“That ball is hit high and deep… STRETCH! GET ON BACK THERE! HE LOOKS UP, YOU CAN PUT IT ON THE BOAAAARD, YES! YES! A walk-off homer for Paul Konerko, and the White Sox win this one 5-4! MERCY!”
….. And with that, I take a breath, stand up, and turn off my PlayStation.
I’ve grown up surrounded by baseball. Since I was about 8-9 years old, I’ve followed White Sox Baseball religiously, and with that following came a love for that crazy old man in the booth.
I don’t know when it was that I started mimicking Hawk’s calls, but when I did, it happened all the time: while I was playing MLB The Show on PS3, or when my brother and I played baseball in our backyard, or even just while daydreaming on my own while hitting in the batting cage. Once it became customary to sit down at 7:00 CT and have Hawk tell me to “Sit back, relax, and strap it down”, it also became customary to make his catchphrases a part of my everyday life. I developed a love for broadcasting, and at any chance I had, I would “broadcast” a baseball game. I even joined the broadcast team in high school to do morning announcements, figuring that was as close as I could get to mimicking an idol of mine.
As a kid – and even as a young adult – I never thought about the day when Hawk would be turning off the microphone for good. I think I just assumed he’d be there forever. But now, that day has come when it’s time to say goodbye to Hawk, and thank him for being such a special voice for over 30 years.
What is it that makes Hawk Harrelson so special to Sox fans? I don’t think I can give a perfect answer. But, as a tribute to Hawk, I’m going to try. To start, here are some of my personal favorite calls (and maybe some of yours too):
Notice none of these moments are particularly happy ones. What makes these calls so special to me is this: Hawk says exactly what we were feeling as Sox fans in the moment. Hawk has always been an extension of the fan base – he knows how we are feeling, because he’s just like any one of us. That video of the game against the Mets is a perfect example of this – I remember some of the horrors of that season.
Now, obviously, there are plenty more calls that I cherish. For example, I can recite may of his calls from the Buehrle’s Perfect Game; all of the ones from, “Call your sons, call your daughters. Call your friends, call your neighbors. Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going to the ninth”, through the spectacular ninth inning that ensued. Every walk-off win remains a special moment to go back and listen to. Every blown call by an umpire gave me an opportunity to laugh and be angered in the same moment. Hawk has always found a way to make every moment in a game feel meaningful. Have you ever wondered how Hawk would’ve called Paul Konerko’s Grand Slam in the ’05 World Series? Or Podsednik’s homer later that same game? What about that final out in Houston?
With this same passion has come the calls of Hawk being a homer. I’ve never understood why this was considered such a bad thing. Last I checked, the Chicago White Sox sign his paychecks, not ESPN. Hawk’s duty is to call the game as it happens, and he does. That doesn’t mean he has to like the outcome. If I’m watching the Sox broadcast, I want them to be happy for the Sox, not for the opposing team. So, sure, you can complain about his endless stories about Yaz, roll your eyes at his love of TWTW, or feel just utter shock at the time he compared Todd Frazier to Kris Bryant. I’m not saying there’s never been a painful moment of homerism. But, through it all, Hawk taught us all something special: how to love the White Sox. Good win or ugly loss, Hawk always came back the next day with the same amount of energy as the last. His constant belief in the team resonated with all of us. His knowledge of the game – “old school” as it may be – is something to be appreciated, listened to, and learned from. Listening to Hawk is like watching a White Sox game with your grandfather: he’s going to talk about the “good old days” of baseball, teach you things about players you never had the experience of watching, and along the way, he’s going to make some crazy statements that have you laughing or rolling your eyes. But just like you love your grandfather no matter what, we love Hawk regardless.
Hawk’s impact goes far beyond his homerism, and if “I don’t like him because he’s a homer” is your best argument against Hawk, I think Hawk would consider that a win. I really feel Hawk is going to be someone you don’t realize what you’ve had until he’s gone. Unfortunately, none of this speaks to Ken, who as we all saw in the “Hawk” documentary is a loving family man that all young men should aspire to be as we grow. In all aspects of his life, Ken – or Hawk, whoever he might be – has touched people’s lives in a unique and unforgettable way.
When Hawk calls his last game today, I won’t be ready to believe it. Many of you might be feeling the same way. We need to cherish these last moments. But as I’ve said before, Jason Benetti is the perfect person to be taking over for Hawk. His energy, unique personality, and love for the White Sox show in every telecast. His analytical mind matches well with Steve Stone as the White Sox usher in a new era of baseball talent on the South Side. And most importantly, Jason idolized Hawk like many of us do – and that’s the reason Hawk will never really leave us.
What I mean is this: Yes, Hawk is leaving the booth. But Hawk will live on in all of us. We’ll still get annoyed with those “Kansas City Specials”, still pray the “Bad Guys” never “Cancel the Postgame Show”, and most importantly, still roll our eyes when Jason Benetti announces that Joe West, Angel Hernandez, or Mark Wegner are part of the umpiring crew. We’ll still want the Sox to “Put it on the board”, and still say “This ballgame is OVA” after every Sox win. Think of all the times we will get to yell “HE GONE” as Michael Kopech mows down hitters in the playoffs. But also, think of all the times we’ll yell “You’ve got to be bleeping me” as we watch all the struggles to the ultimate destination. If you’re not a Sox fan, you may have no idea what anything in this last paragraph meant. And that’s the beauty of Hawk.
So yes, Hawk will be gone, but he will never be forgotten. Those who love him will cherish all the memories he’s given us. Those who hated him will be glad to see him go. But, love him or hate him, he’s made an impact on all fans of the game. You’ll never hear someone say “Oh Hawk, don’t really have an opinion on him. He’s fine, I guess.” Even those who loathed listening to him can – and should – appreciate the impact he’s had on White Sox nation for over 30 years. I think every baseball fan can say that there will never be another broadcaster like the Hawk. And that’s because, as Jason Benetti has said so beautifully: “Hawk’s best attribute is he doesn’t give a fuck about anything. He doesn’t give a fuck.”
So, thank you Hawk. Thank you for teaching me how to love the White Sox and giving me a passion for broadcasting. Thank you for bringing your same passion and energy to every broadcast I’ve watched since I was 8. And thanks on behalf of all of White Sox nation for giving us 35 years of your time. Through all the ups and downs, you’ve been a consistent presence and voice that we could rely on. Hopefully many of us can be at your Hall of Fame ceremony in the years to come. You’ve earned a special place in Cooperstown, just like you earned a special place in White Sox fans’ hearts. You might consider yourself the luckiest man, but we are certainly the luckiest fans.
White Sox fans will never forget what you’ve done for us. You can put that on the board.
Some of my favorite Hawkisms – other than the standard ones of course:
- “Ball four base hit”
- “Chopper, two hopper”
- “Get foul…it won’t”
- “Lookin’ for it, got it, and couldn’t do nothin’ with it”
- “Right size, wrong shape”
- “Should be, it is”
- “That’s a hang wiff ’em “
Featured Photo: ESPN.com