Ken Harrelson turns 76 years old today. The longtime White Sox broadcaster was nicknamed ‘Hawk’ during his playing days for his prominent nose. He made his big league debut with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963, and in 1965, his first full season in the majors, hit 23 home runs as KC’s starting first baseman.
He was traded to Washington in mid-season 1966, only to be dealt back to KC less than a year later. That August, after calling owner Charlie Finley a ‘menace to baseball’ for firing manager Alvin Dark, Harrelson was released.
Hawk signed with the ‘Impossible Dream’ Red Sox a few days later, playing in the World Series with the American League champions, though he faltered in the Fall Classic, batting just .077 (1 for 13).
In 1968, the ‘Year of the Pitcher’, Harrelson settled in as the club’s regular right fielder, smashing 35 home runs with a league leading 109 RBI, and batted .275, all career-bests. Ken was an American League All-Star selection, finished 3rd in MVP voting, and was named the Sporting News AL Player of the Year.
He was moved to Cleveland early in 1969, and hit a total of 30 homers with 92 RBI. He only batted .221 however, topping 100 strikeouts for the 3rd time in his career. In spring training of 1970, Harrelson suffered a leg injury and managed to play in only 17 games that season. In 1971 he was beaten out by eventual Rookie of the Year Chris Chambliss for the starting first baseman role, and retired by mid-season.
Since then Hawk has tried his hand at professional golf (he played in the 1972 British Open), and as the GM of the White Sox in 1985 (in that season he fired manager Tony LaRussa and traded future 6-time All-Star Bobby Bonilla).
He has had an extremely successful run in broadcasting, calling games for the Red Sox (1975-81), Yankees (1987-88), and mostly the White Sox (1982-85, 1990-present), and is known for down home catch-phrases like ‘put it on the board’, ‘duck-snort’, and ‘he’s gone’. Through his run as a broadcaster Harrelson does not make much effort to be fully objective, taking pride in his reputation as ‘the biggest homer in baseball’ in 30+ years of calling the action for his beloved ‘good guys’ on the South Side of Chicago.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: