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This is the right size and mercifully the right shape. We can sit back, relax and strap it down. Put it on the board. Yes!
Few of us had ever heard of 32-year-old Jason Benetti until he was named to the White Sox broadcast team on Wednesday. Before he so much as utters a word, though, it's safe to say his presence and voice will be a refreshing breeze in the team's media package. The predictable clichés, the ego-boosting hyperbole, and the "in my 55 years in baseball" of Ken (Hawk) Harrelson will be carried primarily when the Sox are on the road during the 2016 season while Benetti handles the home schedule.
Either by dumb luck or savvy judgement, the Sox have hired a young guy who wasn't a former player ready and willing to regale fans with frequently embellished stories about his athletic past. Benetti is a Sox fan from south suburban Homewood who graduated from Syracuse University's top-rated broadcast communications program and then earned a law degree from Wake Forest.
Like Chicago icon Jack Brickhouse, who began his long career in Peoria, Benetti has five years' experience in Syracuse calling the Triple-A Chiefs' games. Furthermore, a significant aspect of his biography includes the fact that he was born with cerebral palsy, so the guy has never so much as played Little League.
All of which means that dead time on the air will not be filled with fables about how the game was played 50 years ago when, for instance, Sudden Sam McDowell once threw something like 200 pitches in a major league game. What we are more likely to get is akin to Vin Scully or Denny Matthews - the longest-tenured broadcasters despite never playing the game professionally - who have a combined 122 years' broadcasting experience with the Dodgers and Royals, respectively.
Because most fans attend just a handful, if any, games a season, the connection to the team most often comes through radio and TV. Regardless of the outcome of the game, the experience can be pleasurable depending on our feelings about the men (and an occasional woman) describing the action.
Harrelson has represented that connection to the White Sox continuously since 1990. He first entered the Sox booth in 1982 until owner Jerry Reinsdorf, in arguably his worst move as the owner of the White Sox and Bulls, installed Harrelson as the team's general manager in 1986. Hawk inherited a team that had won 85 games the previous season.
However, during his one season as GM, Harrelson fired manager Tony LaRussa - he hired his close pal Jim Fregosi - and assistant GM David Dombrowski en route to a 72-90 record. The team didn't finished over .500 again until 1990, the year Harrelson returned as the voice of the White Sox.
To be clear, Harrelson is a much better play-by-play announcer than he was a general manager. And his Hawkisms have become a fixture in White Sox lore. However, like many aspects of our lives, things get stale over time unless there is an infusion of creativity and change. "You can put it on the board . . . Yes!" only works if it is one of a handful of repeatable mantras rather than pages and pages of them. Each game begins to sound like every other game when we know exactly what is coming next.
Much of Harrelson's time on the air dwells on the era when he played, which was just nine seasons, 1963-71. He abruptly left the Cleveland Indians as a bench player mid-season in 1971 to try his hand at professional golf.
(Note: Harrelson played in nine PGA tournaments, making one cut and earning a total of $570. He missed the cut by one stroke in the 1972 British Open.)
Harrelson at one time was among the elite hitters in the American League, leading all hitters with 109 RBI in 1968 while hitting 35 homers for the Red Sox. He was third in the MVP voting. Had he won the award, he would have had to share it with the Green Monster.
But he was always controversial, beginning with his days in Oakland where owner Charlie Finley released Hawk in August of 1967. Apparently Hawk wasn't pleased that Finley fired manager Alvin Dark. Just as apparent was Finley's displeasure at being called a "menace to baseball" by the outspoken Harrelson. Meanwhile, it took the Red Sox just three days to sign the new free agent.
Harrelson has been contemplating retirement for the past couple of years, citing the desire to spend more time with his family and the arduous 90-mile drive to the park from his home near South Bend. Making that drive after a night game is enough to exhaust most folks, let alone a 74-year-old. Hawk decided to return to a full schedule last year after a White Sox offseason he called "the best ever," buoying his hopes of one more World Series win.
In that regard, he's like the rest of us. If the Sox are competitive, we go to the ballpark. If not, we mostly stay away. Unlike our friends on the North Side who endured unrelenting losses until last season, Sox fans are discerning. Chances are if the White Sox fall flat again this season, Hawk will call it quits.
Which brings us back to Jason Benetti. Steve Stone will be sitting next to him to provide the comparisons to the game of yesteryear if need be. (It will be interesting to see just how close Stone sits to Benetti; Stone and Hawk reside about as far apart from one another as possible while still being in the same booth.)
The prospect of having a virtually unknown play-by-play announcer enter the scene creates curiosity about his style, knowledge, tone and accuracy. The one fact we know at this time is that the new addition will not be describing how the game was played years ago. He will not tell his listeners about the games he played or about the talent, antics, and habits of old teammates. Sorry, Yaz!
No, it's more likely that Jason Benetti will be a reporter who has done his homework. He will relate tidbits about the players on the field. Maybe he'll ask Stone about Robin Ventura's strategy or inject his own views whether a bunt or stolen base is in order. Duck snorts and cans of corns will recede into oblivion replaced by different words and phrases.
We don't know whether the Sox will be a better ballclub this season, but the change in the broadcast booth seems like the right step at the right time.
Jason Benetti's Figures of Speech.
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