Parked in a golf cart at Camelback Ranch, the man behind the wheel was trying to finish his thought but kept getting interrupted by another White Sox player straying out of his way to say hello.
Hawk Harrelson reacted the same way, whether the player was Paul Konerko or a non-roster invitee. Harrelson had a hearty hello every time, as if this was the most excited he could get to see someone. It was one “Hey, big guy!” after another as the conversation kept stopping and starting.
Every player — even A.J. Pierzynski — walked away beaming. This is what happens when you come in contact with The Hawk.
That episode played out four years ago during spring training. For a guy who has spent most of his 75 years in baseball, Harrelson never seemed worn down by one second of the grind.
“I’m one of the few guys who have been in this game parts of seven decades,” he said that morning. “My first spring training, we didn’t have lockers — we had a nail. You took your street clothes off, hung them on that nail. We got $1.75 meal money. I was making money to play baseball. I couldn’t believe that at 17.”
It would be hard to believe Harrelson would ever want to be away from the game he loves so much, but this morning, he told our Daryl Van Schouwen something none of us wanted to hear.
“Put it this way: It’s that time,’’ Harrelson said.
Already working on a reduced schedule, Harrelson says he will scale back even more after this season. Reading between the lines, expect just a few cameos after this season. He’s not in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster yet, but he should be. He has become a symbol of his franchise. He has been there through the bad times and the good.
He should get in solely for the awful sweater he wore when the Sox clinched in 1983. It’s an instant-classic video and a celebration that was waaaaay too over-the-top for anything short of a World Series title or a moon landing.
But it was classic Hawk.
Hawk has his critics — even in Chicago.
“I know Cubs fans don’t like me,” he said. “The funny thing about it is, I don’t pull against the Cubs. In fact, I would like to play them 18 times a year so we could kick their ass.”
But Hawk has his critics among White Sox fans. I never could understand that. Is he a homer? Absolutely — just like nearly every other broadcaster in baseball. But if you’re watching a Sox game, you want Hawk on your side — even if he is going after an umpire who actually got the call right.
Yes, he is the one-time general manager famous for firing Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.
“He managed 33 years, and he only got fired one time,” Harrelson told the Sun-Times in 2014. “You’re talking to the one asshole that fired him.”
He’ll never get into the Hall as an executive, but he should land there as a broadcaster.
During our golf-cart chat in 2013, Harrelson said: “When I first came into broadcasting in 1975, Curt Gowdy said: ‘Let me tell you something, Hawk. You have the chance to be a hell of an announcer. I’m going to give you the best piece of advice you’re ever going to get: Don’t try to please everybody. Those guys become cookie-cutters, and they don’t last long.’ About two weeks later, Howard Cosell called me up. He said: ‘I’ve been catching a lot of your games. You have a chance to be a hell of an announcer, but I’m going to give you the best piece of advice you ever had: Don’t try to please everybody.’ It was almost identical, from two great announcers.
“I’m the luckiest son of a bitch who ever set two feet on the face of the earth. Really. I’ve never had a job in my life. Everything I’ve ever done, I’ve loved.”
As Daryl says in his morning post: “Enjoy him while you still can.”
Jose Quintana will be the White Sox’ Opening Day starter for the simple reason that Chris Sale now pitches for the Red Sox.
Quintana hasn’t been officially announced as the Opening Day starter because, you know, he could still be traded. But he’s operating as if he will be working primarily for the White Sox — at least in April.
“I never pay attention to that,’’ he said. “I know there are rumors, but I keep my focus on spring training. That’s all I have control over, so I just do my work and let’s go.’’
ON THE NORTH SIDE
This is turning into one major fast-food drama.
Then today …
“I mean, I like Carl’s Jr., though,” he told our Gordon Wittenmyer this morning. “But I can’t put down all the other burgers.”
Well, we like Carl Edwards Jr. plenty, but it’s a safe bet Carl’s Jr. is comfortable with its collection of spokesmodels.
It was bound to happen eventually, but 2016 ERA champ Kyle Hendricks finally allowed a run in the Cactus League.
Probably more impressive: Hendricks still hasn’t walked a batter in nine spring innings, but has 10 strikeouts.
AROUND THE HORN ON TWITTER