While Hawk Harrelson said for years that he wanted to die in the broadcasting booth while calling a home run, he and the White Sox have consistently shown an understanding they haven’t been willing to telegraph.
First, he shortened the schedule to road games only. Then he said he wanted to maintain the schedule for four more years. Then he said that he just needed to call a game in 2020 to reach the eight-decade mark.
Today, the White Sox announced that 2018 will be his last year in the booth, during which he’ll call primarily Sunday home games. After that, he’ll go the team ambassador route toward the eight-decade mark. Jason Benetti will take over all the games Harrelson yields, and will become the team’s full-time broadcaster thereafter.
From the press release:
“It has been an amazing honor for me to deliver White Sox baseball to generations of fans,” Harrelson said. “I cannot thank the fans of Chicago, the White Sox and Jerry Reinsdorf enough for allowing me this fantastic career and for agreeing to my role for the 2018 season and beyond. I am proud to have been involved in this great game of baseball as a player, general manager and broadcaster, and I have always wanted to reach the eight-decade mark in this game, which I hope to do in 2019 as an ambassador for the White Sox. It’s never work when you come to a ballpark each day, and I have loved and appreciated every minute I have experienced in this great game.”
For all the elements involved — Harrelson’s strong personality and Jerry Reinsdorf’s loyalty chief among them — this could have dragged on for years. Harrelson has sounded tired and bored, in the sense that the game has little to reveal to him. This is especially true when he’s next to Steve Stone, as the two have never developed any real chemistry. He still has moments that Benetti or any trained broadcaster will never be able to generate, but they’ve been few and far between, leaving a lot of fans frustrated.
But it’d suck if Harrelson just bailed -- or the Sox pulled the plug — after years of prolonged disenchantment, because that’d be a disservice to what is a formidable legacy. Fortunately, they’ve struck a good balance of introducing Benetti and letting him grow into the job without forcing fans to absorb the full force of the adjustment period. Now we’re on the other side of the curve, in which fans can more easily accept Harrelson’s shortcomings with the knowledge that everybody knows.
The broadcasts may not change that much through the rest of this year’s schedule, but fans should be able to savor his big calls and the full-throated homerism that accurately reflects the feelings of those watching at home. It’d be a missed opportunity if they didn’t, because Sox games won’t be the same, for better and for worse.