Anyone remember Jerry Sands? Yes, the Jerry Sands that Hawk Harrelson touted as the next great when he had a 4 for 5 game against the Sox earlier this year. (I think he even compared him to Micky Mantle.) Well things never really panned out for Sands this year. He ended up batting .200 before the Dodgers sent him back to AAA Albuquerque.* Maybe Sands will amount to something, but the way Hawk lauded about him you’d think he was Ken Griffey. Hawk rided his jock like a love-scorned Orange County housewife. And this is what Hawk does; he says things. He says a lot of things.
*Am I the only one that laughs at the thought of being "sent back to Albuquerque"? You could say "sent back to hell" and it would mean all the same to me. I picture guys pleading with Ned Colletti when they get sent down: "Noooo anywhere but Albuquerque! I’ll do anything, please! I realize I’m striking out too much, but I can’t go back. Have you seen what’s down there?" I would rather live as a toy in Sid’s backyard than live in Albuquerque.
This column has been forming in my head for some time now. I have long been trying to pinpoint my feelings about Hawk Harrelson but I have found it darn near impossible to do so because my feelings of him are always changing. So this is an attempt to clear up those feelings.
I have broken down the Hawk into five parts. Some parts of him I like, some parts I hate. It’s something of a like-hate relationship (love seemed too strong a word) where the line between like and hate is to some extent defined, but yet, the line is in constant flux as some parts show themselves more than others at different times. That is to say, trying to sum up how I feel about the Hawk at any given time is as confusing as quantum physics or female genitalia.
Everyone has an opinion of the Hawk. Besides Vin Scully, Harrelson may be the most talked about baseball commentator, for better or worse (mostly for worse). Being the polarizing figure that he is, my theory is that each side of Hawk affects people to a different degree and the sum of those parts falls on either side of the like-hate fence. I personally spend most of my time sitting squarely on the like-hate fence - the chain links digging into my butt - I eventually must pick a side.
Without further ado, here are the parts:
The Leslie Nielsen Side: This is the side of Hawk Harrelson that makes a fake Twitter persona (@nothawk) work. The late-great Nielsen was known for his deadpan expression and his goofy, oblivious nature. Even if Nielsen was to act seriously, it would be hard not to laugh. And this is what the Hawk is becoming. It’s hard to take him seriously. It’s almost like he is doing an SNL skit of himself with his repetitive clichés and over-the-top reactions. For instance, when he would say, "That’s how you get a 16,000 square foot house in Scottsdale" every time Konerko did anything.* Hawk thought he was so clever coming up with this. But it became so predictable and so unclever that it became increasingly hysterical.
*I have a very vivid memory of Paul Konerko doing that flicky half-swing that he does, dumping the ball into right field, and Hawk promptly belted "That’s how you get a 16,000 square foot house in Scottsdale." Really, Hawk? That’s specifically how it’s done? Surely you can’t be serious?
Richard Roeper tweeted: "If Hawk Harrelson dropped every play by play cliche, his entire verbal output would consist of his misuse of the word "meanwhile."" It’s funny because it’s true. Maybe it’s not ideal that our play-by-play commentator can’t be taken seriously, but in Harrelson’s case, I like this side of him. He’s like Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. Eddie has his deficiencies - the metal plate in his head, his lack of any income, his horny dog, etc - but at the end of the day, he is still family and it wouldn’t be Christmas without him. The same goes for Hawk Harrelson. He’s part of the White Sox family. It wouldn’t be a White Sox game without him.
(My favorite line from Christmas Vacation is:
Clark (Chevy Chase): Catherine, if this turkey tastes half as good as it looks, we're all in for a real treat!
Eddie: Save the neck for me, Clark.
Clark: Okay Eddie...
Isn’t that how we all feel about Hawk at times? Okay Hawk…)
The Andy Rooney Side: Andy Rooney is known for the surliest sixty seconds in television when he closes out 60 Minutes. Rooney is always fussing about something stupid like how hard it is to crack nuts with a nutcracker and how messy his desk gets. It’s so tedious and deeply morose that it’s almost impossible to sit through the entire sixty seconds. What’s sad is that Hawk Harrelson will become Andy Rooney for innings on end. When the Sox aren’t playing well, Hawk will shut down. He will talk less and gripe more. Entire half-innings will begin to sound like: "If you’re just joining us, the Sox are not playing good baseball … But Ozzie and Kenny won’t stand for this … This season can go one of two ways … Meanwhile, we head into the 8th trailing 10-2." It’s disenchanting. It’s depressing. It’s an automatic mute. I hate this side of Hawk. Just writing this makes me want to guzzle a bottle of Prozac.
