Hey, big guy. This is The Fabulous Hawk."
Yes, pardner, he's swooping down on baseball once again, taking the game in his large talons, shaking it and saying, "Hey, big guy," which is what he does to just about everybody, forget size and sex, talking in a deep growl that still drips of Savannah and, in one of those accidents of acoustics, reverberates in the echo chambers of his Nose, while he hardly opens his lips to speak for fear the toothpick will fall out.
The Nose, good-lookin', should be capitalized in order to distinguish it from all the others in creation. (The Hawk also has a Chin.) As he put it in his 1969 autobiography, Hawk, written when he was 27, though he hasn't actually read it yet, "Nosewise, the Hawk is the noblest Roman of them all. You can talk about Caesar, Cyrano, Durante or any of those other jokers, but they're pikers compared to me."
This Matterhorn of a schnozz perhaps needs a reintroduction, now that The Fabulous Hawk is on the scene as, of all things, executive vice-president in charge of baseball operations for the Chicago White Sox. Not that he had been very far away, mind you, but up in his White Sox broadcast aerie, he had become more of a Voice than a Nose.
Like its owner, the Nose has its humble origins—above his mouth. Then it begins to grow, reaching and spreading its wings. Just when it seems as if Nose will meet Chin, the thing turns skyward and begins a meteoric rise, up, up, up, finishing with a flourish at the eyebrows. This Nose, which provides shade for the lips and wind protection for the cheeks, was not arrived at naturally. It took some work on the Hawk's part—he broke it five times. The wonderful thing about the Nose is that it changes with every viewing. It's full of surprises. Like the Hawk himself.
The Hawk has always had a Nose for fame. You remember. The Hawk riding Charlie O.—both the mule and the ass. The Hawk pioneering free agency. Inventing the batting glove. Championing the Nehru jacket, which he singlehandedly kept alive days longer than it deserved. He is one of the few ballplayers in the long history of the game to have a valet, may Wendell rest in peace. Somewhere in there, the Hawk hung some hemp, as he likes to say. In '68, a pitcher's year, he hit 35 homers, drove in 109 runs and turned on the Boston fans. No wonder Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in a rare moment of passion, said, "The loss of Ken Harrelson would be a tragedy for baseball."
The commish said this in 1969 after the Hawk reluctantly agreed to go to Cleveland as part of a trade with the Bo-sox. He had America wringing its hands over that one. But you can ride the mule of fame for only so long, and Cleveland was where the Hawk was thrown by injury and ennui. So in 1971 he took up professional golf, choosing to break in with the likes of Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins, and after 3½ years of writing—rather than receiving—checks, he turned to broadcasting. One of his early reviews was "Harrelson is doing for TV what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen," but damn if he didn't become a popular, well-respected announcer, first in Boston and then in Chicago.
So there was the Hawk, approaching 44 years of age, healthy, wealthy and wise in the booth. He had turned down several managing offers over the years and had passed up a few broadcasting gigs elsewhere. He was going to get more network work. He was up there in the Comiskey Park booth talking with his partner, the Big D, Don Drysdale, and watching—like a hawk—as the Sox went nowhere. He had just about seen enough.
"There's the Hawk," he sometimes says, and here his voice goes softer, "and then there's Kenny Harrelson." The Hawk and Harrelson are often confused with each other. There is a certain physical resemblance, although the Hawk, larger than life, is much more imposing. The Hawk wears expensive cowboy hats and boots made from the pelts of exotic animals. Harrelson gives them away. The Hawk talks as if he just came out to the bunkhouse. Harrelson throws in Robert Frost now and then. The Hawk is still riding along on a playboy reputation he earned years ago. Harrelson is a devoted family man with a firm belief in the Really Big Guy. Harrelson is quite fond of the Hawk, mind you. Every so often, just strolling along, Kenny will get this uncontrollable urge to do the Hawk Walk, a very funny imitation of an actual hawk. So he does it.
