What Harrelson is after with his assembly of 1968 bubble gum cards is, as he puts it, "presence." And in order to get their presence, he is paying some of his minor league coaches about $30,000 a year, $10,000 over the going rate. "It's money well spent," he has said. "Who do you think a young player is going to listen to in the minors, a coach who never made the majors or a guy who was a star? I want guys with presence."
As he said this, Harrelson was sitting in his spacious office in Comiskey Park in early December. The soap opera One Life to Live was on the TV, which seemed slightly ironic because Harrelson has actually led four different lives in the last 15 years: ballplayer, golfer, broadcaster and now baseball executive.
The phone rang. It was Lou Gorman, general manager of the Red Sox. "Hey, big guy," said the Hawk. "Now about Seaver. He's gonna win 12 to 16 games for you and help the other guys on your staff. All I'm asking is Hurst and Clear. [Laughter on both ends of the phone.] Right, I'll get back to you, big man."
Harrelson had recently completed his first major trade, sending infielder Scott Fletcher, minor league infielder Jose Mota and highly regarded minor league pitcher Edwin Correa to Texas for infielder Wayne Tolleson and pitcher Dave Schmidt. The trade was made to help the White Sox now. Schmidt improves the bullpen picture, setting up the eighth and ninth for Bob James, while Tolleson, who can get on and steal a base, gives La Russa flexibility at second and third.
Harrelson went to the winter meetings in San Diego 1) with the idea of finding some pitching help and a third baseman, 2) with a wish to accommodate Tom Seaver, who wants to finish out his career closer to his Connecticut home, in either New York or Boston, and 3) without his golf clubs. The man is serious. Not forgetting his alter ego, however, he took a trunkful of clothes.
As the movers and shakers of baseball gather in the area between two swimming pools at the Town and Country on Sunday, Dec. 8, the talk is not of the drug problem, not of blockbuster trades about to happen. No, everybody is talking about what the Hawk is wearing: a white sport coat, black-on-white polka-dot shirt, black pants.
Gone are the days when he would spend $10,000 a year on clothes. Mention the word Nehru to him now and he cringes. "God, I must have thrown out 19 of those jackets. I remember parties where people would just walk away with my stuff, half a dozen glasses, a dozen sweaters, 20 pairs of pants, all because I had my name on them. I used to go to sleep in the middle of my own parties, and when I'd wake up, Wendell would be so angry because all this stuff was gone."
Still, the Hawk preens. Favoring a style that can best be described as Cowboy Golf, he remains constantly fresh, breathtakingly original. Leigh Montville, columnist for The Boston Globe, marvels at his ways. "The Hawk is always looking sharp—a beautiful blazer, a brand-new cowboy hat," he says. "And yet, whenever I run into him in an airport or hotel lobby, he is carrying a single garment bag. I, on the other hand, look like a slob and carry 750 pounds of luggage. I don't know how he does it." The Hawk reveals his secret: "I have my clothes sent on before me to my hotel or to the airport. When I buy a new cowboy hat on the road, I simply have them box up the old one and send it home."
On the Monday morning of the winter meetings, the sun is a pop-up that baseball people circle under and gather in. One of the nicer things about the game is the great number of faces that endure, from player to coach to manager to executive, picking up wrinkles and sags along the way. In between the pools of the Town and Country, one could trace the entire baseball career of Kenneth Smith Harrelson. Over here is Dick Howser, who is, of course, the manager of the world champion Royals. But Howser is also the man credited with naming the Hawk, way back in 1959 during winter ball in Dunedin, Fla.—O.K., so the nickname didn't take a lot of imagination.
Over there is Dark. He and the Hawk were let go together back in 1967 by Charles O. Finley over a nonincident that didn't occur on an airplane—the Hawk just called Charlie O.'s actions "detrimental to the game" in the aftermath.