The Hawk Has Been Plucked Of His Feathers
I felt a strange sensation on Sunday afternoon. I tuned into the White Sox game a few minutes before first pitch against the Blue Jays and was greeted by Steve Stone going over lineups and all the usual pre-game fare. But then as he was taking the broadcast to break, he said something that caused my shoulders to sag and a disappointed sigh to pass my lips.
Stone said that the broadcast would be back with Hawk.
That was the moment I first realized that it was a Sunday home game, and that meant Hawk Harrelson would be in the booth instead of Jason Benetti. Now, it says a lot about how much I enjoy Benetti, and how quickly he's ingrained himself as a part of the White Sox broadcast that I was upset to learn he wouldn't be calling the game today. Having said that, while Benetti deserves some of the credit for that, Hawk deserves a significant share as well.
I love Hawk Harrelson. I don't say that as an empty platitude, either. He's the narrator of my baseball life. He's been calling White Sox games since I began watching White Sox games, and over that time he practically became a second voice inside my head.
He's written two books, and I've read both of them.
His catchphrases became my vocabulary.
His excitement for a young Sox prospect convinced me that the player was going to be good too. It was years before it dawned on me that Hawk loved every damn White Sox prospect.
Of course, the fact that some of those early prospects were Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez gave Hawk's opinion on youngsters added credence. I just figured that this was a man who knew what the hell he was talking about.
Now here I am, a man approaching 40 quicker than I ever thought imaginable, and before Benetti joined the rotation, I wasn't sure how I'd even react to a voice that wasn't Hawk's calling White Sox games. Well, as I alluded to above, the transition hasn't been as strange as I initially believed it would be. If anything we've reached the point where I wish it would end already.
I know that once he's gone, I'm going to reminisce and miss Hawk. As the years pass, I'll glance past how things were at the end. I'll remember the crazy son of a bitch that cared as much about the White Sox doing well as I did -- and often, more than I did -- and forget about the man who just sat down and started playing the hits at the end. Hell, even calling them "the hits" is misleading, they're mostly just talking points.
In the first inning of Sunday's game, Hawk was talking about how great a hitter Josh Donaldson is, even though Josh Donaldson wasn't playing for Toronto on Sunday and hadn't played a game in two months. In the second inning, he made sure to mention that today's game is "a battle of the bullpens," as he's done in every game he's called for at least the last three seasons. Then, even the unexpected appearance of Tom Paciorek -- the man who called those first White Sox games I watched alongside Hawk -- couldn't roust Hawk out of the comfort zone. Instead of having a fun conversation with a good friend, Hawk used Wimpy's presence as an excuse to talk about the same things he always talks about. In the fourth inning "Moneyball" was brought up.
Yes, Hawk, we know that "Moneyball" was somewhat reckless about the way it ignored the importance of Oakland's pitching staff. Still, all these years later, to continue fighting a battle against the analytics at the heart of the book is ridiculous. Look around at the game today, and the impact of that movement is everywhere.
Of course, that's another symptom of Hawk's problem. To pay heed to the numbers would mean he was paying attention to anything going on in the game this decade, and we all know that's not Hawk's forte.
Now, I don't want that to come off as a complaint or a criticism. As I said, I love Hawk, and I accept him for what he is. Warts and all. I've just reached a point where I've grown tired of the story. It's like a television show that you love for the first few seasons, but then the writers run out of ideas.
I had hoped that this year's limited slate of games for Hawk would lead to a rejuvenated performance. Not having to go through the grind day after day, and week after week would light a fire in Hawk, and for the first couple of games that seemed to be the case. Hawk wasn't entirely his old self in those first couple broadcasts, but there was an energy level that hadn't been there lately. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.
Maybe the White Sox themselves are to blame for some of it. I mean, I know I struggle to give a shit about this team at times as I watch it lose nearly two-thirds of the time. It's hard to blame Hawk for not getting excited for the opportunity to watch a Dylan Covey start, or an Adam Engel at-bat.
But the best broadcasters are the ones who find a way to keep you engaged even when there's no real reason to be. For most of my life, there weren't many better at doing just that than Hawk Harrelson.
That's no longer the case, though, and now I'm counting down the Sundays until it's over. You can put that on the board.