Back in August, the Pale Hose were floundering. Their principal owners, Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, felt a change was in order, so they consulted with their friend the Hawk. He thought about it, and prepared three sheets of paper for them. On the first sheet were the names of people he would hire and reassign if the White Sox wanted to make small changes. On the second sheet were the personnel he would recommend for a major overhaul. "He asked us if we wanted the conservative or the radical plan," says Einhorn. "Jerry's usually a little more conservative, but he and I agreed. We wanted the radical."
The owners were impressed. But one position was left blank at the top of the second sheet, the spot for the vice-president/general manager, the big guy in the organization. When Reinsdorf and Einhorn asked Harrelson whom he had in mind, he handed them his third sheet of paper. It read: "Ken Harrelson." Not the Hawk. Ken Harrelson.
The Katzenjammer Kids—George Steinbrenner's pet name for Einhorn and Reinsdorf—loved the idea. Harrelson went home to talk it over with his wife, Aristea. "I listen to what she has to say," says Harrelson. "I turned down three managing jobs after talking to her. We went over all the pluses and minuses of the G.M. job, and there were a lot of pitfalls. But she wanted it for me, and she's the first reason I decided to take the chance. Jerry and Eddie are the second. The third reason is that I knew I could do the job." Harrelson asked the White Sox for only a one-year contract. "If I can't do it, I want to be known as the first general manager to fire himself," he says.
The baseball world was taken aback when Harrelson was hired, more so because Roland Hemond, who was kicked upstairs, was both respected and well-liked as a general manager. Everybody knew the Hawk, but very few knew he had any aspirations to be an exec.
Not all of Harrelson's advisers liked the idea. His agent, Saul Foos, was concerned that Harrelson's $250,000 broadcaster's salary would drop dramatically. Says Harrelson, "Mama used to tell me, 'You're a nice boy, Kenny, and I love you, but sometimes you're not very smart.' I told that once to Saul, and when I took the job, he said to me, 'Hawk, your mama was right.' "
Besides giving up a lot of money—his new salary is $150,000—Harrelson will have to give up a lot of golf, a significant sacrifice. One time in his A's days, Harrelson went out and played 36 holes on the day of a game because a righthander was scheduled to start against K.C. When he got to the park, he found out a lefthander was throwing and that he was in the lineup. He happened to have a golf glove in his back pocket, wore it during batting practice and hit two home runs that night. The next day some of his teammates started wearing gloves, which is how the batting glove was born.
As soon as he signed on as a VP, Harrelson put away his sticks—not to be used except on rare occasions. "At the World Series, people kept coming up to me and giving me their congratulations," he says. "They should have been offering their condolences."
The one nice thing about the G.M. job is that Harrelson will be able to spend more time at home, a big, comfortable house in the western Chicago suburb of Lisle. Until a few years ago, he never had what might be considered a model home life. His own parents divorced when he was eight, and he had a tempestuous first marriage to his high school sweetheart, Betty Ann Pacifici, that ended after 14 years and four children. It was a time when even Harrelson was confused as to who he really was.
But at the 1972 World Putt-Putt Championships, which, as you may recall, were held in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Hawk, a struggling pro golfer, got a job as a commentator on the telecast of the event. He ran into Putt-Putt legend Jimmy Harritos, who played baseball for Savannah High when Harrelson was just a bat boy. They got to talking, and Harritos, who finished second in the tournament, told him that when the Hawk went to Washington the next week, he ought to give his sister a call. "You have to understand now," says Harrelson, "that Jimmy Harritos has a bigger nose than I do and bigger ears, so I can imagine what his sister must look like. He saw the look in my eyes and told me that she didn't look anything like he did, and that she was, in fact, beautiful."
The Hawk was still a little skeptical, and besides, he knew two stews in Washington. Both, however, were away when he got to town. So he decided, what the hell, he'd give Aristea Harritos a call. "First time I saw her, I knew I was going to marry her," he says. Aristea had no such notion. In fact, she had never heard of the Hawk, even though she had grown up in Savannah when he was a high school basketball All-America. "On our third date," says Harrelson, "I just happened to bring along a copy of Hawk and casually mentioned I had to drop off this autographed book about me." Aristea remained unimpressed.
