Hawk Harrelson: Baseball’s Ultimate Homer Still Rules on the South Side
The Hawk is beaming. After fist-bumping a cafeteria cashier, the announcer glides into his broadcast booth at U.S. Cellular Field. It’s early April, and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has never felt more positive about the prospects for his beloved White Sox. “We’re as good as anyone in the league!” he says.
A few years ago, while calling a game at the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington, Hawk wasn’t quite so cheery. In fact, he was straight-up pissed. And not in the way the longtime White Sox play-by-play man is prone to be when, say, his South Siders make an error or an umpire blows a call. No, this time, after watching Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski get beaned twice by the Rangers’ Vicente Padilla, Harrelson had seen all he could handle.
“I knew none of our guys were gonna do anything about it,” Hawk recalls, the grease of his distinct South Carolina twang practically dripping onto the microphone. “So after the game I went to their clubhouse and waited for this cocksucker to come out. And one of the Texas players came out and I said, ‘When’s [the pitcher] coming out?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Want me to check Hawk?’ I said, ‘Yah.’
“He went back in and he said, ‘He’s not coming out,'” Hawk laughs, and you just know the 73-year-old wishes he’d had an opportunity to coldcock that young gun. “That’s the way I am. If I ever lose that, then I’m going to retire.”
Yes, the prospect of a baseball announcer challenging a player 50 years his junior to a fight is entirely absurd. But not when you’re talking about Hawk: For more than 30 seasons (give or take), the former Red Sox slugger with an outsize beak and equally large persona has been kicking up dust from his perch in the broadcast booth, raising a racket on behalf of the Pale Hose, delighting their fans with his unwavering support – while simultaneously driving his outspoken detractors insane with his blatant homerism, outdated catchphrases (“Duck Snort,” “Can of Corn”) and now-legendary rants.
He’s won five Emmys, received the Ring Lardner Award for Excellence in Sports Journalism and currently calls games from the “Hawk Harrelson Broadcast Level” at U.S. Cellular. But ask Hawk – sitting here on Opening Day weekend, his white vest wrapped snugly over a pink-collared shirt, cream Izod loafers on his feet and 2005 World Series ring on his finger – why he can’t calm down, or perhaps play a few more rounds at his second home on the 17th tee at Bay Hill (where he lives in the offseason with his wife of 41 years, Aris), and you start to understand why he so often sulks the entirety of his 100-mile drive back to his Indiana home after the Sox get screwed.
“When a fan sees a call is blown, or they see a bad decision by an umpire, they can’t do anything except scream and yell in their house,” he says. “I want to be venting with them. Because I’m pissed just like they are. For me to get up here and try and cover it up is an insult to the fans. When I listen to an announcer trying to cover something up, I get upset. Because it’s bullshit.”
Those who love Hawk appreciate his candor, his unbridled passion for the team and his no-nonsense approach to broadcasting. “I don’t think Hawk’s style is coming around again. It’s unique to him,” broadcast partner Steve Stone says. “You can’t confuse him with anybody. And I think that’s good. Obviously when the team is struggling, he’s not the happiest man in the ballpark. In fact, he could be the least happy man in the ballpark.”
But his critics – and there are many – find his slow drawl infuriating, his extreme homerism grating and his refutation of modern advances in analysis, most notably Sabermetrics, just plain foolish. “X’s and O’s in baseball don’t mean a damn thing,” Hawk says when pressed on the latter topic. “We’ve got fans in the stands and watching at home who can actually run a baseball game as well as 85-90 percent of the managers.”