Just like old times for Hawk & Wimpy in their White Sox swan song

SHARE Just like old times for Hawk & Wimpy in their White Sox swan song
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Hawk Harrelson and Tom Paciorek called White Sox games on TV from 1990 to ’99. They were reunited one last time Sunday. | Sun-Times

Hawk walked into the elevator that would bring him to the broadcast level at Guaranteed Rate Field. A White Sox security guard faced him and, with a smile, said, ‘‘Big day.’’

Hawk put his right hand on the man’s left shoulder and said, ‘‘Last game with the Wimperoo.’’

How he said it was different than how he has said most things during a TV broadcast. There was a hint of melancholy in his tone.

Ken Harrelson had had a last broadcast with Tom Paciorek before, but he didn’t know it at the time. This time he did, and everyone else in the park knew it, too.

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With Steve Stone off for the weekend series against the Twins, the analyst chair was open Sunday for Wimpy to rejoin his partner from 1990 to ’99. Hawk will call about 20 games in his last season on the air, mostly Sunday home games.

Hawk and Wimpy closed out old Comiskey Park, sat ringside for Robin Ventura vs. Nolan Ryan and were on the call for the 1993 American League West champs. More important, they left an indelible mark on Sox fans.

<em>Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek called the last game at old Comiskey Park on Sept. 30, 1990.</em>

Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek called the last game at old Comiskey Park on Sept. 30, 1990.

‘‘I still get a ton of fan mail, and I’ll guarantee you maybe 75 percent of them always mention him,’’ Hawk said, pointing at Wimpy. ‘‘He’s unforgettable, you know?’’

Both of them are, actually. As they sat and talked in the booth before the game, it was as though they were riffing before a show.

* * * * *

Hawk’s expressions are legendary. In this game, a 5-3 loss, fans couldn’t ‘‘cancel the postgame show’’ until the seventh inning, when James Shields allowed his first hit. Sox outfielders caught a ‘‘can o’ corn’’ a handful of times, and a Twins batter ‘‘got a cookie there.’’

But Wimpy — who was given the nickname by his minor-league manager Tommy Lasorda after ordering a hamburger, like the character in ‘‘Popeye,’’ when all his teammates ordered steak — had an underrated repertoire.

‘‘It’s just sayings that I’ve heard from some of my teammates,’’ Wimpy said. ‘‘[When] Aurelio Rodriguez would shank one down the right-field line, he’d say, ‘I take dah one.’ That was where that came from.

‘‘And I learned from Hawk that every left-hander had a different delivery. And I’m just, ‘Wow, that really is true,’ because you never see two of the same. So they became ‘funky left-handers.’ You might throw a little Lawrence Welk voice in there, too.’’

That wasn’t all Wimpy learned from Hawk. Wimpy joined John Rooney in the Sox’ TV booth in 1988, one year removed from playing. By then, Hawk had called Red Sox games for seven years, White Sox games for four and Yankees games for two. That followed a nine-year playing career that included an All-Star appearance in 1968, when he finished third in American League MVP voting.

‘‘Hawk was very informative for me,’’ Wimpy said. ‘‘He really taught me a lot of things about announcing. He had so much background in it.’’

Wimpy also credits Lasorda, his first manager in pro baseball. Wimpy said Lasorda, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career managing the Dodgers, would take his minor-leaguers out to meet the public — to a church breakfast, for example.

‘‘He’d make us speak every time,’’ Wimpy said. ‘‘None of us wanted to, but he forced us to.

<em>Tom Paciorek starred in many promotional commercials for the Mariners during his four years in Seattle. </em>

Tom Paciorek starred in many promotional commercials for the Mariners during his four years in Seattle.

‘‘That kind of evolved into the days that I was in Seattle [1978-81], where they would make these funny baseball commercials, and that kind of set the stage for speaking in public where you weren’t too embarrassed about what you were going to do.’’

Such as jokingly promoting Mariners funny-nose-glasses night when it was actually jacket night.

‘‘What am I going to do with 30,000 pairs of funny-nose glasses?’’ he asked in the bit.

‘‘Visiting teams coming in, that’s one thing we wanted to always watch was his commercials,’’ Hawk said. ‘‘I’m telling you, probably the greatest team commercials produced in the history of baseball.’’

Hawk said Lasorda taught Wimpy more than public speaking and baseball.

‘‘You couldn’t learn the game of baseball from anybody better than Tommy Lasorda,’’ Hawk said. ‘‘He taught Wimpy well. Wimpy’s mantra is, if you pay for it, it cost too much.’’

‘‘That’s right,’’ Wimpy said, laughing. ‘‘He’s the leader … the cheapest guy.’’

‘‘He was AG1,’’ Hawk said. ‘‘America’s Guest 1, Lasorda was. And Wimpy was AG2.’’

* * * * *

Hawk’s place in Sox lore is secure. The broadcast area is named the Hawk Harrelson Broadcast Level. But he makes it crystal clear just how important Wimpy is to him.

‘‘Vin [Scully] is Vin. You have so many good announcers. To me, the best comprehensive baseball announcer I’ve ever heard was Don Drysdale,’’ Hawk said of his late TV partner with the Sox from 1982 to ’85. ‘‘Don was my all-time favorite guy to work with, and Wimpy was second.’’

Which is why Hawk was saddened when he learned Wimpy wouldn’t return in 2000 because of personal reasons. That was a difficult day for Hawk. First, golfer Payne Stewart, a close friend, died in an airplane accident. Later that night, he received a call from Wimpy.

‘‘He said, ‘I’m quitting.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I want to be around my grandkids more,’ ’’ Hawk said. ‘‘So in one day I lose a good buddy, and then I lose a partner of 10 years. That was really a tough day.’’

<em>Hawk Harrelson interviews Tom Paciorek after the White Sox won the American League West in 1983. | FuzzyMemories.TV</em>

Hawk Harrelson interviews Tom Paciorek after the White Sox won the American League West in 1983. | FuzzyMemories.TV

But Sunday was a celebratory day, and the broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago reflected that. Before the game, viewers saw clips of Hawk and Wimpy throughout their time together. And during the game, the partners reminisced and discussed baseball.

Hawk had his usual superlatives. Of Sox Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, he said: ‘‘For the first seven years he played in the league, he was probably the best right-handed hitter I ever saw.’’ Of Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, he said: ‘‘If he was healthy his whole career, he may have turned out to be the best hitter we’ve ever seen.’’ Of Rickey Henderson, he said: ‘‘I played against Mantle, Maris, Mays, McCovey, Musial. Rickey Henderson was the greatest offensive player I ever saw.’’

And Wimpy brought his usual sense of humor. When Twins reliever Zach Duke began to warm up in the seventh inning, Wimpy broke into his John Wayne impersonation.

‘‘I’ll tell you one thing,’’ Wimpy said in the Duke’s voice, drawing a chuckle from Hawk. ‘‘He’s warming up down there in that bullpen.’’

Hawk and Wimpy had tons of laughs in their 10 years together, and Sox fans laughed along with them. But Sunday was the last time they all would laugh together.

Unless . . .

Hopeful of having another chance to call a game with his dear friend, Wimpy said he was going to take a mulligan with the Sox down to their last batter.

‘‘You’re used to mulligans, all the time we played golf,’’ Hawk said.

One last laugh, for old times’ sake.

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