9:37 PM CDT, July 17, 2013
For one, maybe two generations, Ken Harrelson is known strictly as the voice of the White Sox, the team's most passionate fan behind the microphone.
Yet there is much, much more to "Hawk." He was a flamboyant, trend-setting player during a time of great change for baseball in the 1960s. He hung with everyone and anyone in sports and beyond. Heck, Harrelson says he was with Joe Namath the night before Super Bowl III.
And it wasn't just baseball. Harrelson was a good enough golfer to qualify for the 1972 British Open at Muirfield. Naturally, it was Jack Nicklaus who persuaded him to make the trip to Scotland.
It's all there in "Hawk: The Colorful Life of Ken Harrelson." The documentary debuts at 6 p.m. Thursday on MLB Network.
Harrelson said he was flattered that MLB Network wanted to do a film about him.
"They asked me some questions that I hadn't been asked in years about things that I hadn't thought about in years," Harrelson said. "It was really interesting. They brought some things out of me that I just hadn't thought about."
Narrator Bob Costas sets the stage early on.
"Baseball has had its share of characters, but few are as colorful and more enduring than Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson," Costas said.
The portion about Harrelson's broadcasting style will be familiar territory to Chicago baseball fans. Costas jokes, "Above all, (Harrelson is) an objective, down-the-middle broadcaster."
Yet the heart of the documentary is Harrelson telling one story after another about his experiences in and out of the game. MLB Network interviewed him in the Sox broadcast booth and at his home, where he was wearing a Blackhawks cap.
"I wasn't interested in doing a five-minute piece on him," producer Bruce Cornblatt said. "He's an incredible storyteller. The details are so engaging. We just wanted to turn on the camera and let it go."
There are tales about Harrelson's fights with Charlie Finley; bucking baseball's conservative look by wearing Nehru jackets and flashy boots; and tearing it up at Fenway Park during an MVP-caliber season with the Red Sox in 1968. There's a clip of him with the Indians doing a "Who's on First?" skit with pitcher Sam McDowell.
Harrelson became a major sports personality in the late '60s, and his acquaintances read like a Who's Who. He played pool in Jackie Gleason's home and celebrated Rocky Marciano's birthday at a hotel in Cleveland. Who gave advice to Harrelson when he went into broadcasting in 1975? Of course, none other than Howard Cosell, or "Coach" as Harrelson calls him.
Harrelson and Mickey Mantle were tight. He recalled being in tears in the Red Sox outfield while watching the Yankees slugger's last at-bat in 1968.
"People never realized, or Mickey didn't, how much we loved him," Harrelson said in the film.
The stories and the name-dropping (Vince Lombardi, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Namath) come so fast that you almost expect to hear Harrelson say he was with Abner Doubleday when he started drawing diamonds on a napkin.
"Do I believe everything he said?" Cornblatt said. "I have no reason not to believe him. He existed in that world in the '60s and '70s. It is the life he led."
Cornblatt said countless stories never made it into the film. Considering Harrelson continues to go strong at 71, perhaps there will be a sequel.
He's back: In one of the most unlikely reunions in TV history, Keith Olbermann is returning to ESPN. He will host a late-night talk show, "Olbermann," airing most nights at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. It debuts Aug. 26.
After becoming a big star on "SportsCenter," there was considerable bad blood when Olbermann left ESPN in 1997. However, ESPN President John Skipper wanted a big name to grab some of the headlines from Fox Sports 1, which launches Aug. 17.
Olbermann, 54, was available and eager to give it another try at ESPN.
"This is a chance to put a different ending on my story with ESPN," Olbermann said. "I know we can't go and undo everything that happened 20 years ago in those environs, but I'd like to do my best to get a fresh start."
"Olbermann" will be a mix of highlights, interviews and discussion with the host's unique twist. Skipper said politics won't be off limits for Olbermann, but he wants it to be in the context of sports.
Special contributor Ed Sherman writes at shermanreport.com. Follow him @Sherman_Report
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