She did, however, fall in love with Ken Harrelson, struggling golfer, and in 1973 they were married. It wasn't until seven years later, at a PGA tournament near Boston, that she saw the side of Harrelson she had never seen before. Taking a break from his job as a Red Sox TV broadcaster, Harrelson shot a 68 on the first day, "and 22,000 of the 26,000 people on the course were following me around." The Hawk played to the gallery and though he eventually faded and finished 75th, he made a lasting impression. "That was the first time I'd seen the real Hawk," says Aristea, "and at first I was upset because I thought I might have been holding him back."
"I was just happy I was able to show her this other side of me," says Harrelson. "It's not as if I have a schizophrenic disease, but I've always thought of the Hawk as another person. I used to kneel in the on-deck circle and say to myself, 'Awright, Kenny, get out of the Hawk's way and let him do his thing.' "
The Harrelsons have two kids, Krista, 10, and Casey, 8. Krista is an accomplished gymnast and, energized by her devotion to Mary Lou Retton, she runs around the house doing backflips, cartwheels and splits. "Tough as nails," says Harrelson with great pride.
Casey reminds Drysdale of "Leo Gorcey, the Dead End Kid." Harrelson took Casey on one epic road trip last year, which the White Sox are still talking about. In Detroit, Dad gave Casey $5 to get some ice cream, and when Harrelson asked for the rest of the money, Casey said, "But I did like you, Dad. I told him to keep the change." And in Cleveland, Harrelson gave the clubhouse man $50 to keep Casey busy during the three games in which Dad was in the booth. "The clubhouse guy says, 'Sure, Hawk, no problem.' At the end of the first night, he hands me the $50 and says, 'Hawk, it ain't enough.' " Casey's finest moment came in Boston when he and his father got all dolled up for dinner at a North End restaurant. When the meal was finished, Casey said, "Dad, let's do the Walk." The two of them exited doing the Hawk Walk—to a standing ovation.
"Kenny Harrelson is good for baseball. He's dynamic, he's charismatic, he's bold, and he can do anything he sets his mind to. I'm glad he's back in the arena."
So says a big guy, 6'8", 300-pound Frank Howard, now a coach with the Brewers and a former roommate of Harrelson's when they were with the Senators. A whole chapter of Hawk is devoted to their adventures. For years after they were separated, Howard would greet Harrelson with a squinting eye and say, "So you're The Fabulous Hawk, eh?"
While the White Sox hired Ken Harrelson, they are busy promoting The Fabulous Hawk. The ad campaign for season tickets is "The Hawk Wants You," with the cowboy-hatted Hawk pointing Uncle Sam-style. The club has reaped a public relations bonanza out of the hiring. But publicity is not what Harrelson is after. Running a ball club is a big game to him, and he is very good at games, everything from arm-wrestling to gin rummy. "What we have in baseball is a lot like duplicate bridge," he says. "We're all trying to get the most out of basically the same hand. One guy might make four spades, I might make a little slam." For a guy who doesn't even have a high school diploma, Harrelson is very smart.
He wasted no time when he became a White Sox VP. He jettisoned most of the minor league coaches and managers and half the scouts. He brought in some of his favorite people. Alvin Dark, his former manager in both K.C. and Cleveland, is his minor league director. He lured scout Ellis Clary away from the Twins organization, for which Clary had worked for 40 years. Harrelson has just signed on the Big D as his pitching consultant.
If Harrelson has a school of thought, it's probably, "I Know This Sounds Crazy, But It Just Might Work." The White Sox will have three pitching coaches on the major league level: Holdover Dave Duncan will handle the starters; the legendary Moe Drabowsky will tutor the relievers; and Drysdale will teach all of them chin-music appreciation. "Hell, we're going to have to bring in tackling dummies in spring training to stand up to our pitchers once Drysdale gets through with them," says Harrelson.