The Jim Ross Side: Jim Ross ("Good Ol’ J.R.") is the longtime play-by-play guy for the WWE. He’s a big southern man with his own line of barbecue sauces and the country twang that you would expect from a guy who sells barbecue sauces. There is little elegant about J.R., in fact, you could argue there is nothing elegant about him. But he is a whole lotta fun to listen to. WWE fans love him for his Gus Johnson-like excitability and his legendary catchphrases. Ross will say things like "Good God Almighty!", "Bah God! What is this?", "The audacity!", "It’s a slobberknocker!", and "Ring the damn bell!", which all come straight out of the Hawk Harrelson School of Broadcasting. Hawk has his own set of (legendary?) phrases: "Mercy!", "Dadgummit", "Yes!", "Cinch it up, hunker down.", "That’s a hang-wiffum.", "Stretch!" and his new personal favorite (Not mine. His.), "You’ve gotta be bleeping me!" There should be a game where you have to guess which phrase is for which sport. I’m guessing people unfamiliar with J.R. and the Hawk would struggle. I mean, does "you couldn't pull a greased tee out of my behind with a pair of pliers" sound like baseball talk to you?
Whenever anybody mentions Buehrle’s perfecto, the first thing that comes to my mind is ""Call your sons! Call your daughters! Call your friends! Call your neighbors! Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going into the ninth!" It was the perfect call for the perfect moment. And there are a bunch of moments where I remember Hawk’s call as well as the play itself. Once again, it may not be ideal that our baseball commentator resembles a wrestling commentator, but I like this part of Hawk. It is fun to hear things yelled in the midst of the big moment (cf. sex). Except with Harrelson, everyone gets to hear the Hawkasm!
The Glenn Beck Side: Where as Andy Rooney will frustrate and bore the bejesus out of you, Glenn Beck will enrage you. Like many political personalities, Glenn Beck serves up a steady stream of spin and narrow-minded schtick. Beck is, of course, always right in everything he says which stems from his careful inspection of all the views on an issue. Or maybe not. A liberal watching Beck’s show must be similar to an opposing team’s fan watching a White Sox broadcast. Hawk’s one-sided, homer commentary can wear on you after a while.
Jim Margalus said it right, "Hawk makes good times better and bad times worse." This side of Hawk is definitely a case of bad times worse. The Glenn Beck in him starts things with umpires and opposing managers. It’s the egocentric side of Hawk where his supreme knowledge of the game is second to none. It’s the side that sees a fly out by the White Sox as a "he just missed that one" and the same hit from an opponent as a "he pops him up!". I hate this side of Hawk. I’m done with this.
The John Wayne Side: This is the most debatable side of Hawk Harrelson. I was in attendance for Hawk Harrelson Night during his 25th anniversary celebration and one thing became apparent to me; people love The Hawk. It’s hard to understand but it’s true. There is something endearing about him. Maybe it’s his folksy charm? Or his deep passion for the White Sox? Or perhaps the silver comb-over thing on his head? I don’t know. But he is the kind of guy you will tell your children about. No, he’s not your typical broadcaster. He’s far from it. But I guess I like that about him.
My friend’s Dad has a John Wayne action figure in his living room. One day I asked him why he had it. "Because it’s fucking John Wayne," he replied. It makes no sense to me. I’ve seen John Wayne act. Compared to today’s standard he is a farce. But people of his time love him, and I’m guessing most can’t explain why. There is just that something about him. Whatever that something is, it’s strong enough to make a normal functioning adult put an action figure of him in his living room.
Hawk is not the best play-by-play guy in baseball. I know this. You know this. Yet if you were to ask me to trade Hawk for any other broadcaster, I don’t think I could do it. Why? Because he’s fucking Hawk Harrelson.