O'Donnell: Costas, Halberstam have their say on Harrelson as Frick winner

  • Hawk Harrelson will draw an engaged crowd next July to his Baseball Hall of Fame induction, predicts Bob Costas.

      Hawk Harrelson will draw an engaged crowd next July to his Baseball Hall of Fame induction, predicts Bob Costas. Scot Gregor | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 12/11/2019 4:11 PM

HAWK HARRELSON HAS ALWAYS had a hustler's charm.

And guile.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Throw in some major league hand-eye coordination and a knack for embracing windows of opportunity and that summarizes the foundation that brought the man the 2020 Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence Wednesday.

He'll be inducted at Cooperstown next summer and Bob Costas is already predicting an engaged turnout.

"Ever since they split off the speeches of the broadcast and writing recipients to Saturday, with the players on Sunday, attendance and mood at the Saturday event have varied," Costas -- one of the 15 selectors on the Frick panel -- told The Daily Herald.

"Now with Hawk going in, you know that there will be an enthused, excited throng on Saturday.

"He is such a classic citizen of the game.

"For a long, long time, from player, to broadcaster, even briefly to G.M., he has been a boldfaced presence around Major League Baseball."

Added David J. Halberstam -- publisher of Sports Broadcast Journal and one of three historians among the Frick voters: "The honor is well-deserved, given Harrelson's time in (the game) and the impassioned style he crafted.

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"If Bob Elson was 'The Commander,' synonymous with the postwar years of the White Sox, the Hawk is unforgettably linked with the club's past three decades and more."

What might have been Harrelson's greatest hustle actually sailed wide into Lake Erie.

According to a tale he told an insouciant media columnist for Frank Deford's National Sports Daily back in the spring of 1990 -- the year he returned to the Sox booth after an extended sojourn -- it happened in April, 1969, when he was traded from the Boston to Cleveland.

"I was not a happy camper," Harrelson said.

"I'd made 12 grand in 1967, wound up with the Red Sox, we won the pennant and I got raised to $35,000 in 1968.

"I had it made in Boston. They didn't know what charisma was until I got there.

"I drove in 109 runs and hit 35 home runs. We fizzled a bit, but I had a restaurant on the harbor set to go and everything else was cookin.'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Then Tony Conigliaro comes back from his eye injury and they got me, him, 'Yaz' (Carl Yastrzemski) and Reggie Smith in the outfield.

"And I'm the odd man out -- to Cleveland of all places."

Harrelson wanted to renegotiate. So he offered longtime Indians general manager Gabe Paul a unique deal:

"I told him no salary, just pay me 50 cents for my first home run and then keep doubling it every home run.

"So $1 for my second, $2 for my third, $4 for my fourth, on and on."

Paul said no and instead gave the Savannah hustler a reported $50,000.

Which was fortunate for owner Vern Stouffer and the Indians financials, since Harrelson hit 27 homers that season.

Mathematicians will recognize that as 2 to the 25th power, or a payout of roughly $33.5 million in 1969 dollars.

"I coulda bought my own ballclub," The Beaked One lamented.

"And probably a couple of golf courses, too, with private landing strips for my jet."

STREET-BEATIN': Illinois State (10-4) and sterling RB James Robinson walk into the dreaded Valley of the Fargodome in an FCS quarterfinal vs. perennial national champ North Dakota State Saturday (ESPN, 11 a.m.; Jay Alter, Ray Bentley). The Rockford-spawned Robinson has rushed for 507 yards in the Redbirds' two playoff victories; the Bison (13-0) have won 34 straight and are 24-point favorites. ... Chuck Swirsky is deferring all substantive comment on returning to sports talk radio in Chicago. Even while retaining his play-by-play duties with the Bulls, the savvy pioneer could have quite a domino effect if Mike Thomas and the new regime at AM 1000 come a-courtin'. ... Jim Ryan -- the four-term mayor of Arlington Heights who died at age 85 over the weekend -- was near the center of it all when George Halas and the Bears first came sniffing around land adjacent to Arlington Park in the mid-'70s. Ryan could flash a baronial mien that was downright Richard Burton in tone. ... DePaul's Dave Leitao continues to sound more and more like Barack Obama when speaking to media. So, if Frank Caliendo can do the former POTUS, he's got the basketball coach in the bag. ... The Blue Demons (9-1) try to rebound from their unconscionable loss to Buffalo when Steve McClain -- a Jeff Bzdelik acolyte -- and UIC (4-6) visit on Saturday (FS1, AM-670, 1 p.m.). Hard to figure who had the poorer afternoon last Sunday: DePaul PG Charlie Moore or FS1 analyst Monica McNutt. ... Ray Paulick reports that 65-year-old jockey B.L. Goff ended a 17-year thoroughbred drought when he recently won a race at Oklahoma's Remington Park. (It may have been the first time a horse rubbed down the rider after a stout run.) ... And back-burging Jon Greenberg, in a marvelously textured piece on the rabid roots of bayou blazer Joe Burrow in Athens, Ohio, noted: "The local Walmart sells LSU gear."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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