Hawk cautious but likes look of his Sox
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org January 27, 2011 8:58PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Longtime White Sox television play-by-man Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has been in baseball for 51 years, 35 as a broadcaster.
“The longer you’re in it, the less you know about it,” Harrelson said Thursday afternoon as he prepared for his evening gig as the guest speaker for the 62nd annual Old Timers Baseball Association of Will County reunion and dinner at the Joliet Holiday Inn.
“You think you know something about baseball, and it will jump up and bite you in the butt,” he continued. “Golf (his other passion) is the same way. You think you have it all figured out, and it jumps up and bites you.
“That’s why baseball and golf are the most beautiful sports, why baseball is the best game of all.”
Remember that thought as Harrelson enters discussion of the 2011 White Sox. Even knowing what baseball has taught him, he has difficulty hiding his enthusiasm for what this Sox team may accomplish.
After the Sox followed a familiar pattern and finished second in the American League Central behind the Minnesota Twins in 2010, team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a favorite of Harrelson, scurried to review his ABCs.
“Usually teams have three options, although Jerry had only two,” Harrelson said. “A, the trusty rebuilding, the youth movement. That means cut payroll.
“B, we are going to contend with what we’ve got. That was bull. Everyone knew that was not an option for Jerry.
“C, that’s the one I felt Jerry would take, and so did Ozzie (Guillen, the Sox manager) and his coaching staff.”
“C” meant spending money, adding on. “If I had to bet, I would have said Jerry would go in the direction of improving the club,” Harrelson said. “He has won seven world championships for this town (six with the Bulls, 2005 with the Sox), and he is hungry for more.”
This offseason, Reinsdorf gave his blessing and collaborated with general manager Ken Williams to sign slugger Adam Dunn, re-sign Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and sign relief pitchers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman.
“Jerry had signed Dunn, and he and I were having lunch during the baseball meetings in Orlando,” Harrelson said. “His phone rang, and it was Craig Landis, Konerko’s agent. Jerry talked for about 5 minutes and came back and said, ‘We’re going to do all we can to get him signed.’ When Jerry said that, I knew he was going to get it done.”
On deck, Pierzynski.
“A.J. was an imperative signing to me,” Harrelson said. “He is the best catcher by far in our league as far as putting down numbers goes. It was a must to re-sign him.
“It came down to two minutes. A.J. was going to be a Dodger, and (assistant general manager) Rick Hahn called in that two-minute window and they got it done.”
Much as players have their niche, so too do general managers. Harrelson said Williams “is really good in two areas: 1. rebuilding and stocking the bullpen, which is hard to do, and 2. getting good bench players.
“Every team wanted a left-handed reliever, but it was Kenny who went out and got one (Will Ohman).”
How important is a bullpen?
“Back when I played, the bullpen was a non-issue,” Harrelson said. “It was the place where they sent the starters who couldn’t get anybody out, and they didn’t pitch much anyway because starters went nine innings.
“Today, teams can only go as far as the bullpen can take them.”
Harrelson said young, fireballing left-hander Chris Sale “gives our bullpen an entirely different outlook. And Jesse Crain was a huge addition.
“I saw Crain after we signed him and said, ‘I’m glad to see you, and Konerko is really glad to see you.’ Paulie never did very well against him.”
When you look around the diamond — Juan Pierre in left, Alex Rios in center, Carlos Quentin in right, probably Brent Morel at third, Alexei Ramirez at short, Gordon Beckham at second, Konerko at first, Pierzynski behind the plate and the starters and relievers who are in place (closer is to be determined from among multiple candidates) — optimisim is understandable, even if Jake Peavy is unable to contribute much this season.
Best Sox team?
“In my more than a quarter-century with this organization, this may be the best team,” Harrelson said. “There’s balance in the offense with speed. The ’83 team was good, but not like this; ’90 was good, but not like this.
“The closest in talent was the ’94 team, when everyone was salivating for a World Series between two great teams, the White Sox and Monteal Expos. They were by far the two elite teams.”
However, the strike that began Aug. 12 of that year erased the rest of the season and the postseason.
“The 2000 team that won the division was not in the same league as this one,” Harrelson continued.
“The 2005 team that won it all had something special, and that was Ozzie (Guillen). Anytime you win your last game in the postseason, you had a good year.
“The last month and a half that year, when we were struggling and Cleveland got hot, Ozzie did a marvelous job deflecting attention from the players, taking the pressure off them.”
Guillen is still in the dugout. In fact, he recently was signed to an extension through the 2012 season.
All of that being in place, what is the key to success?
“Staying healthy,” Harrelson responded.
For example, Beckham had a strong second half going last season until he was hit on the hand and could not grip the bat properly. Quentin has not been able to avoid the injury bug with any regularity, and it is uncertain when Peavy will be ready.
“Beckham is our sleeping giant at second base,” Harrelson said. “He will be the face of the organization for a long time, barring injury.”
Yes, injuries happen. Asked about the aftermath of the Bears’ Jay Cutler leaving the NFC championship game, Harrelson said: “I used to be very critical of guys who said they were hurt. You know, ‘Get back in there and play.’ But not anymore. We should never give up on a guy too quickly. If a guy says he’s hurt, he’s hurt and can’t play.”
Assuming relatively decent health, however, will “All In” and a payroll approaching $130 million work for the Sox? Possibly.
But remember Harrelson’s warning:
“You think you know something about baseball, and it will jump up and bite you in the butt.”