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'You suck' or 'you're the greatest'

There's no in between with Hawk Harrelson, the voice of the Sox

By Matt Lindner

For RedEye

12:38 PM CDT, July 7, 2013

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It sounds morbid, but iconic White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson has the ideal final moments of his life scripted out in his mind.

"I want to die right here in this seat," Harrelson said softly in the booth that he's called home for the past two-plus decades. "That's what I want to do. If I could write my own script, I would die right here in this seat."

Then his voice shifted from softspoken to the familiar baritone that has provided the soundtrack to many a Chicago summer as he calls his imagined final broadcast.

"Verlander on the bump," he began. "Here's the pitch. Konerko hits it. That ball hit hard. Wayyyyyy back … he looks up, you can put it on the boooooard," before hitting his head playfully against his desk while laughing.

"That would be it for me," he continues. "And then all of a sudden on my tombstone it says 'He gone.' "

At the rate he's going, that may very well happen.

Now in his 21st season in the Sox booth, the Hawk has been as much of a fixture on Chicago's South Side as Polish sausage and scoreboard pinwheels.

"This is my 54th year in the game and I've been so lucky to see where it was when I first came in back in 1959," he said. "I've seen parts of seven decades. To see where it was then and where it is today and be involved in it the whole time, it's just been a blessing to see how things change and the culture of the game changes."

Lest you think he's unaware of just how polarizing he is in Chicago, you'd be wrong.

"There's not too much in between," he said. "I've taken a lot of that in between out. It's either 'Hawk, you suck' or 'Hawk, you're the greatest.' One of the two."

Harrelson said his bombastic style comes from the simple fact that he's a guy who enjoys what he gets paid to do for a living.

"I am a fan," he said.

That much has been betrayed in his calls this season. Much like the fans in the stands, the Sox's biggest booster in the booth has been unable to mask his frustration with a season that wasn't supposed to see the team in last place near the All-Star break.

As the Sox go, Hawk goes, after all.

"I love to watch these guys play," he said. "That's one reason that I get so wrapped up in it."

After more than a half century in the game, he's still coming up with new ways to look at it.

Harrelson made headlines at the start of the season for creating his own immeasurable statistic, TWTW, short for The Will to Win, which flies in the face of the numbers-obsessed baseball culture.

It's a motto that became a social media phenomenon, with people on Twitter turning it into a popular hashtag. It's especially ironic considering the man from whose mouth that phrase sprung isn't anywhere near social media.

"I'm not on the YouTube or Twitter," he said.

But he's not ruling it out. While there are any number of Twitter accounts parodying his style, Harrelson said it's only a matter of time before he takes the plunge.

"I'm starting to really get into it a little bit," he said. "I never thought I would. I've got two phones. I've got my iPad right there. … I would think probably in the next year or two I will be because hey, that's the way it's going."

As he looked out onto the field from his familiar perch in the booth and back on his career, Harrelson puffs out his chest a little bit before reining himself in.

"I'm proud of what I've done," he said. A lot of people write me these things and they send me stories and everything and I read them and I don't remember a lot of the stuff, but all of a sudden now it starts to come back to me and I say 'Jesus Christ, Hawk.'"

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.


CUBS AT WHITE SOX

(makeup of May 28 rainout)

7:10 p.m. Monday

CSN (Sox broadcast), WCIU (Cubs broadcast)

 

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