Ken Harrelson likely to cut back schedule even more after 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is calling the White Sox’ spring-training game Friday against the Cubs on CSN.

Enjoy him while you can, as this likely will be the last season of significant play-by-play work for the 75-year-old Chicago broadcast icon and face of the franchise.

“Put it this way: It’s that time,’’ Harrelson said.

Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, Harrelson scaled his schedule back to doing road games in 2016. This winter, he expressed a goal to keep going till 2020, which would give him eight decades in baseball as a player, general manager and broadcaster.

Ken "Hawk" Harrelson gives a "thumbs up" to fans during a break during a game in 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“I didn’t say I wanted to broadcast four more years,’’ Harrelson told the Sun-Times. “The main thing is, I just want to be in baseball four more years, not necessarily broadcasting.’’

Harrelson said he will do Sox broadcasts this season, “and if I decide to do some games next year . . . it’s up to them.’’

Harrelson, who agreed to a multiyear extension before the 2016 season, could serve the Sox into 2020 as an ambassador or in a similar capacity, perhaps making occasional appearances in the booth.

By 2020, “it will definitely be enough,’’ he said. “Even if it’s for one day.’’

Harrelson said he knows only of Vin Scully, Don Zimmer and Dave Garcia, whose careers spanned eight decades. He covets sharing that distinction as something to give his grandchildren.

Harrelson’s plan would allow Jason Benetti, 33, who worked most Sox home games alongside analyst Steve Stone in 2016, to step in full-time. Benetti, who grew up in the south suburbs rooting for the Sox and listening to Harrelson, also does college basketball and football and will work the same Sox schedule in 2017, the last year of his contract.

Stone would hate to see Benetti get away.

“It would be wonderfully beneficial for the White Sox to lock him up on a long-term basis because he’s the perfect story for Chicago,’’ Stone said.

In the meantime, Stone said he’ll enjoy being the common thread for Sox TV viewers again in 2017.

“It’s nice,’’ Stone said. “I get two completely different broadcasts because it’s two different styles of play-by-play. ‘Hawk’ is a former player, an old-school guy with a certain way of doing things, and I try to fill in the gaps.

“And it’s different when Jason takes over. They’re both different approaches.’’

Stone calls Harrelson “the face of the franchise,” and he’s probably right. If he’s right about Benetti, the same might one day be said of the Homewood-Flossmoor grad.

“He’s a very good broadcaster now; he is going to be one of the best baseball broadcasters in the country,’’ Stone said. “There is nothing that is going to stand in his way because he wants to, he’s willing to put in the time and he has astonishing talent. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as the talent of Jason Benetti.

“As the years move on — and I hope it’s with the White Sox — Jason is going to be at or near the top of all baseball play-by-play guys. That’s for sure.’’

Benetti, who usually works all Sox spring-training games on TV but is doing NCAA tournament basketball this weekend for Westwood One radio, said this week he enjoys his current setup and in no way was pining for Harrelson to step aside.

“I wouldn’t give this up for anything,’’ Benetti said. “It’s weird to say it, but I could do this forever.

“Look, right now, I have two jobs I love. If some other team called, and I didn’t grow up in that city, it’s not the same. It’s not even something I entertain. I’m really, really happy vocationally and will stay that way.’’

Harrelson is finding more happiness than ever, he said, around wife Aris, their kids and grandchildren. Last year he witnessed a grandson’s first over-the-fence homer.

Those are priceless moments he doesn’t want to miss.

You can put that on the board.

“He gets to do whatever he wants, in my opinion,’’ Benetti said. “He just does. He’s part of the reason I got into this. I grew up watching him, quoting the catchphrases. He has changed baseball’s dictionary.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com