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Hawking Hawk

If you're scratching your head after the announcement about Hawk Harrelson over the weekend, join the club.

Reducing his broadcast responsibilities strictly to road games last season, we all knew that Harrelson, who will turn 76 in September, was nearing the end of his tenure in the booth alongside Steve Stone. Always one to challenge boundaries, Harrelson abandoned home games after the 2015 season since he lives in South Bend. What reasonable person would drive 180 miles round-trip when the Sox played at home, especially for night games when he might not get on the road until almost midnight or later?

When the news first broke last week that Harrelson would do 20 games (primarily Sunday home games) next season, Hawk was in typical form.

"Living in the eastern zone and working in the central zone, after the games are getting longer, that makes my trip with my temper - semi-truck driver and my temper don't mix," Harrelson was quoted as saying on Fox Sports. "Not at 3:30 in the morning, especially when it's raining because I've got an axe-handle in the back of my car with some mace. And I've literally chased some of those guys before. I'm just glad I haven't caught anybody because one of us would've been knocked out."

Whew! Suffice it to say that Hawk won't be running for a position in the Teamsters Union upon retirement from broadcasting.

Heretofore, Harrelson cited a desire to spend more time with his family - his three grandchildren in particular - when he cut back his schedule last year. Since he's basically worked 81 dates the past two seasons, he has approximately 284 days a year to be with the grandkids. Those of us who are grandparents know that is more than ample opportunity.

Once the news got out, the White Sox had their own spin in a lengthy press release sans any mention of axe handles. Sean Spicer would be envious.

"We are very pleased to be able to assist Hawk with this transition, to help him achieve the incredible milestone of eight decades in the game," gushed marketing head Brooks Boyer.

You do the math. How can a 75-year-old man have been in baseball for 80 years?

As a 17-year-old in 1959, Harrelson was signed by the then-Kansas City Athletics and reported to the Olean (NY) Oilers of the Class-D New York-Penn League. About as low as you can go at the time, Harrelson hit .192 with three home runs and eight RBIs. For years Harrelson has regaled us with tales about his playing career, but I can't recall him saying much about those stats from so long ago.

Apparently an appearance in the last year of the '50s qualifies as his first decade in baseball.

By 1962 Harrelson was tearing up the Eastern League, hitting .272 with 38 dingers and a robust 138 runs driven in, all of which got him a promotion to the A's the next season. Harrelson had a lackluster big league career for five seasons before tangling with A's owner Charley Finley, a formidable match in terms of flamboyance, ego, and impulsivity. Finley released Harrelson in late August of the 1967 season, and the Red Sox quickly signed him. The Fenway faithful adopted Hawk as their own and his career took off. Toward the end of the 1968 season when Harrelson slashed .275/.356/.874 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI - he was third in the MVP voting - Harrelson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing a trademark Nehru suit.

Hawk on SI cover.jpg

Writer William Leggett called him "the boulevardier of the American League," adding that Harrelson "develop[ed] a reputation as the game's best arm wrestler, pool shooter and golfer as well as being a man who played defense with all the finesse and surety of Venus de Milo."

Hawk was shocked - and devastated; he briefly retired - when he was traded to Cleveland the next season, but he still hit 30 homers. However, in spring training in 1970, he broke his leg and by 1971 at the age of 29, he quit baseball in an attempt to join the PGA Tour. His biggest success was qualifying for the British Open in 1972, missing the cut by a single stroke.

Harrelson joined the Sox broadcast team in 1982. So impressed was owner Jerry Reinsdorf that he installed Hawk as general manager in 1986, whereby Harrelson's most notable move was firing manager Tony LaRussa in favor of his buddy Jim Fregosi. We know how that one turned out. Since 1990, Harrelson has been a Sox announcer non-stop. Getting back to the eight decades' theme. Harrelson will do those 20 games next season and then will be a Sox ambassador - whatever that is - in 2020, the start of another decade, Hawk's eighth in baseball according to the team's silly calculations.

We can only image what this swan song will look like. In this age where conspiracy theories predominate, can it be that the Celebration of Hawk will hide the fact that the team on the field - which has lost 19 of its last 28 games - is pretty awful? If that's the case, a few among us might enjoy the adoration while most fans will recognize the plan for what it is - an attempt to take the focus off the field.

Harrelson's presence - as a player, announcer, as a character - has always created not so much controversy, but certainly discussion and often humor. In his early days in the booth -when the sayings, jargon, and stories were new - his banter with guys like color man Tom Paciorek (another former player) were fun and lively.

However, we've heard them all many times over. His constant analysis about "hitting with short arms" and "pitching to his arm side" have become redundant. There is little apparent homework when it comes to the background and makeup of current players. Occasionally we get silence when there is action on the field.

And what, exactly, will we get for 20 Sundays next season that we haven't heard already?

Ken Harrelson has had a glorious career. He'll be the first to tell you, and he's not wrong. He's done what he dearly loves for a long, long time, which is admirable and something we'd like for ourselves. But we all arrive at the end of the line when it is time to move on, do something differently, discover gems that we never knew existed while giving others a chance to fill the gap we leave behind. Why stretch it out?

Eight decades? Such a meaningless excuse. Axe handles? Makes much more sense.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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