Hi friends. Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, the 13th. It’s been an interesting week. Just for starters, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was chosen to receive the Ford C. Frick award in Cooperstown next summer. To add to the fun, both New York teams made moves to buttress starting pitching which wasn’t adequate for either team during 2019. While the Yankees got the marquee name, Gerrit Cole, the Mets got two starters who hopefully will work out in cavernous Citi Field.
Just after the World Series, we found out that 8 men had been nominated for the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting. This was a year for somebody from, say the 1960’s on who we would all still remember. They tapped a man who only called it a career at the end of 2018. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson will get the award this time around.
He had a relatively brief playing career, 1963-71 and is probably best remembered for replacing Tony Conigliaro in Boston after Tony C.’s tragic beaning that essentially cost him his career. Harrelson kept the Sox from collapsing, and they came within one win of the World Series that year. Though they were nowhere in 1968, that was Harrelson’s one All-star season. He also led his league in RBIs in the Year of the Pitcher. He was done after a brief stint in Cleveland. He returned the batting glove to popularity around the league. After the Giants’ Bobby Thomson used it in the early fifties, it had fallen out of vogue until the Hawk brought it back.
The Hawk, (so nicknamed for his distinctive profile) was on TV as early as the late sixties in Cleveland with a “Hawk’s Nest” show. The South Carolina native returned to TV full time in 1975, working with the Red Sox’ Dick Stockton. Starting in 1979 he worked with Ned Martin, who he edged out for the Frick award this time around. He left Boston, changing the Red for the White Sox. His first hitch in the booth on the south side of Chicago coincided with WGN becoming a superstation. Thus, his voice could be heard in cable-equipped homes throughout the land. He didn’t immediately gain the popularity of Harry Caray, but the Hawk’s time would come. He briefly left the booth for a turn in the executive office which was an unqualified disaster. He has the dubious distinction of firing both Dave Dombrowski and Tony La Russa, and trading Bobby Bonilla to the Pirates, where Bobby Bo would become an All-Star 6 times over.
The Hawk took wing for New York where he spent two years on Sports Channel coverage of the Yankee games. In 1989, his only gigs were occasional ones on Nbc’s Game of the Week which he had been doing since 1984. His play-by-play man there was Jay Randolph. Those games seldom were seen in much of the country.
The years that made Harrelson a major star began in 1990 when he rejoined the White Sox and was teamed with Tom Paciorek, aka Wimpy. For the next decade, if you said “Wimpy and Hawk” to a White Sox fan, even one in a distant city watching on cable, the fan would know who you meant.
Like Harry Caray across town, Harrelson was a blatant homer. Chicago has demanded homerism in its broadcasters going back to Bert Wilson’s slogan “I don’t care who wins–as long as it’s the Cubs.” Tom Brenaman, a very good announcer was sent packing for not being partisan enough. Nobody had to worry about that with Harrelson. His signature was calling the White Sox “The good guys,” as in “the good guys are ahead 4–2.” I got such a rise out of that, I occasionally call the Yankees “the good guys” either here or on Facebook. Hawk collected 5 Emmy awards and 2 Illinois sportscasting awards in the time between 1990 and 2009. He wasn’t forgotten although WGN became WGN America and stopped broadcasting baseball games across the country. He was nominated for the Ford Frick award he has now won as early as 2007. In 2009 he had the privilege of calling Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. Going to the 9th, he took a page out of Vin Scully’s Brooklyn play book from the 1950’s and said, “Call your friends, call your neighbors, call your sons, call your daughters. Mark Buehrle’s got a perfect game going to the 9th.”
It took until 2016, when the aging Hawk was 75 for him to decide to slow down, and he finally left his perch in the White Sox booth for good at the end of 2018. He will officially claim his spot in Cooperstown next July.
Meantime, the Yankees finally made a move they should have made a long time ago. When the Pirates wanted to unload Gerrit Cole, the Yankees could have had him basically for nothing. Now, following a stellar year in Houston, the Yankees had to shell out $324 million over 9 years, roughly $36 million a year to have him (hopefully) anchor their pitching staff. Their top 3 looks solid now, with Cole, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. A solid top 3 gives the Yankees room to try and develop their young pitchers. It looked like they had one guy until Domingo German mortgaged and devalued his future for a chance to smack his girlfriend. While no punishment has been handed down yet, it would be highly questionable for the Yankees to use German even once his sentence is finished. As for Cole, the questions have already started about whether he can handle the pressure in New York which will be infinitely heavier than anything he may have felt in Houston. In spite of two World Series appearances and one victory in 2017, Houston is still a quiet city on the Gulf of Mexico, not known for the frenetic media presence New York has. Some players handle it, the notorious ones don’t. At roughly $36 million a year, anything Cole does will be under a microscope.
Across town, the Mets signed two starting pitchers-Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. Porcello, who will turn 31 just after Christmas is from Morristown, just a short hop from New York. His record is solid, 149–118 in spite of a couple of difficult years in Boston. In 2016, his second year with the Red Sox, he won both the Cy Young award and the Comeback Player of the year. He had been traded to Boston from Detroit, where he won 14 games twice and 15 once, in 2014-the year he was traded. He was just 9-15 in 2015 before a breakout year in 2016. He put up 22 wins against just 4 losses. He lost 17 in 2017, then went 17–7 in 2018, the year the Red Sox won the World Series. He started the 18-inning game, game 3 of the Series, the only one the Dodgers won. This past season, he was 14-12, but his 5.52 ERA was the highest among qualifying pitchers. With Zack Wheeler gone to the Phillies, the Mets hope Porcello can replace him in a rotation that already has Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
From what I’ve seen on social media, Mets’ fans see Michael Wacha as a 5th starter in spite of his 59–39 record which he built with the Cardinals. He was their first draft choice in 2012 having played 3 years at Texas A&M. He spent just a year in the minors before joining the Cardinals and more than pulling his weight. He got his first MLB win at Citi Field, where he will now call home. In the NLCS, he outdueled Clayton Kershaw not once but twice, at a time when Kershaw was still arguably the best pitcher on the planet. Wacha was an All-star with a 17–7 record in 2015 but had shoulder issues in 2014 and 2016. He was 8–2 in 2018 but was shut down in mid-June and not heard from that season. In 2019 he went 6-7 with an ERA just south of 5. He’s going from one big park in St. Louis to another at Citi Field, hardly the traumatic change Wheeler will have to make as he pitches in Philadelphia. Hopefully all 3 pitchers will be able to handle the New York fans and media and help their teams.0