He wanted not only two full-time pitching coaches but also two full-time hitting coaches—one for the singles hitters and one for the power hitters. "Actually, we were planning one each for lefthanded singles hitters, lefthanded power hitters, righthanded singles hitters and righthanded power hitters," says manager Tony La Russa, who's been watching all these goings-on with a mixture of bemusement and admiration. For now, however, the White Sox will have only one hitting coach, Willie Horton.
Among the other people Harrelson has hired to coach are Dick Allen, Rico Petrocelli, Tom Haller, Bob Bailey, Dick Bosman, Chuck Hartenstein, Bob Bolin, Jose Cardenal, Buzz Capra, Doug Rader, Herman Franks and Jim Marshall. There are some dinosaurs (Herman Franks?) and certifiable loonies in there, but Harrelson swears by them.
What Harrelson is after with his assembly of 1968 bubble gum cards is, as he puts it, "presence." And in order to get their presence, he is paying some of his minor league coaches about $30,000 a year, $10,000 over the going rate. "It's money well spent," he has said. "Who do you think a young player is going to listen to in the minors, a coach who never made the majors or a guy who was a star? I want guys with presence."
As he said this, Harrelson was sitting in his spacious office in Comiskey Park in early December. The soap opera One Life to Live was on the TV, which seemed slightly ironic because Harrelson has actually led four different lives in the last 15 years: ballplayer, golfer, broadcaster and now baseball executive.
The phone rang. It was Lou Gorman, general manager of the Red Sox. "Hey, big guy," said the Hawk. "Now about Seaver. He's gonna win 12 to 16 games for you and help the other guys on your staff. All I'm asking is Hurst and Clear. [Laughter on both ends of the phone.] Right, I'll get back to you, big man."
Harrelson had recently completed his first major trade, sending infielder Scott Fletcher, minor league infielder Jose Mota and highly regarded minor league pitcher Edwin Correa to Texas for infielder Wayne Tolleson and pitcher Dave Schmidt. The trade was made to help the White Sox now. Schmidt improves the bullpen picture, setting up the eighth and ninth for Bob James, while Tolleson, who can get on and steal a base, gives La Russa flexibility at second and third.
Harrelson went to the winter meetings in San Diego 1) with the idea of finding some pitching help and a third baseman, 2) with a wish to accommodate Tom Seaver, who wants to finish out his career closer to his Connecticut home, in either New York or Boston, and 3) without his golf clubs. The man is serious. Not forgetting his alter ego, however, he took a trunkful of clothes.
As the movers and shakers of baseball gather in the area between two swimming pools at the Town and Country on Sunday, Dec. 8, the talk is not of the drug problem, not of blockbuster trades about to happen. No, everybody is talking about what the Hawk is wearing: a white sport coat, black-on-white polka-dot shirt, black pants.
Gone are the days when he would spend $10,000 a year on clothes. Mention the word Nehru to him now and he cringes. "God, I must have thrown out 19 of those jackets. I remember parties where people would just walk away with my stuff, half a dozen glasses, a dozen sweaters, 20 pairs of pants, all because I had my name on them. I used to go to sleep in the middle of my own parties, and when I'd wake up, Wendell would be so angry because all this stuff was gone."
Still, the Hawk preens. Favoring a style that can best be described as Cowboy Golf, he remains constantly fresh, breathtakingly original. Leigh Montville, columnist for The Boston Globe, marvels at his ways. "The Hawk is always looking sharp—a beautiful blazer, a brand-new cowboy hat," he says. "And yet, whenever I run into him in an airport or hotel lobby, he is carrying a single garment bag. I, on the other hand, look like a slob and carry 750 pounds of luggage. I don't know how he does it." The Hawk reveals his secret: "I have my clothes sent on before me to my hotel or to the airport. When I buy a new cowboy hat on the road, I simply have them box up the old one and send it home."
On the Monday morning of the winter meetings, the sun is a pop-up that baseball people circle under and gather in. One of the nicer things about the game is the great number of faces that endure, from player to coach to manager to executive, picking up wrinkles and sags along the way. In between the pools of the Town and Country, one could trace the entire baseball career of Kenneth Smith Harrelson. Over here is Dick Howser, who is, of course, the manager of the world champion Royals. But Howser is also the man credited with naming the Hawk, way back in 1959 during winter ball in Dunedin, Fla.—O.K., so the nickname didn't take a lot of imagination.
