It is rather loathsome era to be a baseball fan. Being a modern day fan of the national pastime means having the convenience of modern stadiums, high definition television, and the best athletes science can build. If, like myself, you are under the age of 40, you can only smell the “glory years”* of baseball through bad television programming narrated by the sultry voice of Alec Baldwin, oral accounts, and best-of lists. It is from these sources that we see/hear the Gods of Baseball Past. We have seen their stats, grainy highlights, and been told by our elders that they were the real baseball players. Since their word is what we grew up on, we usually blindly follow suit and worship batters who we have never even watched a single full at-bat. Without the mountains of video highlights the current game brings us, we only hear romanticized tales about the game before it was ruined by the likes of the designated hitters, large bullpen staffs, and roids.
At my job today, a rep for a company came in to shill his product. As a side-note, he mentioned that he played ball for eight years in the sixties for the Red Sox. Sure, he kept dishing out the goods on his product and I kept nodding, smiling, and even giving the fake laugh at statements that were not even jokes (Why do we do that?). However, all the while I was thinking about one thing: I wonder if this palooka ever played with Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, and more importantly, I wonder how much of a prick Hawk was to play with. I kept nodding, smiling, and laughing until I realized he left and I was sitting by myself.
With just my thoughts there to keep me company, I hit the interweb to see when Hawk played for the Red Sox. I confirmed what I thought, he played for Red Sox during the same time the mysterious rep (I could not find any record of the name on the business card having played pro ball) played his supposed eight-year career. It was not the first time I looked up Harrelson’s extremely mediocre stats on baseball-reference.com, but it was the first time I noticed the little “MVP-3” under the Awards column for the 1968 season (meaning he finished 3rd in voting for the AL in ’68). This blew my mind. Yes, it is true that many mediocre players have been within a turtle’s dick of one of baseball’s elite awards. Hell, Terry Pendleton even won the 1991 NL MVP, but he did so with some impressive stats. The 1968 AL MVP voting ended a little something like this: Denny McLain finished first with impressive stats – I will get to him later. In second place was Bill Freeman, who boasted a robust .263 BA along with 25 HRs, and 84 RBI. If your brow is not furrowed, you may want to take another looksie at that last sentence. Hawk wrapped up the top three with a .275 BA, 35 HRs, and 109 RBI – better than Freeman’s numbers, but Detroit finished first in the AL, while Harrelson’s Red Sox finished fourth. Baseball can be a wicked whore.
I guess what I am trying to say here is obvious. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is an awful announcer and should have been fired many moons ago. The man lives for his “witty” catchphrases and to talk about the old game. The latter of the two he often obnoxiously prefaces by saying something down the lines of, “Mark Buehrle has a great move to first. You know who else had a great move to first?” Then he goes on and on about: a) Carl Yastrzemski, b) Sandy Koufax, or c) some extremely obscure player who was in the Majors for half a season. Yaz and Sandy are his two fall-backs. The prior of the two he treats like he is peas in a pod because, ya know, they played together for years upon years… oh hell, that’s right, they played one full season together! Yet, the way Hawk talks, you would think that he played a dozen seasons along ole Yaz.
If this were not bad enough, as the years have rolled along, Mr. Harrelson has become more and more of a salty curmudgeon. This is never more evident than when the Sox drop a lead due to an error. Heaven help you if you are listening to a game and this happens in the earlier innings. The rest of the game will have him harping on that error and subsequent runs anytime he mentions the score. “That will bring us to the bottom of the sixth, down 4-2. [pause] Of course, we should still be leading this one 2-1, but that’s what happens when you give the other team extra outs…” which leads into a full explanation of a third-inning error and the aftermath, a recap that you are now hearing for the eighth time. This approach of using redundancy can be comical, but the way in which Hawk delivers it makes you swear you can hear him loading a single bullet into a revolver in the background.
There are also the impossible trivia questions he asks his color commentator (presently being the immaculate Steve Stone) and then answers as if it were common knowledge to him (and not written on a note by the staff). There is his ability to never have a wrong answer to anything (if his answer is wrong, he acts all pompous, as if his answer is surely another correct answer). And finally, there are the aforementioned catchphrases. Mr Harrelson, I understand you came up with the “Stretch!” thing for homers that look like they may come close, but as time has gone on, it is being used for shots that hit the ninth row. It is old, worn, and was never clever to begin with. It plain sucks.
Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is a product of the “glory years” of baseball, a time when the game was pure… and apparently boring as hell. When the player who finished second in the AL MVP voting did so by batting .268 and did not threaten, if not smash, the homerun record, that means the games had to be hardly watchable. And back to Denny McLain. Sure he tallied 31 wins with an ERA under two, but he did so facing some of the sorriest hitters the history of baseball had to offer. Number two in AL MVP voting was on his own team, ergo, he did not even have to face the mighty Bill Freeman! If these were the glory years, I will gladly take the “watered down” product we have today. In fact, this weekend I am going to the middle of the desert to watch the Sox play an air conditioned baseball game, in a stadium that has a frickin’ pool in left field! I will probably get my tickets online (hell, maybe I’ll order some hot dogs online as well), follow stats on my phone (if I do not feel like looking at the huge scoreboard in the outfield), and have the game recorded in HD, so when I do not remember the game from having too many micro brews at the stadium, I can wake up and watch players with more muscles than God duke it out the next day.
For those of you who may only know Alec from 30 Rock, here’s his peak, some 20 years ago:
*I am using a generic term here because the “golden years” of baseball is ill-defined, but many have tried. “Glory years” is a pleasantly ambiguous.