Right on Q: Hawk in the Hall

This should be a plaque

Hawk Harrelson belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hawk Harrelson should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He is a finalist for the Ford C. Frick Award, which is given to "baseball broadcasters of long and meritorious service."

By that criterion alone, Harrelson deserves to be in. With the exception of 1986, he's been a baseball broadcaster since 1975. He spent six years with the Red Sox. He did two stints with the White Sox: 1982-1985, and then 1990 to the present day. From 1987-1989 he was the television voice of the New York Yankees. In between, he was a color analyst for NBC's "Game of the Week."

To many people, Hawk is the White Sox. Look at the list of Frick Award winners. Practically every broadcaster on the list is wrapped up in their team's mythology. Their voice was summer in their particular corner of the world. Vin Scully and the Dodgers. Jack Brickhouse with the Cubs. Bob Uecker and the Milwaukee Brewers. Marty Brennaman and the Cincinnati Reds. Jack Buck and the St. Louis Cardinals. Ernie Harwell and the Detroit Tigers. Hawk is both man and team.

Of course, if Hawk were to actually win the award, his detractors would hit the ceiling. Hawk is a big personality, and big personalities have passionate fans and passionate detractors. He wouldn't be the first Chicago media personality to inspire loyalty and vitriol.

Hawk is one of a kind. His style is certainly his own. When he arrived in Chicago in 1982, baseball fans were used to the smooth delivery of a Bob Elson or Jack Brickhouse; the boozy rap of Harry Caray, or the angry analysis of Jimmy Piersall. Hawk was more like a baseball version of Don Meredith.

Hawk's personality continued to gain altitude as the years went on. That personality is either refreshing, fun, or annoying as all get out. He's not alone, the words used to describe Hawk have been used to describe many other personalities in the Chicago media landscape.

For many years, one of the most popular radio personalities in Chicago was Larry Lujack. When rock n' roll ruled AM radio, Lujack was at the top of the heap. He did it by being the anti-disk jockey. Lujack first arrived in Chicago in 1967. He was the overnight jock on WCFL (AM 1000). After a couple of months, he jumped over to WLS where he became a star.

The AM radio DJ of the 60's was a chipper fellow. The station was wonderful. The songs were wonderful. The weather was wonderful. Everything was wonderful because the words were uttered with a cheery, upbeat delivery.

Lujack turned all of those notions on their head. When he did the morning show, he sounded just as tired as you. Instead of cheerful DJ patter, Lujack spoke with a growl that was perfected by years of smoking (He was 30 in 1970. But he sounded like he was pushing 50). He wasn't afraid to rip on the Mac Davis songs that polluted the Top 40 charts in the early 1970's. During a segment called "Klunk Letter of the Day," he would torch listeners who didn't like the pro-interracial marriage message of "Brother Louie."

It was a profitable combination. Lujack became the highest-paid DJ in Chicago (Chicago Sun-Times media critic Gary Deeb said he was the most overpaid). One year he took top honors in two categories in a Chicago Reader poll: he was voted the best...and the worst jock in town.

Lujack's on-air routine was a finely crafted persona. Off-air, he was a shy guy who loved country music.

Hawk is the guy who exists on TV. He insists that Ken Harrelson is a very different person.

Harry Caray was another Chicago media personality who inspired a great deal of debate - especially in his later years. As the 1990's wore on, the chorus of people who wanted Harry Caray to retire grew louder and louder. Will Ferrell's depiction of an addled Harry Caray on SNL wasn't that far from the truth.

Harry's death in 1998 ended that debate once and for all. He was an instant legend. The mental lapses and, shall we say, less than politically correct utterances that fueled the pro-retirement crowd were instantly forgotten.

Harry Caray is now a statue, a restaurant chain, and a go-to impression for baseball players trying to prove that they are funny.

Hawk Harrelson has a personality that is large as the cowboy hats he used to wear. He introduced catchphrases that will endure long after he leaves the booth. On a summer evening in Chicago, more than one Park District softball diamond will have at least one person who will yell "Put it on the board!" after a well-hit ball (I grew up attempting to play baseball at Ridge Park in Beverly. There was no such thing as an outfield fence. A home run was a ball the outfielders couldn't reach in time).

That's the legacy of Hawk Harrelson. Yes, he was the soundtrack to the best - and worst - Sox moments of the last generation. But Hawk Harrelson is the White Sox experience. If you want to pretend to be a White Sox player (who didn't want to be Frank Thomas at one time or another?), Hawk does the mental play-by-play.

White Sox fans will be putting it on the board, grabbing some bench, and saying "he gone!"...long after Hawk leaves the booth.

The call will come during the MLB Winter Meetings. If Hawk does get into the Hall, he might be immortalized in Cooperstown alongside Frank Thomas.

The Big Hurt...and the guy who invented "The Big Hurt."

Doesn't get better than that.

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