It’s been my experience that many of the regulars bellying up to the bar here at South Side Sox appreciate a good baseball read. We like our baseball in print almost as much as in-person.
Whether a gripping narrative history that helps bring the sport’s fascinating history alive or a new, innovative and interesting way of analyzing the game and its players, past and present, we’re generally a pretty appreciative audience. And as a discerning crowd, we’re open to a well-written, well-thought out new title for the bedside table, the back porch, and eventually the bookshelf.
Hawk: I Did It My Way, by Ken Harrelson with Jeff Snook, is not really any of those things, of course.
Which is not to say that it’s not pretty much a fun read.
It’s been written (by Ian Jack, in The Guardian, in 2003) that the distinction between memoir and autobiography is the difference between showing and telling. In some ways, it’s the difference between writing and reporting. Hawk doesn’t do a whole lot of showing, but it certainly does like to tell. And though it’s now been out a while, and reviewed in a number of places, I still feel it’s my duty to take one for the SSS team and give you, gentle readers, the benefit of my reading.
It doesn’t appear that either Harrelson or Snook is much of a stylist, so they do what comes naturally: They let Hawk talk. And talk. And talk some more. Nearly 400 pages of Hawk tawk. Hawk loves to tawk. He loves to tawk about baseball, certainly, and some broadcasting, too. But he also loves to tawk about bar fights, getting shot at, famous people he’s met (lawd does Hawk like to tawk about famous people he’s met), he very, very much likes to tawk about golf. And apparently, based on his book, he likes to tawk about them all simultaneously, stream-of-conscious-style.
As is often done is these types of things, my assumption is that Snook spent some time with Hawk, feeding him some questions and topics, and letting the tape run. I imagine those sessions went something like this:
Snook: Good morning, Hawk. Today I’d like to ask you about your time with Kansas City.
Hawk: You know, Snookeroo, let me tell you something about my good friend Arnold Palmer …
(four hours pass)
Hawk: … and that’s how I came to meet my good buddy, Frank Sinatra.
Snook: Fascinating. Thanks, Hawk. Same time tomorrow? I’d like to hear about your time with Kansas City.
Hawk: Sure thing, but that reminds me …
There must be miles of tape. Then at some point, Snook and Hawk figured Hawk had tawked enough and Snook sat down, transcribed, and tried to put it all into more-or-less chronological order. The end effect is what I imagine it would be like listening to Hawk fill a three-hour rain delay. In many ways, the book is a 378-page digression. You could get whiplash.
Example to suffice. In talking about his relationship with Tom Paciorek, he says they only ever had one fight. Period, end of sentence. The next paragraph begins 4½ pages of Michael Jordan stories. 4½, at the end of which, he then tells us that the one fight he and Wimpy had was about Michael Jordan, but not related to any of the stories on those 4½ pages. Where lesser men would start a new paragraph, if not a chapter, Hawk hits the space bar.
By the way, the rest of this will be spoiler-free. There isn’t really anything to spoil. Those of us who have spent a few years listening to Hawk during regular broadcasts (thank heaven for Rain Delay Theater, or even old episodes of Beer Money) already know or can guess much of what Hawk covers.
Hawk absolutely dislikes (to his credit, Hawk doesn’t use the word “hate”)
- Gil Hodges
- Gin (though he used to love it, but he decided it made him too mean, so he switched to vodka, which reminds me of the brilliant insight I had in my drinking days, when I realized that if I kept drinking vodka it would kill me. So I switched to bourbon.)
- Missing shots (not the alcohol kind) on the golf course (more on this later)
- Charlie Finley, who Hawk really, really disliked
- People who criticize Jerry Reinsdorf
- Jay Mariotti, which is pretty reasonable
- Umpires who aren’t consistent with the strike zone
- Joe West, up until he actually met him. Since then, he loves him.
