By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) – The Ford Frick Award is the highest level of recognition that the Hall of Fame can bestow on baseball’s broadcast legends.
After 30 years of iconic White Sox television play-by-play work, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson somehow continues to be ignored. The election process is done by a committee of 15 broadcasters previously chosen for the award and five historians and veteran media members on a rotating basis of eras. They alone decide on who should make it voting on a rotating basis of eras every three years.
Before the committee votes, a fan poll selects the top 10 candidates to be considered. Harrelson was passed up by the electors twice now. His next chance of admission will be 2017. Bob Costas is the directing power on the election committee, according to sources in the game.
Harrelson has been broadcasting for 40 years. From the perspective of service time and impact on a fan base, he has few peers. When it comes to sharing his opinion on umpires or players, he’s never shy about letting his audience know where he stands.
As much as many Sox fans love Harrelson, though, detractors will also stand in line to deride him as a homer and White Sox cheerleader.
You can love the Hawk or hate him. The truth may be he is near impossible to ignore.
“When I broke in to broadcasting, (Hall of Fame broadcaster) Curt Gowdy told me to express myself and not be afraid to talk about what I see from the gut,” the 72-year-old baseball lifer said Thursday. “Howard Cosell sat down with me two weeks after Curt talked to me and said, ‘The public can spot a phony a mile away. Be yourself and tell it like you always do one-on-one.’ That was pretty sage advice from two of the greatest ever.”
Harrelson says he isn’t consumed by Hall of Fame validation of his career.
“For me, it’s about my family,” he said. “I have grandkids that it would be great for, and it is a wonderful honor. Every man who is in that group has made significant contributions for decades, to baseball and the people they talked to as friends 162 times a season.”
White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Harrelson have been friends and allies for more than four decades.
“Hawk is one of the most iconic broadcasters in baseball today,” Reinsdorf told me. “He follows in a long line of broadcasters who are not afraid to show their passion for their teams on the air. He was the originator of so many great nicknames, including The Big Hurt (for Frank Thomas). Catch-phrases like ‘Grab some bench,’ ‘Duck snort and stretch’ are pure Hawk. He has made baseball entertaining for generations of Chicago sports fans.”
Harrelson is optimistic about his chances of recognition in the near future.
“It is probably going to happen at some point,” he said. “It might not be in my lifetime, but that is OK, too. If they put me in after I am dead, I promise you I will not show up.”
Classic Hawkisms are used all over baseball on a daily basis. “You can put it on the board!” or “Grab some bench” are now a part of regular baseball jargon used around the game.
Despite his long career, Harrelson puts baseball a distant second to his beloved family. He makes a four-hour roundtrip commute from Granger, Ind., for every home game to be with his wife and family. That bond has him considering working fewer road games in the future.
“I have a 10-year-old and 7-year-old playing ball in South Bend, and I am missing a lot of it,” Harrelson said with a look of sadness. “If I told you I was not thinking about (cutting back), I would be lying. I am thinking about it. I have not made a decision, but it will be one that my family will help me with. I really don’t want to miss my grandkids growing up. They are old enough now to know I am known by a lot of people and they really kind of like that.”
Harrelson has had conversations about his future broadcast schedule with White Sox executives during the season. How much he cuts back, if any, will be determined after the 2014 campaign.
Other broadcast legends have cut back on their broadcasts of road games in recent times. Dodgers great Vin Scully only does West Coast games. The Cardinals’ Mike Shannon has cut his work in recent years as well after 40 years doing all St. Louis broadcasts.