Over there is Dark. He and the Hawk were let go together back in 1967 by Charles O. Finley over a nonincident that didn't occur on an airplane—the Hawk just called Charlie O.'s actions "detrimental to the game" in the aftermath.
Head above the crowd is Haywood Sullivan, president of the Red Sox. He was Boston's director of player personnel in '67 when he offered the Hawk a contract after Finley had released him. The Red Sox ended up giving Harrelson $150,000, a princely sum back then, to win a bidding war that presaged the era of free agency.
Wandering around the premises is Duke Sims, former catcher and an old friend of Harrelson's. When the Hawk finally assented to the trade in '69, Sims was the player he asked to meet him at Cleveland's Hopkins Airport. "I remember the time the Hawk entered the Northern Ohio Long-Driving Contest," says Sims. "Everybody's waiting for him, when all of a sudden this helicopter shows up. The Hawk gets out, takes one swing, wins the contest and then takes off in the helicopter."
On this Monday morning, the Hawk does not make an entrance quite so dramatic, but it's an entrance nonetheless. He's wearing his blue ensemble: Busch racing jacket, teal-blue pants, white feathered cowboy hat and blue elephant-hide boots, "uncomfortable but worth the pain." He works the crowd well with a lot of "big guys" and shoulder-grabbing. If the Hawk is any hawk at all, he is an osprey, or fish hawk, a bird John James Audubon once described as being "social and gregarious." He collars John Schuerholz, the Kansas City G.M., and tells him, "When I was a ballplayer, Mickey Mantle was my idol. Now that I'm an executive, you are my idol."
On this day, operating out of Rooms 1215 and 1216 at the Town and Country, he talks trades with the Yankees, Braves, Red Sox, Brewers, Cubs and Dodgers. Since the World Series, the White Sox and Yankees have been trying to put together a deal, a package that would send pitcher Britt Burns and catcher Carlton Fisk to New York for pitcher Joe Cowley, DH Don Baylor and catcher Ron Hassey.
A Seaver deal is also in the works, with the Brewers and Red Sox involved. In addition, the Braves want both pitcher Bruce Tanner and catcher Joel Skinner from the White Sox to reunite them with their fathers, new manager Chuck Tanner and new coach Bob Skinner. "If we don't give them up, the Child Abuse Society may come after us," says the Hawk.
After a cocktail reception for the White Sox personnel, Harrelson dines with Drysdale and California manager Gene Mauch. Then he and the Big D go back to Room 1216 to iron out the details of Drysdale's consultant contract. They stay up all night, alternately talking, screaming and laughing. "Boy, I'd like to have a tape of that," Harrelson would say later. "There we were, 3:30 in the morning, nose to nose, exchanging philosophies, shall we say."
Functioning on two hours' sleep, the Hawk emerges Tuesday morning slightly subdued. He chooses a brown theme: a dark brown Members Only jacket, beige slacks and light brown boots. The boots, he says, were made of "bo-a"; the way he draws it out, he brings to mind not the constrictor but rather the hide of a little shortstop. The outfit is topped by a wonderful white floppy motorman's cap.
Harrelson spends a lot of time talking with La Russa. When he first took the G.M. job, Harrelson raised some eyebrows by saying he thought La Russa was the second-best manager in the league, next to Billy Martin. Then Harrelson fired minor league manager John Boles, whom La Russa had suggested for third-base coach, and hired former Ranger manager Doug Rader, a La Russa antagonist who coined the term "winning ugly." The perception in baseball circles is that La Russa is a manager in trouble.
Actually, the two get along quite nicely. "We're on the same wavelength," says La Russa, "and a wavelength goes up and down, right? So we're going to have our ups and downs. But we both want the same things for this club." La Russa and Harrelson go way back to 1962 and the A's farm team in Binghamton, N.Y. La Russa recalls, "When I arrived, I was 17 and the Hawk was having a tremendous year [38 homers, 138 RBIs in 140 games]. We used to go to Red's Kettle Inn after the games, and I remember Hawk at the head of the table, big as King Kong."
