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My best friend in grade school was a Boston Red Sox fan, so I embraced Tony Conigliaro early, suffered with his (eventually) career-ending beanball, and embraced the Hawk as his replacement.
The Hawk was a thinking man's baseball player—befitting a golfer—and was the first to adapt the golf glove to baseball batting. (He would later quit baseball to try his hand, unsuccessfully, on the PGA Tour.) Working in tandem with the Ted Wlliams manual The Science of Hitting, I modeled my baseball batting stance on Harrelson's, lifting the left heel off the ground to ease the golf-like turn of the left knee in to trigger the swing. Last year when I returned to the softball field (16-inch, as if that needs to be clarified) I found myself still doing it.
I'm one of the few people who can claim to have read Harrelson's autobiography Hawk, in which, if memory serves, at one point he claims to have been able to dribble one of those old, rounded, drop-kickable footballs of the era like a basketball.
(Dig that Nehru jacket on the cover, too, Aware One.)
I thought it was a big mistake for the White Sox to ditch Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall as TV analysts in favor of the Hawk and Don Drysdale, and history has sided with me (and the Cubs) on that one. Likewise, he wasn't much of a success as a general manager, firing Tony LaRussa.
He was an avid apologist for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and his role in the aborted 1994 baseball season, and Hawk has been rewarded for that loyalty with contract extensions ever since.
He can be too reliant on pat phrases, and yes, I've speculated that color analyst Steve Stone could do the game himself if armed with one of those old Casio keyboards programmed with Hawkisms like "Chopper two-hopper," "Duck snort," "Gaasss," and "Grab some bench!"
Yet I like my baseball announcers to have a little grit and passion, and Hawk delivers—when the Sox do as well. He has given us colorfully expressive nicknames like "The Big Hurt," "El Caballo," and "The Tank." When he gets away from his set lines and actually talks old-school baseball with "Stone Pony," it gives reason to why baseball has its many delightfully idle moments.
So his infamous tirade against umpire Mark Wegner Wednesday—for throwing White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana out of the game (without warning) after he threw a pitch behind Ben Zobrist (in retaliation for a no-call when A.J. Pierzynski was hit in the shoulder)—is totally in character. And I have to say, as someone who defends the notion of defending your own players (as well as being a willing shouter of the phrase,"Stick it in his ear!"), the Hawk was right, even if the moment did get to him a bit too much.
I've always said I much prefer passionate announcers to so-called pros like Vince Scully and Bob Costas. In fact, I've heard Scully a couple of times of late, and I have to say, he needs a color analyst—or someone to ease the burden of play-by-play at this point in his career.
So, I know this opinion is not going to be widely shared, but if I had my druthers, give me the Hawk over Vin Scully—just as long as Stone Pony's in the booth as well.