Rozner: Above all else, Harrelson offered White Sox fans entertainment
It was early on a Sunday morning about seven or eight years ago as I reached the parking lot on the South Side, needing to get inside the ballpark for my radio show.
I had plenty of time -- until Hawk Harrelson pulled up and parked a few spaces away.
A short walk together turned into a long conversation about golf, but that wasn't the issue. The problem was -- even though it was many hours before the game and 35th Street was quiet -- the fans who spotted him began to approach.
A few quickly turned into a few dozen and that was the ballgame. I bid him farewell and went to work, leaving Harrelson to his people.
It would be an hour before he stopped signing autographs, taking selfies and recording ringers for fans' phones, and made his way to the booth.
It has always been that way, whether at the ballpark or at the golf course. It's going to take a long time to get anywhere because White Sox fans want to stop him and talk White Sox baseball.
And when the announcement was made Wednesday morning that Harrelson had finally been elected to the broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, you had to chuckle at the disconnect between media and fans, between those who couldn't wait to be rid of him and those who never wanted him to leave.
Such is the life of an entertainer in an industry that speeds toward capitulation and manipulation.
This is a most deserved honor and long overdue, a place in Cooperstown that Harrelson had grown to believe he might never reach.
It is particularly appropriate that it happens now, at a time when baseball broadcasting has become so extraordinarily boring, when nearly every announcer sounds the same.
They come from the same play-by-play factory, with the same voice and same inflections and reading from the same statistical websites that anyone at home could read from themselves, offering no insight into how the game is played, with a remarkably dull vision of what a three-hour program should sound like.
This staggering lack of personality that has become the baseball norm will soon push out the few remaining entertainers, and soon a broadcast will sound entirely scripted.
Harrelson was the antithesis and the critics who didn't care for him never understood Sox fans' love for him.
Not all fans, naturally, just as was the case with Harry Caray on the other side of town, but for the most part as the media snickered behind his back, they didn't grasp the fondness the fan base had for Harrelson because they didn't stop to see it.
Fans loved that he was a homer. Fans loved that he protected his players. Fans loved that he went after umpires and opposing players. And fans loved that he would get mad when things didn't go well for his team.
Fans loved that he had something to say as most broadcasters today have nothing to say.
To be around him a little bit was to see how beloved he was by the majority of White Sox fans, and to see how sad they were when he walked away.
This reminds me of a thought from the late Jim Dowdle, the No. 2 man at the Tribune Co. who was responsible for the purchase of the Cubs and the stealing of Caray from the Sox.
"The charm of Harry is that he's a fan and speaks like a fan, and he's different than all of the broadcasters you hear today," Dowdle told me while I sat in his Tribune Tower office in 1996. "Believe me, I sit and listen to a lot of audition tapes and they all sound the same.
"You get down to the final 10 or 12 and eight of them have great, great voices, but they're sort of indistinguishable. Harry doesn't fit the mold anymore and I doubt if he was just starting out that he could get hired anywhere."
Prophetic was Dowdle as generic is the order of the day, no place for Caray's personality or Vin Scully's poetry, only a cookie cutter of corporate cravats that present the game in a mind-numbing filibuster of filler.
Hawk Harrelson didn't try to give you something special. He was merely being himself, perhaps the last of the great baseball personalities given a microphone and a rooting interest.
Maybe you liked him and maybe you didn't, but at least he was different.
That is something worth celebrating.