- Players (or anyone else) who won’t engage in fistfights
- Players who won’t throw at batters
- Managers who won’t order pitchers to throw at batters
- Batters who won’t charge the mound after being thrown at
- Players who won’t come out of the clubhouse after a game to fight him
- Players who aren’t familiar with the achievements and statistics of former players who are now broadcasters
- Bill Veeck, who he considers to have ruined the White Sox be being too cheap to pay for high-priced free agents or higher-priced renovations to old Comiskey park
- Barack Obama, who he is proud he pointedly ignored during the World Series parade
- Hillary Clinton, not that he knows anything personally, but you know, people have said …
- Billy Beane
- Modern statistical metrics. Of course
On the other hand, Hawks loves, to the point of adoration
- His mamma
- Aris (his wife), though he doesn’t mention her much in the book
- His kids, though he doesn’t mention them even more in the book
- Yaz. Of course
- Rico Petrocelli. Of course
- Fenway Park
- The Red Sox
- The White Sox, more or less
- Frank Howard
- A.J. Pierzynski, who is like a son to him*
- Don Drysdale, even though he had to threaten him with a fistfight once
- Fistfights, oh, so many fistfights
- Engaging in fistfights
- Threatening fistfights
- Players who will readily engage in fistfights
- Pitchers who will happily throw at hitters
- Hitters who will happily charge pitchers who throw at them
- Frank Sinatra
- Catfish Hunter
- Mark Buehrle, who reminds him of Catfish Hunter
- Dropping the names of famous people he’s met (list too long for sub-bullets)
- Dropping the names of famous people he considers friends (list too long for sub-bullets)
- Joe West, now that he’s gotten to know him
- A couple of dozen guys he loves like sons *(including AJ)
- A couple of dozen other guys he loves like brothers
1. He spends more pages on golf than he does baseball
2. He talks more about golf courses than baseball stadiums
3. He talks more about golfers than baseball players, unless you count talking about baseball players who play golf
4. Arnold Palmer (the man, not the drink)
5. Ben Hogan, who once gave him a customized set of clubs that were stolen a week later, but Hogan forgave him for losing them
7. Comparing Joe Pepitone’s toupee to a large divot
10. Gambling on the course
11. Winning bets on the course
12. I could go on, but I won’t
Things Hawk appears to be indifferent to
- The post-1990 White Sox, who get less than 10 or 15 scattered pages, including the 2005 World Series championship, which is mostly mentioned as how happy he was for Reinsdorf. *AJ excepted, of course. He loves AJ like a son.
- Steve Stone, who he kinda, sorta gets along with, but is mentioned less than a half-dozen times (more or less, there is no index and I’m not going to go back through and count)
- The rest of the media, who he claims he respects, but almost all of his stories about it is negative
- His deceased sister
If he has left it there, so would I, but instead, Hawk insists of “speaking his mind,” and spends a number of the final pages of his book wallowing in random, Old-White-Man-Shouting-at-Clouds ruminations on:
- The Moneyball movie, which he knew he would hate, so he refused to watch it for years until Aris made him watch it, but sure enough, he hated it
- Colin Kaepernick, who he wishes had played for Mike Ditka, so Ditka could show him what’s what
- The aforementioned Clinton, who somebody once told him was a bad person, so, you know, just sayin’
- Today’s Pampered and Spoiled Athletes Who Don’t Know How Good They Have It
- How much he hates PC culture, but, hey, he’s gonna tell it like it is
Snook: Um, Hawk… are you sure you want to put this stuff in here? I mean, it kinda takes away from the, you know, the focus of the book.
Hawk: I hear you, Snooker-table, but I want these good people to know I’m a straight-shooter.
Snook: Whatever you say, Hawk. Now about your time in Kansas City.
Hawk: Snookie, did I ever tell you about the time I met John Wayne?
Your tolerance and appreciation for Hawk: I Did It My Way is, therefore, entirely dependent upon your tolerance and appreciation for Hawk. Mine must be higher than I might have expected, because I actually bought and read the damned thing. And, much like a Hawk broadcast, I enjoyed myself overall, while periodically swearing under my breath, rolling my eyes, and being tempted to just shut it and go read something else.
But ultimately, I made it to the end. And kinda liked it. At least up until those last dozen or so pages. You get the idea. But hey, I’m just telling it like it is.