www.redeyechicago.com/sports/ct-spt-0223-mitchell--20130223,0,7055833.column

redeyechicago.com

On-air harmony not always a given for baseball broadcasters

Harrelson-Stone tension sheds light on issue facing all partnerships

Fred Mitchell

6:17 PM CST, February 22, 2013

Advertisement

Hawk Harrelson concedes the spotlight will be more intense this season during White Sox telecasts with partner Steve Stone.

Their public acknowledgements that they have had to work through personal disagreements and on-air tension provide insight into the challenges facing all baseball broadcasters, who spend so much time together.

"Yeah, sure," Harrelson told me Friday, minutes before teeing off at one of his favorite Florida golf courses. "Curt Gowdy and Howard Cosell both told me when I first started broadcasting in 1975, 'Don't try to please everybody.' (Cosell) said those guys don't last very long. In the same year, Howard was voted the most loved broadcaster and the most hated broadcaster."

Harrelson and Stone are strong personalities who both like to have the final word. You can put that on the board.

"We spend a lot of time with each other, no question about that," Harrelson said. "Stoney and I, you know, we have had problems for the last year and a half. It wasn't perfect, like family and everything. We got it all solved now, and I am looking forward to it."

Harrelson said he was not always in harmony with previous partners Don Drysdale, Tom Paciorek and Darrin Jackson, yet they managed to make the most of it.

"I had one argument with Wimpy (Paciorek) in 10 years, and it wasn't even about baseball," he said. "I had one argument with D.J. in 10 years. In fact, Drysdale and I had more arguments than anybody, and the fans loved it because we had them on the air.

"It's really not a big deal. (Drysdale) had his thought processes on things and I had mine … and with Stoney too. I don't want someone up there saying: 'Right, Hawk. Right, Hawk.' I hate to hear guys like that myself. For national broadcasts, I think they should have one announcer from one team and another announcer from the other team so they can disagree."

Cubs television play-by-play announcer Len Kasper doesn't thrive on tension in the booth. For eight years he worked harmoniously with analyst Bob Brenly, who will be handling Diamondbacks games this year.

"You spend an inordinate amount of time with your partner and with your crew," Kasper said. "This year I will see Jim (Deshaies) more than I see my family over a course of six or seven months. It starts with mutual respect professionally and personally. When you do a television broadcast, you want to work as a team. And as a play-by-play announcer, my job is to get my partner, who played the game and can analyze why things happen, involved.

"I got to a point where (Brenly) knew where I was going or he would give me a look so that I knew I could lead him into a comment. That's where it starts on the air."

Veteran Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes wonders why all broadcast partners can't get along.

"People who do this for a living are very fortunate people," Hughes said. "You should try to make it work, no matter who you are working with. Many times it is very similar to a marriage because you are with each other almost every single day. And everything you do, you have to keep in mind: How will this affect my partner? Is this going to make him feel awkward? Is he going to be upset if I do this or say that? You have to think of the other person at all times."

Broadcast partners need not be best buds outside of the booth to provide an entertaining game-day presentation. Kasper said he was surprised to learn former Packers radio partners Jim Irwin and Max McGee did not spend much time together.

Similarly, Kasper said he and Brenly spent little time together away from their microphones.

"Bob is one of my best friends in the world, but he and I had breakfast, lunch or dinner outside of the ballpark last season probably two or three times," Kasper said. "When you spend five hours a day at the ballpark with somebody … you don't want to overdo it so that all of your main conversations are over a beer and you never have any over the air."

During my stint as the Tribune's Cubs beat reporter in the 1980s, I saw and heard firsthand how much Milo Hamilton despised partner Harry Caray, jealous of the fan attention Caray received.

"I have had ex-players tell me: 'I thought there were big egos when I was in the clubhouse. But I never realized how many big egos there are in the media,' " Kasper said. "It takes a certain amount of ego to want to do this for a living. You have a lot of ex-players who have accomplished a lot on the field and are used to being treated a certain way.

"The way I look at it: The better my partner sounds, the better I sound. If your partner sounds uncomfortable or upset or aggravated, that doesn't bode well for me."

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34