On this day, though, the Hawk is feeling rather small. The Yankee trade is still up in the air. Harrelson wants to accommodate Tanner, but the Braves want to stick the White Sox with Bruce Benedict, their overpaid catcher. And the three-way deal with Boston and Milwaukee falls through when the Red Sox balk at giving up pitcher Bob Stanley to get Seaver. By 7:30 p.m., Harrelson is in Room 1216 in pajamas. When members of the White Sox party, thinking the pajamas are their signal to leave, get up to go, Harrelson tells them, "No, no, these are just my thinking clothes."
It's raining on Wednesday as Harrelson, bareheaded, scurries to breakfast. Texas manager Bobby Valentine yells, "Kenny, how come when it rains you don't wear one of your hats?" To which the Hawk replies, "You know how much one of those things costs?" Today's fashion statement is a coral sports coat, white hankie, red shirt with white pin dots, white sweater, white slacks and white loafers, and—when it stops raining—his white cowboy hat.
Now that Steinbrenner is on the scene, it appears that the Yankee deal will be wrapped up, in either a medium-or large-size package. But Harrelson is still on hold when he conducts his daily 2 p.m. press briefing. He refers to the versions of the Yankee trade as Plan A and Plan B. Asked if there is a Plan C, he replies, "No Plan C." Just then the phone rings. "This is Plan C," he says, laughs and picks up the phone.
It is Plan C. Harrelson's eyes grow large as he listens to the offer of another American League West general manager.
By now, dusk is settling. Right outside the room, the torch atop the Tiki Hut is lit—apparently a sacred Town and Country tradition. As dinnertime approaches, the White Sox and that other AL West team decide to sleep on the blockbuster, Plan C, and the White Sox and Yankees agree to Plan B: Burns and two minor league prospects for Cowley and Hassey.
The next day, the big deal, Plan C, is dead, crushed by its own weight. But the Hawk says, "I feel good," as he ambles over to media headquarters to announce the Yankee trade. He is back to Monday's basic blue outfit, but, hey, give him a break, a man can only pack so much.
He walks through the Sunset Room, which serves as the press lounge, into the Sunrise Room, where the press actually works, and takes the podium along with La Russa and Yankee G.M. Clyde King and manager Lou Piniella. This is a big moment for the Hawk as baseball exec, his first press conference in front of the national media. He is not entirely at ease, but he gives answers more honest and colorful than most general managers: "Hey, I like Joe Cowley. I see one thing in his stats that's beautiful and gorgeous, and that's the fact that he's 21-8 the last two years." He does slip up once, referring to La Russa and Piniella as "two hot-blooded Italians"—Piniella is of Spanish descent—but all in all, he does pretty well. When the news conference is over, he steps to the mike and signs off: "Thank you for your attendance."
And so the Hawk rides off into the Sunset Room. He didn't do all he wanted at the meetings, and maybe he disappointed some people because he is, after all, The Fabulous Hawk, but he still has one more thing to do. He promised himself he would go over to the hotel's convention center, where blood donations were being taken for Roger Maris, who would die a week later of cancer.
The Hawk doesn't need a phone booth to change into his true identity. Sometimes just a change of voice will reveal him to be plain old Kenny Harrelson. "How can I not give Roger my blood?" he says. "When I was a rookie in '63 and he was a star, he'd come up to me and ask me how things were going and did I need some help. One time I was holding him on first base, and he said to me, 'Hawk, what are you doing after the game?' and I said, 'Nothing, just going back to my hotel.' He said, 'No, you're not, you're going to meet me in the tunnel after the game and we'll go out and have a few beers.' And we did, and I'll always remember that a star was nice to a rookie."
Giving blood might seem a small gesture, but small things can reveal a person. Here's Kenny Harrelson, as big a guy as The Fabulous Hawk. Maybe bigger.