You have to be in your 40s to remember Ken Harrelson's days in Boston as an announcer, and in your 50s to remember him as a Red Sox player. Because I qualify on both counts, this Hawk rant from today -- classic enough to stand on its own -- means a little more to me than it probably will to most of you (courtesy of our friends at CSN Chicago):
The background: Plate umpire Mark Wegner ejected White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana for throwing behind the legs of Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist, even though no warnings had previously been issued. Wegner apparently felt the pitch was in retaliation for the Rays' Alex Cobb hitting Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski in the shoulder one inning earlier. Normally, the retaliation pitch -- especially if it doesn't hit anyone -- brings the warning; Wegner instead cut right to the chase. (White Sox manager Robin Ventura, incidentally, also got the heave for arguing the call, though not nearly as emotionally as the Hawk.)
Harrelson was the toast of Boston in 1968, when he hit 35 homers and captured the imagination of Red Sox Nation's youth (like me) with his long hair and Nehru jackets and love beads. He was traded the following year, but returned in 1975 as an announcer. And believe it or not -- after ditching a year-long Goober Pyle imitation he attempted when he first arrived -- he was an intelligent, erudite voice of reason, analyzing games as thoroughly as a college professor breaks down the chapter of a novel. He was an absolute joy to listen to.
That sort of analysis is heavy on honesty, and Red Sox management (Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux at the time) wasn't big on that particular attribute, especially as the '70s turned to the '80s and they were busy doing things like trading Rick Burleson and Fred Lynn for 20 cents on the dollar, and letting Carlton Fisk become a free agent by deliberately mailing his contract two days late. When the White Sox came calling with a big offer to become their lead TV voice, he was encouraged to take it.
And so he did. The job came complete with a pair of pom-poms -- White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf didn't mind honesty as long as it was delivered by a cheerleader -- and the Hawk eventually morphed into the frothing-at-the-mouth homer you just heard. Still, it's entertaining . . . and, in a strange way, it reminds me of better times.