Is Chicago Sox Broadcaster Hawk Harrelson One of the All-Time Greats?

YOU GOTTA BE BLEEPIN’ ME!: A look at one of the most reviled voices in baseball

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Harrelson in 2012
Harrelson at work in 2012

It’s a perfect night for baseball. Harrelson, heading to his booth, fist-bumps a security guard, a commissary cashier, a couple of suits shooting the breeze in the hall—all of whom smile and say things like, “Go get ’em, Hawk!”

He rounds a corner and passes a plaque featuring a silver image of him and an inscription that declares the entire floor and its warren of media suites to be the Hawk Harrelson Broadcast Level. That honor was bestowed on him before the beginning of last season, a couple of months after he inked a new four-year deal to call White Sox games that virtually guarantees he will be around to celebrate a full 30 years as the TV voice of the team. A grin here, a little wave there, and Harrelson lands at last in his own personal catbird seat: a black swivel office chair pulled up against a ledge in a small glassed-in split-level booth a few rows above home plate.

At 6:35 the windows swing out, and with a whoosh, the muggy hot-dog-and-beer-fragrant breeze chases the air-conditioned chill into the warm summer evening. Hawk, his great head already bent to his scorecard, doesn’t dwell on the beauty of the diamond spread out before him: the perfect grass, the pinwheel scoreboard, the green seats filling with early arrivals. Plenty of time for that over the next three hours.

Instead, as he prepares, his eyes dart back and forth—alternating between notebooks and a flat screen with an in-progress game between the St. Louis Cardinals and one of the Sox’s division rivals, the Detroit Tigers. “That’s a good matchup,” Harrelson says to Stone, who looks up from his own preparations at the dueling pitchers and nods at the screen. “Yeah, I think Verlander’s going to be psyched for this one.”

The pair has been together since 2009, when Stone took over for Darrin Jackson, who now calls Sox games on the radio for WSCR-AM 670. Whispers to the contrary, Harrelson insists that he’s gotten along with all of his partners, including Jackson, who popped Harrelson with a verbal jab during one of their early broadcasts. “You need to change that cliché,” Jackson said, to the delight of Harrelson haters everywhere. “ ‘Can of corn’ is getting old.”

“Well, why don’t you think of something yourself,” Harrelson snapped.

The exchange hung in the air for several seconds; for the next few days, it lit up the lines at sports talk shows.

To this day, Jackson insists he was just ribbing Harrelson, who agrees the whole thing was overblown. And indeed, earlier on this night, when the two bumped into each other, they exchanged what seemed to be genuinely friendly words. “One of the sweetest guys you’ll ever want to meet,” Harrelson says about Jackson.

Harrelson and Stone are cordial and professional but say little between innings and almost never look at each other. Stone—who has a long and distinguished resumé, including working with legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray—has seemed to many the perfect foil for Harrelson. His knowledge of the game and his personality are equally strong; he can stand up to the occasionally withering challenges of the Hawk.

“He knows baseball backward and forward,” Stone says. “He does get a little aggravated sometimes. When the team is winning and things are the way they should be, it can be a delightful broadcast. When the team is losing, he’s not really too happy about that, and then the broadcast is a little different. That’s just kind of the way it is in Hawkville.”

As the first pitch from Jake Peavy (“the Jakemeister,” in Hawkese) sizzles over the plate, I settle in for the broadcast. I begin by listening for Hawkisms and marking them down in my notebook. It doesn’t take long. At 7:11 comes the first strikeout and the first “He gone!” At the end of the inning, it’s “Their guys nothing, our guys coming to bat.” Over the next couple of innings, they come in bunches: “Now he’s got the catbird seat.” “Ducks on the pond.” “High and deep! Stretch!”

They come so fast and so often, I eventually stop writing and simply enjoy the show, his juggling act of recording each out, squeezing in promos, bantering with Stone (“Stone Pony”), turning a baseball over and over in his hand during the innings.

