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.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria 'surprised' Melky Cabrera hasn't been traded

White Sox manager Rick Renteria 'surprised' Melky Cabrera hasn't been traded

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox have offloaded more pieces in the past eight months than that furniture store that always seems to be going out of business.

Everything. Must. Go.

Even so, the team hasn’t found any takers for veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera, who finished with four hits in Saturday night’s 7-2 White Sox loss to the Kansas City Royals. Cabrera finished a triple shy of the cycle and drove in two runs. That Cabrera still resides on the South Side is a surprise to White Sox manager Rick Renteria.

“Honestly yeah, to be honest,” Renteria said. “To me he’s a premier Major League baseball player who has been playing outstanding defense. And he has been for us one of the two or three guys who has been timing his hitting in terms of driving in runs when we need them, putting together really good at-bats when we need them. Just playing the game. Yeah, kind of surprised.”

Despite making their intentions known that everyone short of Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon are available, Cabrera’s name has barely registered a blip on the radar when it comes to trade rumors.

Several factors have probably prevented Cabrera from being dealt, the biggest being his salary. Cabrera is still owed roughly $6.3 million of his $15 million salary, which makes him an expensive option.

Defensive metrics also don’t have much love for Cabrera despite his eight outfield assists. Cabrera’s lack of range has produced minus-6 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-4.7 Ultimate Zone Rating.

Those figures likely would like have teams lean toward making Cabrera a designated hitter. While he’s been one of the team’s most consistent and prominent offensive performers, Cabrera’s .786 ranks only about 38th in the American League.

As FanRag’s Jon Heyman noted earlier Saturday, to trade Cabrera the White Sox would likely have to eat most of the outfielder’s remaining salary.

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Only six years after they had the “best farm system of all time,” the Kansas City Royals see a bright future ahead for the upstart White Sox.

Several current Kansas City players who graduated from that farm system and led the Royals to a 2015 World Series title and manager Ned Yost all said they’re intrigued by how quickly the White Sox have built up their minor league talent.

Through four major trades and the signing of international free agent Luis Robert, the White Sox boast a system that features 10 top-10 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com. Baseball America ranks eight White Sox prospects in their top 100. While the system isn’t yet ready to compete with the 2011 Royals for the unofficial title of best ever, it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

“Have you seen what they’ve gotten back from tearing it down?” Yost said. “MLB ranks the top 100 prospects. Most teams have one or two. I don’t think we have any. They have 10. They’ve done a phenomenal job of restocking their system with incredibly talented young players.”

Not everything is identical between how these organizations built their farms.

The Royals headed into 2011 with nine top-100 prospects and five in the top 20 alone (Eric Hosmer 8, Mike Moustakas 9, Wil Myers 10, John Lamb 18, Mike Montgomery 19). The Kansas City Star in 2016 reviewed the best-ranked systems of all-time and determined by a point value system (100 points for the No. 1 prospect and one point for the No. 100 prospect) that the 2011 club was better than all others with 574 points.

But that group was the byproduct of a painstaking stretch in which the Royals averaged 96 losses from 2004-12. The slower path taken by Kansas City allowed its young core to develop and learn how to play together in the minors. As pitcher Danny Duffy noted, “we went to the playoffs every year.”

They won at Rookie-Burlington, Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha took home three titles. Working together was a big key to the team’s success at the major league level, said catcher Salvador Perez.

“We didn’t come from different teams,” Perez said. “We all came from here. We had a young team together. We learned how to win and win in the big leagues.

“We learned how to win together, play together and play for the team. It was really important.”

The only time the Royals didn’t win was at Advance-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, Duffy said.

“You learn how success feels and how some failure feels,” Duff said. “We lost in Wilmington and you would have thought the world was coming to an end.”

According to the Star, the Royals haven’t had much recent competition for the best system. Until now.

The 2006 Diamondbacks accrued 541 points and the 2000 Florida Marlins had 472. The 2015 Cubs scored 450 points.

After the addition of Blake Rutherford on Tuesday (the No. 36 prospect on BA’s current top 100 list), the White Sox have 483 points. But the 2017 Atlanta Braves are even better with 532 points, the third-highest total of all-time.

The White Sox farm system has created excitement among the fan base that had wavered in recent years. Not everyone is on board, but the majority seems to be and that can create hysteria.

“We had people at the games who were super excited about the wave of prospects,” Duffy said. “Obviously they have a stacked system over there, very similar to what we had coming up. There was a lot of excitement. It was crazy.”

But excitement didn’t immediately translate into victories. Though a fair amount of the 2011 class graduated to the majors by later that season, the Royals didn’t get on track in the big leagues for a few years.

It wasn’t until the second half of 2013 that the Royals got going. The 2014 club ended a 29-year playoff drought with a wild-card berth that led to an American League pennant. They followed that up with a World Series title in 2015. Had it not been for a Herculean effort by Madison Bumgarner, Kansas City might have had consecutive titles.

Still, getting there takes time.

“The first thing you had to do was get them here,” Yost said. “Experience has taught me that it’s generally 2 1/2 years before they can get to a point where they can compete. They just have to gain that experience at the major league level because it’s definitely a much more difficult style of play up here. The talent is just so incredibly good that it takes a while for talent or players to adjust to where they’re productive. It just takes time then being able to go out and play every single day.”

Even though that means the White Sox will experience difficult times the next few years, Duffy and Co. think it’s worth the wait. While Duffy imagines losing Jose Quintana and David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier isn’t fun, he has a good sense what is headed this direction.

“Losing Quintana stings, but they got a king’s ransom back,” Duffy said. “It’s the way of the game. But they’re going to have a really good time in the next few years.”