Baseball Way Back: Hawk could have brought a pennant to South Side in 1967
For parts of four decades, I grew accustomed to hearing the voice over my television exclaiming "He gone!" and "You can put it on the board, yes!"
This time, that familiar, iconic voice was on my phone.
I told Ken "Hawk" Harrelson that he was in the Cleveland Indians lineup for the very first game I saw at old Comiskey Park.
When he joked that he went "0-for-4," I couldn't really contradict him, since my scorecard with Carlos May on the cover is buried somewhere in storage.
As the conversation drifted, I was curious to know what happened in 1967, when a dust-up between him and owner Charles O. Finley led to his release from the Kansas City A's in August, and how the White Sox made a bid for his services.
The Sox were in the thick of a pennant race that involved four closely bunched teams, including the Red Sox, the Twins and the Tigers.
The Sox pitching staff was formidable, with Joe Horlen, Gary Peters and Tommy John, all sporting ERAs under 2.50. But the team was a collection of hitless wonders.
The answer seemed to come from out of the sky.
On Aug. 18, The Associated Press reported that Finley had suspended pitcher Lew Krausse indefinitely without pay for "conduct unbecoming a major league ball player," stemming from an Aug. 3 incident that Krausse said involved several players on a flight from Boston to Kansas City. Finley also banned the serving of alcohol to A's players on commercial flights.
The team, mired in last place, 16½ games back, lashed out.
On Aug. 19, the players issued a statement accusing Finley of undermining player morale by using informers to spy on players. The team declared its support of Manager Alvin Dark and his coaching staff.
Finley reacted by firing Dark on Aug. 20 for losing control of the players.
The players were devastated. Dark, they had hoped, would someday lead them to a pennant.
It was in the AP report of the players' reaction on Aug. 20 that Harrelson was quoted uttering the words that would earn him his ticket out of Kansas City: "Finley made a big mistake. He's a menace to baseball."
At the time, the 25-year-old first baseman was in the midst of a two-month offensive tear, hitting about .315 in that span.
He said, "The only guy really at that time that was swinging the bat better than I was was Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) and he won the Triple Crown."
As Hawk tells it, the team was in Washington, D.C., getting ready to travel to Baltimore, and "The writers were trying to get somebody to say something about Charlie firing Alvin, and nobody was saying anything, so finally I just opened up on him and called him (a jerk) and everything else."
The following morning, Aug. 21, Finley called Harrelson at his Baltimore hotel.
"He said, 'Son, haven't I been like a dad to you?' And I said, 'No, sir, you have not, Mr. Finley.'"
Finley said he arranged for a news conference so Harrelson could issue a full retraction.
"And I said, 'Mr. Finley, I'm not going to retract one word of what I said.'
"Well, when I said that, he just blew up. He started cussing me out. I told him, 'Wait a minute. We both know that if you were standing right here, you wouldn't be saying all these words.'"
A short while after that call ended, Finley called him back to inform him, "As of this moment, you are no longer a member of the green and gold," before slamming down the phone.
Harrelson said he then called Joe Reichler, assistant to baseball Commissioner William Eckert, to assess the situation. Reichler told him, "He put you up on irrevocable waivers, and that means that the only person that can take you off of these is you yourself, and I know you're not going to do that."
As soon as Harrelson hung up the phone, it started ringing. And the first team to call was the White Sox.
General Manager Ed Short said, "I understand you and Charlie had an argument." He continued, "Well, I got (Manager) Eddie Stanky right here and I want you to talk to him for a minute."
Stanky told him, "Hawk, you know we got the best pitching in the league. We feel like if you come over here, we'll win this thing."
So far, so good. That is, before Short got back on the phone and told him, "I'm not going to get in a bidding war."
"And when he said that," Hawk said, "something else triggered in my head."
Short offered him $100,000, a hefty sum at the time -- Hawk was making $12,000. "But you got to take it right now. I'm not going to call you back if you don't take it right now."
Hawk said, "Finally, I said, 'I don't think that's fair. I've got to have time to think this thing over.' He said, 'Well, if you don't take it now, I'm not going to call you back.' And I said, 'Well, I'm sorry, I'm not going to take it.'" Short never called back.
Hawk immediately called Alvin Dark, who told him, "I think you are going to get at least $150,000 out of this and I think whoever you go to is going to win the pennant."
Both predictions came true for Hawk, who made his Red Sox debut Aug. 29.
Short told the press a different story. In a newspaper report on Aug. 22, he claimed that Harrelson had called him and said he was available.
Short said, "I told Harrelson that Eddie Stanky and I would kick it around, but that it was too early to make any offers."
In an Aug. 26 report, Stanky confirmed that the Sox made a pitch to Hawk, saying, "I know Mr. Short made a very respectable bid for him."
It proved a missed opportunity for the White Sox, who finished fourth, three games behind Boston. The Sox would have to wait until 1972 before they tasted another winning season.
• Reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org