Bad White Sox baseball allows Hawk Harrelson to make his mark

Jonathan Daniel

Dropped pop-up jeopardizes the game and broadcaster's health, but fans will remember it

It was just a couple Saturdays ago that Jordan Danks showed us a new way to lose by getting picked off second to end a game. Fortunately for Hawk Harrelson, Fox had the exclusive ... right? ... to broadcast a White Sox-Astros game, so he didn't have to die on air to describe it.

On Tuesday night, the Sox made up for it by giving him ... this:

If you ever wondered what it'd look like if a golden retriever played second, the answer: not as adorable or helpful as Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch would lead you to believe.

There's not much to add about that clown pile beyond what Gordon Beckham said:

"Well, I ran in there and screwed up," he said. "That's what happened. Stupid play for me. My heart was in the right spot, but my mind obviously wasn't. It was loud. I screwed up.

"I'm glad we won. I didn't cost us the game, but it's a stupid play and I'm an idiot."

The White Sox have given us plenty of stupid plays this year, and as I bounced back and forth between broadcasts to think about it, I realized that Harrelson's "stamp" really makes a difference -- and like Harrelson in the aftermath of this implausible error, it's difficult to articulate.

Compare the broadcasts

Living in New York, I'm limited to the Mets' broadcast for this brief two-game series. That's fine by me, as I've mentioned my fondness for SNY's booth before. Gary Cohen and Ron Darling are great, and they delivered a sturdy call and assessment of the action.

Here's the transcription of Cohen:

"And Murphy pops it up a mile high in the middle of the infield! Who's going to take it? And it FAAAAAAAAALLS! And the Mets tie the game! Gillapsie was calling, Beckham came in, the White Sox mess it up, and the Mets miraculously have tied the game!"

It's a sound, descriptive account, and Cohen breaks character with the delightful squeal on "FAAAAAAAAALLS!" Cohen is among the most respected broadcasters in the game, it's a fine example of his work, and yet it's not the one baseball fans wanted to hear.

On the other side, Awful Announcing clipped Hawk Harrelson transforming from Victory Mode to Irate Father.

Here's my best approximation of a transcript of Hawk around Stone's critique of the play.

Pops him up! Gillaspie ... [Beckham collides with Gillaspie, ball drops] and now Beckham! [pause] And we find another way! Yet another way! That's hard to believe.

After Stone says his piece, Hawk may as well have his head on the desk:

Ohhhhhh ... you gotta be bleepin' me. [stolen base goes undescribed] You have GOT to be ... thisnmt, mmmghhh ... oh-and-one the count to Brown. [pause] Looooooooord have mercy. [pause] Unbelieveable. Un. Believable.

And after more Stone:

The 1-2 pitch. [strikeout] You gotta be kiddin' me. You have GOT to be KIDDING ME! We'll go to the ninth...

Now we've heard Harrelson explode before -- most memorably, his "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WEGNER!" eruption after Jose Quintana's ejection last year. Harrelson was pissed, but that one was amusing because it's forseeable. Harrelson always thinks umpires screw up the warning system, so when Wegner tosses Quintana for not hitting a batter without a warning, he's basically pulling a string on the Hawk doll to see what sounds come out.

But I gotta say -- that "KIDDING ME!" is unnerving. Harrelson isn't only angry, but he's wounded. He told Daryl Van Schouwen that the season has been "hell," and you can hear a dangerous amount of anguish in that exclamation.

If I had to guess, Beckham's involvement might be what breaks his heart the most. While the Sox struggled to resemble professionals, Harrelson always looked at Beckham's return as a uniting force. Instead, he's joined his teammates in the quicksand with four errors in his last eight games. This effort was as humiliating as any other this season, and now that Harrelson has nowhere to turn, it sounds like he feels betrayed by it all.

Harrelson is hurting, and this pleases a lot of people. As soon as word of the Sox's colossal blooper spread, the general baseball commentariat lined up to taste his tears of unfathomable sadness.

But this exact reaction makes Harrelson a fascinating and complicated broadcast figure. He's been called the baseball's worst broadcaster in a number of outlets, and hell, the last time we talked about Harrelson, we were happy to point out how his wisdom completely backfired on him. He's the only TV voice of the White Sox I know, and I still don't know what I really think of him. Give me another 20 years.

Yet moments like these show what he has to offer, because Vin Scully is the only other announcer who triggers that need to hear one specific call. Granted, they occupy the opposite ends of the spectrum. Scully has the ability to wrap any kind of on-field event with a neat little prose bow, whereas Harrelson is so emotional and raw that he's often unable to complete a word, much less a sentence. They're both on the same platform; Scully is the Emmy-winning drama, and Harrelson is reality TV.

Scully is the Emmy-winning drama, and Harrelson is reality television.

And in times like these, he's the best the genre has to offer. The emotion is unscripted, but whatever sounds Harrelson can form in the moment endure well after the fact. I only have to hear "KIDDING ME!" once to remember it for years, the same way I can replay "WHAT ARE YOU DOING WEGNER!" and "REDDICKDUDNMOOOOOOOOO" and "C'MON, TIMO!" and "ALEXEEEEEEEEEEEI!" and countless others.

Harrelson is so bizarre and unprofessional by traditional standards that he's easy to dismiss as a joke and a hack, but he's really more of a phenomenon than anything else. If Harrelson has to be heard in moments like these, regardless of team affiliation, and if White Sox fans can remember specific calls at moments both historic and trivial ... well, he's better at this part of the job than most realize. He's built a legacy, and ironically, those who hate him have gone a long way to help him transcend fan bases.

The conflict with watching reality TV is that idea that it exploits people in their weakest moments. Harrelson usually eliminates that concern with his complete lack of shame, but with the Sox putting him through the wringer, even the people who love to hate him wonder about his well being.

In this sense, there might be nobody a fire sale benefits more. He was clinging to Beckham's return as a turning point, and now he's grasping at straws. Perhaps when he sees the front office call it a year, he'll be better able to deal with bad baseball. For now, he'll probably make us remember more about this season than we'd ever want to.

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