SI Vault
Steve Wulf
January 20, 1986
Kenny Harrelson and his alter ego, The Fabulous Hawk, are again at baseball's heights: They're now a White Sox VP
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January 20, 1986

The Hawk: A Nose For All Seasons

Kenny Harrelson and his alter ego, The Fabulous Hawk, are again at baseball's heights: They're now a White Sox VP

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Hey, big guy. This is The Fabulous Hawk."

Yes, pardner, he's swooping down on baseball once again, taking the game in his large talons, shaking it and saying, "Hey, big guy," which is what he does to just about everybody, forget size and sex, talking in a deep growl that still drips of Savannah and, in one of those accidents of acoustics, reverberates in the echo chambers of his Nose, while he hardly opens his lips to speak for fear the toothpick will fall out.

The Nose, good-lookin', should be capitalized in order to distinguish it from all the others in creation. (The Hawk also has a Chin.) As he put it in his 1969 autobiography, Hawk, written when he was 27, though he hasn't actually read it yet, "Nosewise, the Hawk is the noblest Roman of them all. You can talk about Caesar, Cyrano, Durante or any of those other jokers, but they're pikers compared to me."

This Matterhorn of a schnozz perhaps needs a reintroduction, now that The Fabulous Hawk is on the scene as, of all things, executive vice-president in charge of baseball operations for the Chicago White Sox. Not that he had been very far away, mind you, but up in his White Sox broadcast aerie, he had become more of a Voice than a Nose.

Like its owner, the Nose has its humble origins—above his mouth. Then it begins to grow, reaching and spreading its wings. Just when it seems as if Nose will meet Chin, the thing turns skyward and begins a meteoric rise, up, up, up, finishing with a flourish at the eyebrows. This Nose, which provides shade for the lips and wind protection for the cheeks, was not arrived at naturally. It took some work on the Hawk's part—he broke it five times. The wonderful thing about the Nose is that it changes with every viewing. It's full of surprises. Like the Hawk himself.

The Hawk has always had a Nose for fame. You remember. The Hawk riding Charlie O.—both the mule and the ass. The Hawk pioneering free agency. Inventing the batting glove. Championing the Nehru jacket, which he singlehandedly kept alive days longer than it deserved. He is one of the few ballplayers in the long history of the game to have a valet, may Wendell rest in peace. Somewhere in there, the Hawk hung some hemp, as he likes to say. In '68, a pitcher's year, he hit 35 homers, drove in 109 runs and turned on the Boston fans. No wonder Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in a rare moment of passion, said, "The loss of Ken Harrelson would be a tragedy for baseball."

The commish said this in 1969 after the Hawk reluctantly agreed to go to Cleveland as part of a trade with the Bo-sox. He had America wringing its hands over that one. But you can ride the mule of fame for only so long, and Cleveland was where the Hawk was thrown by injury and ennui. So in 1971 he took up professional golf, choosing to break in with the likes of Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins, and after 3½ years of writing—rather than receiving—checks, he turned to broadcasting. One of his early reviews was "Harrelson is doing for TV what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen," but damn if he didn't become a popular, well-respected announcer, first in Boston and then in Chicago.

So there was the Hawk, approaching 44 years of age, healthy, wealthy and wise in the booth. He had turned down several managing offers over the years and had passed up a few broadcasting gigs elsewhere. He was going to get more network work. He was up there in the Comiskey Park booth talking with his partner, the Big D, Don Drysdale, and watching—like a hawk—as the Sox went nowhere. He had just about seen enough.

"There's the Hawk," he sometimes says, and here his voice goes softer, "and then there's Kenny Harrelson." The Hawk and Harrelson are often confused with each other. There is a certain physical resemblance, although the Hawk, larger than life, is much more imposing. The Hawk wears expensive cowboy hats and boots made from the pelts of exotic animals. Harrelson gives them away. The Hawk talks as if he just came out to the bunkhouse. Harrelson throws in Robert Frost now and then. The Hawk is still riding along on a playboy reputation he earned years ago. Harrelson is a devoted family man with a firm belief in the Really Big Guy. Harrelson is quite fond of the Hawk, mind you. Every so often, just strolling along, Kenny will get this uncontrollable urge to do the Hawk Walk, a very funny imitation of an actual hawk. So he does it.

Back in August, the Pale Hose were floundering. Their principal owners, Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, felt a change was in order, so they consulted with their friend the Hawk. He thought about it, and prepared three sheets of paper for them. On the first sheet were the names of people he would hire and reassign if the White Sox wanted to make small changes. On the second sheet were the personnel he would recommend for a major overhaul. "He asked us if we wanted the conservative or the radical plan," says Einhorn. "Jerry's usually a little more conservative, but he and I agreed. We wanted the radical."

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