Tuesday's broadcast showed him at his worst and best, even while he was under the weather
I'd like to revisit our discussion on Saturday about White Sox broadcasts for two reasons:
The White Sox are conducting a survey on this very matter, and there are two free upper box tickets at the end of the rainbow.
Tuesday's game basically encapsulated everything I said about Hawk Harrelson, bad and good.
Let's start with the bad because it's chronological -- Harrelson's overemphasis of his own axioms.
I used the "dreaded leadoff walk" example in Saturday's post, but Harrelson's dogma regarding bullpens is downright omnipresent. It's not just that he hammers that point every game, but it creeps higher and higher up into the broadcast, even when the bullpen isn't involved, and when there are more novel things he could be discussing.
For instance, Michael Taylor showed up on our screens in the second inning for his first plate appearance as a White Sox. Taylor is the most obscure of all the September call-ups, as he signed during the season and was overshadowed at Charlotte by younger, more entrenched prospects like Marcus Semien and Micah Johnson.
Here is the White Sox broadcast's call of Taylor's first plate appearance, starting with the PA guy announcing Taylor:
Hawk: "... that's the reason I picked Kansas City to win this division. And coming out of spring training, everybody thought Detroit was just the runaway winner with the starters they had. And now they've even improved their staff starter-wise with Price, but it doesn't make -- they still might not win this thing because they have no bullpen. So it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't make any difference how much you hit. Look at the games we've lost this year ..."
Taylor takes ball one.
Hawk: "... if we had had -- if we had had not great, just good bullpen work, we would be in the hunt in this division right now."
Stone: "That's probably the case. Squandered a lot of games late."
Taylor takes ball two.
Hawk: "So here's Taylor. This guy's big -- six-five, 256..."
In the second inning of the first game of a series ... after a day off ... with seven new players on the roster ... and the newest player of them all hitting for the first time ... Harrelson is making a point he's made literally scores of times (I hesitate to say "a hundred times," but that could very well be the case) over the course of the season. After a brief introduction of Taylor, they resumed talking bullpen theory until Tyler Flowers ended the conversation with a two-run homer.
The same thing happened the week before, albeit briefer. The White Sox opened a two-game series with Cleveland. Jose Quintana fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first, and with one out, Steve Stone provided the audio for a graphic illustrating a recent stretch of dominance by Indians starters.
As Alexei Ramirez stepped in:
Hawk: "Well their starters have protected their bullpen, by making them cover that many outs. And when they had to cover them they did."
Stone: "That bullpen's been pretty good when you consider that they lost a whole lot of guys from last year."
It's not that the bullpen point is a bad one, because it's true enough when scaled down. Harrelson often prioritizes profundity over precision, and so he'll say "it doesn't matter what your starters do" in the same game Scott Carroll blows a five-run lead.
That wouldn't bother me if he deployed that sentiment at relevant times -- like, say, when the bullpen jeopardizes or blows a lead -- because at least that hyperbole would represent the frustration felt. But Harrelson shouldn't be pressing that button at the very start of a new series in a new city, and it's even worse when a new White Sox player is at the plate. Bringing out the bullpen saw at that time only serves himself, not the viewer.
That being said (to use a Stone segue), Harrelson's value to a broadcast emerged several times during the rest of the game, although he was only directly involved in one of them.
Harrelson mentioned a cold earlier in the game, which is probably the reason he withdrew from the broadcast and left Stone to fly solo during the second half of the game. But in the seventh inning, when Semien's bad throw caromed off the screen and resulted in a wacky 3-4-9-5 rundown, Harrelson jumped in to save Stone's blown call.
There's no video of the play, but it started with Jordan Schafer hitting a weak grounder against the shift. With normal alignment, it would've been a routine play for Ramirez, but Semien had to range over and rush a throw instead. That's how it started, and the GIF of the conclusion gives you an idea of just how ragged this play was for everybody involved.
Here's the text:
Stone: "Runner going, and an easy ground ball to the left side -- going to be a tough play at first [ball gets by Paul Konerko], he can't get it, and throws it away."
Hawk: "Now they got him at second -- but, gotta watch the man at third! [lets play unfold with two more throws] Gotta watch the man at THIRD! Or put it on him -- yeah OK, got him before he crossed home plate. No run scored, allrighty."
If you're applying modern broadcasting standards to Harrelson's call, he left a lot to be desired. He really doesn't describe what the play looks like or who's involved.
But, as somebody who can see the rundown but can't see how far Kurt Suzuki strayed from third base while the Sox made too many throws, Harrelson had his priorities straight for White Sox fan at home. Moreover, he used a hard-to-duplicate mix of silence and shouting to frame the play. He told me what I needed to know while elevating the tension, but he's the only one who can do it like that.
Harrelson's live commentary still delivers, and it's safe to say his presence was missed on Flowers' second two-run shot in the 10th inning. While Harrelson would be telling the ball to "stretch" or "stay fair" as it headed the opposite way, seven seconds elapse between Stone calling it a foul ball and realizing it was (considerably) inside the foul pole.