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Ken Harrelson

The longtime White Sox announcer, 76, on the day his dad left, his Hawk persona, and his impending retirement

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

It’s going to hit me at the end, I can guarantee you that. I’m a very emotional, sentimental guy. I cry a lot. I’ve been like that my whole life.

This season I’m doing just 20 games. I’m having a lot of trouble formulating a new routine. My entire life has been centered around baseball and golf and always traveling, always flying — always somewhere to go or things to do and people to see. Right now I’m watching a lot of Walker, Texas Ranger and turning a lot of Smirnoff into urine.

My mom was a single parent. She was not a book-learning person but was a genius when it came to common sense. We lived on the wrong side of town in Savannah, Georgia, and she’d tell me, “Son, if somebody hits you once, you hit them twice.”

I was about 12 when my dad left. He had been running around on my mom, and she went and got her pistol — she always kept it in her purse. He grabbed her by the arm, the pistol went off, and the bullet went into the ceiling. When it did, I hit him as hard as I could. He just looked at me for a couple of seconds, turned around, and walked out. That was the last time I saw him until I got to the major leagues.

My first two years in the majors, I made more money playing golf, shooting pool, and arm wrestling than I did playing baseball.

The reason I didn’t make it in professional golf is I had a terrible temper. It was a byproduct of my competitiveness. In baseball that temper served me well. I wasn’t afraid of the ball because I wasn’t afraid of who was throwing it. But in golf I’d go out with 14 clubs and come back with five or six. One day I broke the whole set and stuck both ends of each club into the 18th hole.

Aris and I have been married 45 years. I love her more now than I ever have. I think she saved my life. When I met her, I was going out drinking, getting in fights. If you do that long enough, you’re going to get dead. I realized if I didn’t stop all that stuff, I was going to lose her, so I stopped.

In cities with two teams, the announcers catch a lot of criticism. You gotta have a thick skin. And believe me, I’ve got a thick skin.

A lot of announcers don’t have a persona. I’ve got Hawk. He’s my buddy. He’s my outlet. I let him take all the bullshit, all the pressure.

I give fans credit for knowing what they’re watching. I’m not going to give Baseball 101 on the air. I can’t stand it when guys continually talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. The only thing they’re doing is trying to impress people.

I get a kick out of people saying, “This guy’s a baseball expert.” There ain’t no baseball experts. You see things every week that you’ve never seen before. And I’ve seen thousands and thousands of games. That’s the beauty of this game — the nuances, the intricacies. One pitch can change the whole flow.

The way a team runs to first base can define an organization.

Harry Caray was the last of a certain breed. He knew the game. And he was one of those guys, if he didn’t like you, he’d wear your ass out.

The Cubs’ home clubhouse is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s like out of Star Wars. But the visiting clubhouse, you wouldn’t believe how horseshit it is. I’m amazed that the commissioner has not made the Cubs improve it. I hate Wrigley Field. I really do. I will never step foot in it again.

My last game is against the Cubs. I’m going to do all three of those September games. It’ll give me three more days of pissing Cubs fans off. I would give anything — anything — for us to sweep their ass. That would be the optimum sendoff right there.

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