Enjoy the Silence, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hawk

I’ve hated White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson for a long time. As a baseball-watching kid growing up in the Northeast, I had the displeasure to have access to Chicago superstation WGN and its accompanying White Sox broadcasts. Always thirsty for baseball, when the Yankees weren’t on I generally had a choice: the hated Mets and their bullshit National League no-DH yawnfest, the Braves and windbag Skip Caray, or the White Sox and Hawk Harrelson.

I usually went and played outside.

(just kidding, I usually turned the channel to The Jeffersons in syndication.)

When my young, innocent body first got exposed to the Hawk, I think it shut down and stunted my growth. My dreams of being a big league shortstop died the instant I heard his redneck drawl. Back then, Hawk — a former journeyman player who had also served an ill-conceived stint as White Sox GM — paired with Tom Paciorek to call Sox games. These two nitwits called each other “Hawk” and “Wimpy” on the air, and even in the Neanderthal age of baseball broadcasting still seemed remarkably uninformed.

A lifelong hate affair had begun.

Wherever I went, WGN and the Hawk followed. College in Georgia? The Hawk was there. Living in Boston? The Hawk was there. His wrinkly strikeout cry of “He gone!” was my own personal tell-tale heart. There was no escape. So what else was I to do but venture into the belly of the beast? I moved to Chicago to confront my demon head on.

My loathing of the Hawk intensified when I got to the Middle West and heard his slimy, tentacled voice more often than ever. Everything about him drove me crazy.

I hated his colloquialisms and patented terminology. To this day, hearing him say the words “duck snort” gives me seizures. I hated his unprecedented, unearned homerism, calling the White Sox “the good guys” and the opposition “the bad guys.” I hated him yelling for opponent’s line drives to “get foul!” and for White Sox long flies to “stretch!” As a baseball announcer, Hawk amounts to little more than a collection of catchphrases: he’s like the Family Matters or Full House of sports broadcasting. He calls games for simpletons because they’re the only ones who could possibly enjoy him.

I hated his avian face. I hated his bizarre vendettas against particular umpires. I hated that he forced his broadcasting partners to join in his inane catchphrases whether they wanted to or not. I hated that this South Carolina hick was poisoning the minds of Chicago baseball fans for decades. I hated his insistence on calling all White Sox players by first name only: “Here’s Paulie.” I fully supported Heave the Hawk.

Hawk is the antithesis of Vin Scully: he’s inelegant, stupid, crude, biased, irrational, unlyrical, barbaric. He is clearly the worst working announcer –TV or radio — in Major League Baseball, and possibly the worst in all of sports.

I’ve heard Harrelson say things like:

“If you’re just tuning in, it’s a small plate for our pitchers and a big plate for their pitchers. And there’s no doubt about it.”

and, during a position-by-position breakdown comparing the White Sox to the Yankees…

“At third base, we have Alex Rodriguez and Joe Crede. Gotta call that one a draw, partner.”

Then, a strange shift started happening a few years ago. Friend of the blog Stephen Malkmus Motherfucker put his finger on it first: he was starting to enjoy listening to the Hawk. And damn it, though I was both slow and loath to admit it, so was I.

It’s difficult at times to figure out the difference between enjoying something for its own sake and enjoying something ironically, but ultimately it doesn’t make much difference: if you like something, you like it. And there came a point at which I stopped muting the television during White Sox games, or turning on the opposing team’s announcers using MLB TV. Because the Hawk? The Hawk is wonderful to laugh at.

He is a ridiculous fucking human being. And I’ve apparently reached an age at which I’d rather listen to an audibly peacocking joke than another bland play-by-play man talking about how gritty the white utility infielder is. Most broadcasters detract from the viewing experience; Hawk adds entertainment.

To be clear, I enjoy depressed Hawk much more than I enjoy gloating Hawk. When the White Sox are trailing, Hawk’s demeanor grows noticeably sullen and glum. Sometimes he won’t speak at all for minutes or even innings at a time. And that silence is glorious.

Deadspin has recently begun tracking Hawk’s stunned periods of silence after opposing home runs — because it’s not like his job is to, you know, announce the action or anything. Check out this one, or this one. The man is the Picasso of sitting in a booth quietly watching a guy in a white uniform round the bases.

According to Wikipedia, Hawk has proclaimed that he wants to never retire but rather to die in the booth during a game. If the White Sox opponents had just a hit a home run, how would anyone know the difference?

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Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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