The owners were impressed. But one position was left blank at the top of the second sheet, the spot for the vice-president/general manager, the big guy in the organization. When Reinsdorf and Einhorn asked Harrelson whom he had in mind, he handed them his third sheet of paper. It read: "Ken Harrelson." Not the Hawk. Ken Harrelson.
The Katzenjammer Kids—George Steinbrenner's pet name for Einhorn and Reinsdorf—loved the idea. Harrelson went home to talk it over with his wife, Aristea. "I listen to what she has to say," says Harrelson. "I turned down three managing jobs after talking to her. We went over all the pluses and minuses of the G.M. job, and there were a lot of pitfalls. But she wanted it for me, and she's the first reason I decided to take the chance. Jerry and Eddie are the second. The third reason is that I knew I could do the job." Harrelson asked the White Sox for only a one-year contract. "If I can't do it, I want to be known as the first general manager to fire himself," he says.
The baseball world was taken aback when Harrelson was hired, more so because Roland Hemond, who was kicked upstairs, was both respected and well-liked as a general manager. Everybody knew the Hawk, but very few knew he had any aspirations to be an exec.
Not all of Harrelson's advisers liked the idea. His agent, Saul Foos, was concerned that Harrelson's $250,000 broadcaster's salary would drop dramatically. Says Harrelson, "Mama used to tell me, 'You're a nice boy, Kenny, and I love you, but sometimes you're not very smart.' I told that once to Saul, and when I took the job, he said to me, 'Hawk, your mama was right.' "
Besides giving up a lot of money—his new salary is $150,000—Harrelson will have to give up a lot of golf, a significant sacrifice. One time in his A's days, Harrelson went out and played 36 holes on the day of a game because a righthander was scheduled to start against K.C. When he got to the park, he found out a lefthander was throwing and that he was in the lineup. He happened to have a golf glove in his back pocket, wore it during batting practice and hit two home runs that night. The next day some of his teammates started wearing gloves, which is how the batting glove was born.
As soon as he signed on as a VP, Harrelson put away his sticks—not to be used except on rare occasions. "At the World Series, people kept coming up to me and giving me their congratulations," he says. "They should have been offering their condolences."
The one nice thing about the G.M. job is that Harrelson will be able to spend more time at home, a big, comfortable house in the western Chicago suburb of Lisle. Until a few years ago, he never had what might be considered a model home life. His own parents divorced when he was eight, and he had a tempestuous first marriage to his high school sweetheart, Betty Ann Pacifici, that ended after 14 years and four children. It was a time when even Harrelson was confused as to who he really was.
But at the 1972 World Putt-Putt Championships, which, as you may recall, were held in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Hawk, a struggling pro golfer, got a job as a commentator on the telecast of the event. He ran into Putt-Putt legend Jimmy Harritos, who played baseball for Savannah High when Harrelson was just a bat boy. They got to talking, and Harritos, who finished second in the tournament, told him that when the Hawk went to Washington the next week, he ought to give his sister a call. "You have to understand now," says Harrelson, "that Jimmy Harritos has a bigger nose than I do and bigger ears, so I can imagine what his sister must look like. He saw the look in my eyes and told me that she didn't look anything like he did, and that she was, in fact, beautiful."
The Hawk was still a little skeptical, and besides, he knew two stews in Washington. Both, however, were away when he got to town. So he decided, what the hell, he'd give Aristea Harritos a call. "First time I saw her, I knew I was going to marry her," he says. Aristea had no such notion. In fact, she had never heard of the Hawk, even though she had grown up in Savannah when he was a high school basketball All-America. "On our third date," says Harrelson, "I just happened to bring along a copy of Hawk and casually mentioned I had to drop off this autographed book about me." Aristea remained unimpressed.
She did, however, fall in love with Ken Harrelson, struggling golfer, and in 1973 they were married. It wasn't until seven years later, at a PGA tournament near Boston, that she saw the side of Harrelson she had never seen before. Taking a break from his job as a Red Sox TV broadcaster, Harrelson shot a 68 on the first day, "and 22,000 of the 26,000 people on the course were following me around." The Hawk played to the gallery and though he eventually faded and finished 75th, he made a lasting impression. "That was the first time I'd seen the real Hawk," says Aristea, "and at first I was upset because I thought I might have been holding him back."