Sox Drawer: Looking back at Hawk's broadcast past

186903.jpg

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.

U.S. Cellular Field to become Guaranteed Rate Field after 2016 season

U.S. Cellular Field to become Guaranteed Rate Field after 2016 season

The White Sox announced on Wednesday they have signed a 13-year naming rights deal with Guaranteed Rate for their home ballpark, which will be known as Guaranteed Field beginning on Nov. 1, 2016. 

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority approved the name change in a meeting on Wednesday.

"We are pleased to find, in Guaranteed Rate, a new naming rights partner founded in Chicago by Chicagoans, which shares our commitment to the city and to our fans," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "We view this partnership as an opportunity to connect a successful Chicago business with a historic baseball franchise, and we look forward to growing this important relationship over the coming years as millions of fans enjoy White Sox baseball at Guaranteed Rate Field."

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Under the team's lease for the ballpark, the White Sox retain an option that could extend the naming rights deal an additional year through 2030.

The White Sox played at Comiskey Park from 1991-2002 before the ballpark's name changed to U.S. Cellular Field from 2003-2016.

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

White Sox reward Carlos Rodon's outstanding start with win over Phillies

White Sox reward Carlos Rodon's outstanding start with win over Phillies

Carlos Rodon has once again found the kind of groove that makes the White Sox hopeful about the direction in which he’s trending.

The left-hander continued a strong August on Tuesday night with his best start of the season.

The 2014 first-rounder pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and the White Sox crushed the Philadelphia Phillies 9-1 in front of 18,843 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Rodon — who has a 1.46 ERA in 24 2/3 innings this month — won for the second time in four starts and Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau homered as the White Sox were victorious a third straight time.

“If (Rodon) keeps running like that, he’s going to be a superstar,” said rookie catcher Omar Narvaez.

Rodon’s second season has begun to shape up much like his rookie campaign.

He pitched better through his first 14 starts of 2016 than he did a year ago, allowing three earned runs or fewer in 10 of those turns. But Rodon didn’t have much to show for it as he surrendered leads or pitched with a razor thin margin of error because of lackluster run support.

Same as last season, Rodon has turned it on in August. Over his final eight starts in 2015, Rodon went 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA.

With some help from Narvaez and an overpowering fastball, Rodon looked strong throughout a 109-pitch effort.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

He worked around a first-inning jam and took off.  Rodon struck out Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp after he allowed a pair of one-out singles, which began a stretch where he retired 14 of 15 batters. Rodon also worked around a leadoff double in the sixth inning as he lowered his ERA to 4.02.

One key to the effort was finding a different way to make his slider more effective. Narvaez said he and Rodon began to use it as a backdoor slider after he struggled early with command and hitters laid off it.

“The slider wasn’t working too good down and in, they’d take it, so Omar set up a tad outside and just brought it back in,” Rodon said. “It was nice. It was huge. Had something to gauge off of to get that slider off the outside corner and it worked out well.

“Just comfortable, got on a roll and everything worked out.”

Rodon allowed three hits, walked one and struck out four. He has struck out 20 and walked only six batters in his last 24 2/3 innings.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Rodon’s effort has been in large part to improved power pitching. Rodon averaged 95.6 mph with his fastball on Tuesday, according to brooksbaseball.net.

“He’s made some strides from where he was before,” Ventura said. “He was trying to pick. When he’s like that he’s not that guy. Everything he does has effort, and its strength. When he has it going on it looks really good. He doesn’t need to get away from his strength and physicality is one of them. When he picks around and throws soft stuff he’s not as effective.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: First-rounder Zack Collins headed to Arizona Fall League]

Rodon’s offense rewarded him handsomely.

Adam Eaton tripled and scored on Tim Anderson’s RBI groundout in the first inning. Anderson then tripled in Eaton in the third to make it a 2-0 game. Abreu, who blasted a two-run homer in the fifth, singled in a run in the third and Todd Frazier had a sac fly to put the White Sox ahead by four runs.

Morneau’s solo shot in the fifth followed Abreu’s two-run homer off Jake Thompson to put the White Sox ahead 7-0. Carlos Sanchez also had an RBI single and Melky Cabrera had an RBI double.

Rodon was victorious for only the fourth time in 12 decisions this season. Prior to the start of the second half, Rodon said he needed to throw out his rough first half and start over.

The way he has pitched of late has him confident in himself once again. The next step is putting it together from the start of the season, he said.

“When you’re in a zone you just try to stay in it, to be honest,” Rodon said. “Hopefully in the future you have a complete year instead of just doing it in the second half.

“It’s all a process, what Coop says. It’s building up to it and trying to get like Q and Sale. Those guys are very good, top of the line starters, left-handers in the game, probably the very best. I’d love to be like that.”