Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was walking through the White Sox’ clubhouse when he spotted rookie Michael Kopech standing near his locker.
The 76-year-old broadcaster and former player made a quick detour to bump fists with the 22-year-old pitcher, who grinned at the exchange.
“He just brings more than history to this place,” Kopech said. “He’s a legend. Just for that brief little moment there, you saw him come up and fist-bump me. That means a lot to me. That got me a little pumped up.
“He’s fun to have around. He loves the game, and the game loves him back.”
Sox fans showed their love Sunday afternoon as the team celebrated “Hawk Day” with an on-field ceremony that included a video tribute and speeches from Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek and Harrelson. Jerry Reinsdorf, Frank Thomas, A.J. Pierzynski and others flanked Harrelson on his right, while Harrelson’s wife, children and grandchildren sat to his left.
Harrelson fought back tears as he spoke about his life with the Sox.
“So this is it, huh?” he said.
Three more games remain before Harrelson signs off for good. He will call the Cubs-Sox series Sept. 21-23, with Pierzynski joining him as the color analyst on his final broadcast just as he did during the Sox’ 8-0 victory against the Red Sox.
This was his public farewell to Sox fans.
“I love them, and I’ll always love them,” Harrelson said. “It’s just that simple. I’ll go to the grave with that.”
In a taped segment shown on the scoreboard, former players and broadcasters such as Jim Palmer, Bert Blyleven, Bob Uecker and Buck Martinez and former commissioner Bud Selig thanked Harrelson for his contributions to the game.
Specific messages varied, but most boiled down to the same theme: Harrelson always stayed true to himself and never tried to imitate anyone else.
His broadcasting style was not for everyone.
Harrelson would brood in silence if an opposing player hit a big home run against the Sox. He would berate umpires after calls he did not like. And when the Sox came through with a big hit or stellar play on defense, he would cheer as if he were a fan sitting in the upper deck.
“The biggest compliment you can pay me is calling me a homer,” Harrelson said, “because I want those guys to win every game. I don’t mind getting beat. If [Corey] Kluber goes out there or if Chris Sale goes out there and beats us, that’s baseball. But when we go out there and beat ourselves, then I’m really [ticked] off. And in my almost 100-mile drive going home, I’m upset. That’s the way I’ve always been.”
Sox players have appreciated his support, with many maintaining friendships through the years.
Yolmer Sanchez keeps a copy of one of Harrelson’s books, titled “Hawk,” in his locker. Harrelson signed the book and inscribed a message.
“It’s a secret,” Sanchez said, smiling, when asked about the message. “The passion that he brings to the game, it’s exciting.”
Harrelson’s broadcast highlights include giving Thomas his nickname of “Big Hurt” and calling the 2005 World Series season, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game and Jim Thome’s 500th home run.
But he said his favorite part of the job extended beyond any single moment.
“Forty-two years, I’ve had a lot of great moments as far as calls I’ve had, games that I’ve done — thousands of games — but it’s people,” Harrelson said. “It’s the relationships. That’s been the greatest part.
“Because people morph into relationships, and relationships morph into memories. To me, that’s what life’s about. Life’s about family, and it’s about memories. That’s what we have to live with, and I’ve had more than my share. I’ve been blessed. There’s no question about that.”