’re all not perfect,” Frazier said. “Things do happen in this game, different things that you think (you’ve) never seen before, and then it happens. It’s just one of those things, hopefully it goes away quick with the way he pitches."

Sale said he didn’t discuss the incident or his suspension with his teammates before the game to keep things as normal as possible. After he showed up a little after 4:40 p.m., he received hugs and handshakes from teammates welcoming him back following his five-day exile.

But after that, Navarro said things were business as usual. He and Sale went through the gameplan and got ready to face the Cubs' powerful lineup instead of dwelling on what happened last Saturday. Eventually, Sale will talk to his coaches and teammates on a personal level to “let them know where my head is at, where my heart is at, and let them know how much I appreciate them.”

With the White Sox playoff hopes flickering as the trade deadline approaches, though, Sale’s teammates are eager to keep the focus on trying to dig themselves out of a substantial, two-games-under-.500 hole.

“Everything’s in the past,” Navarro said. “He did a great job. Quality start, nothing else you can ask.”