And of course, surreptitiously, I study the feature that quite literally defines him: the Nose. Wide, curving, webbed with the faintest filigree of capillaries, it juts from the middle of his face like Mussolini’s chin: defiant, fierce, indomitable. Forged from five breaks—one from an accidental baseball bat to the face when he was seven, two from football injuries, two from fists—it is his Samson’s hair, his Spidey web, his Excalibur.

“My nose is directly responsible for my name,” Harrelson wrote in his 1969 memoir, Hawk. “Indirectly, it’s responsible for just about everything else about me—my clothes, my hair, my shoes, my car, my apartment, my refusal to follow the crowd, my independence, my complete departure from convention. If I had an ordinary nose, I’d be an ordinary guy—regular enough, I suppose, but nobody you’d look at twice. But with my nose, I had to be different, if for no other reason than to divert attention from it.”

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Photograph: Nam Y. Huh/AP/Corbis

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comments
2 years ago
Posted by moe

I never liked Hawk AT ALL until I heard him do an interview and he changed my mind. He seems to be a VERY nice guy... but the dud broadcasting duo still stinks. As a Detroiter, I can never understand why the WS broadcasters always spend so much time complimenting visiting players? I just laugh when I listen to them. I've NEVER heard that come out of a Detroit booth. Aside from player stats, that's about as much discussion time as another teams players will get. Hawk will go on non-stop saying how great the other teams guys are. Why would you not spend every available second commenting on good things about your own organization? The charities, the families, backgrounds etc...

Hawk has gotta go...along with his sidekick, sleepy.

2 years ago
Posted by SOXFAN22

Wow, what a moronic comment. I guess I shouldn't be surprised it comes from a Tiger fan. I have heard bits of their announcers on MLB network & let me tell you, if you think Steve Stone is sleepy....?! The reason Hawk & Stone Pony(coined by Steve Dahl, BTW) say good things about other players is that when they talk about other teams, they praise the good players on them. What a concept, huh? We have some very good players, & we are in first place but how boring would it be to just hear about us? The reason why Hawk is such a great broadcaster is he knows his baseball, & yes he is a homer. But you know who else was? Harry Caray. Whether it was with the Cardinals, A's, Sox(when he was at his best) or with the Cubs he was a homer. The only announcer I can really think of that isn't is Vin Scully.

2 years ago
Posted by barrycracker

This article fails to mention his fundamental failing as a broadcaster: his refusal to call the game-- his failure to actually broadcast. If you look away from the screen while cooking or peeing and the opponent scores, homers, or makes an impressive play you would never know it because Hawk refuses to tell you. Just dead air. So much dead air. Therefore he can't be called a professional by any objective standard. But this article makes me understand him better. There's "Ken" and there's "Hawk"--and that old excuse used by sociopaths and wife-beaters everywhere: It's like I was watching another person do it; I can't control him. Two totally self-unaware douchebags in one. Now I get it. Too bad they don't.

2 years ago
Posted by roons240

The picture is missing a primary Hawk-ism - "That ball hit deep". Got the "Stretch" part of it, missed the lead in.

2 years ago
Posted by Leisa Marthaler

Hawk is wonderful--what's wrong for cheering for the best team in baseball. Hawk and Stone make the play by play fun and interesting to listen to on the RADIO. Hawk stay as cool as you are....SOX Mangement don't mess with a good thing!!! You can put that on the board--YESSSSSS!

2 years ago
Posted by curby master

best broadcasters in history of sports since beginning of time

2 years ago
Posted by curby master

hawk is awesome. Critics are jealous cub fans!

1 year ago
Posted by choo

I couldn't believe how stupid this guy sounds. On a homerun, it's like a different person starts announcing. Did he really say "that ball hit deep"? Huh? He's absolutely horrible. How can people listen to this B.S.? Get down. It will. Thank you very much. Huh? This is Chicago, second largest city in the U.S. This guy couldn't get a job selling hot dogs in any other town.

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