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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It's raining on Wednesday as Harrelson, bareheaded, scurries to breakfast. Texas manager Bobby Valentine yells, "Kenny, how come when it rains you don't wear one of your hats?" To which the Hawk replies, "You know how much one of those things costs?" Today's fashion statement is a coral sports coat, white hankie, red shirt with white pin dots, white sweater, white slacks and white loafers, and—when it stops raining—his white cowboy hat.

Now that Steinbrenner is on the scene, it appears that the Yankee deal will be wrapped up, in either a medium-or large-size package. But Harrelson is still on hold when he conducts his daily 2 p.m. press briefing. He refers to the versions of the Yankee trade as Plan A and Plan B. Asked if there is a Plan C, he replies, "No Plan C." Just then the phone rings. "This is Plan C," he says, laughs and picks up the phone.

It is Plan C. Harrelson's eyes grow large as he listens to the offer of another American League West general manager.

By now, dusk is settling. Right outside the room, the torch atop the Tiki Hut is lit—apparently a sacred Town and Country tradition. As dinnertime approaches, the White Sox and that other AL West team decide to sleep on the blockbuster, Plan C, and the White Sox and Yankees agree to Plan B: Burns and two minor league prospects for Cowley and Hassey.

The next day, the big deal, Plan C, is dead, crushed by its own weight. But the Hawk says, "I feel good," as he ambles over to media headquarters to announce the Yankee trade. He is back to Monday's basic blue outfit, but, hey, give him a break, a man can only pack so much.

He walks through the Sunset Room, which serves as the press lounge, into the Sunrise Room, where the press actually works, and takes the podium along with La Russa and Yankee G.M. Clyde King and manager Lou Piniella. This is a big moment for the Hawk as baseball exec, his first press conference in front of the national media. He is not entirely at ease, but he gives answers more honest and colorful than most general managers: "Hey, I like Joe Cowley. I see one thing in his stats that's beautiful and gorgeous, and that's the fact that he's 21-8 the last two years." He does slip up once, referring to La Russa and Piniella as "two hot-blooded Italians"—Piniella is of Spanish descent—but all in all, he does pretty well. When the news conference is over, he steps to the mike and signs off: "Thank you for your attendance."

And so the Hawk rides off into the Sunset Room. He didn't do all he wanted at the meetings, and maybe he disappointed some people because he is, after all, The Fabulous Hawk, but he still has one more thing to do. He promised himself he would go over to the hotel's convention center, where blood donations were being taken for Roger Maris, who would die a week later of cancer.

The Hawk doesn't need a phone booth to change into his true identity. Sometimes just a change of voice will reveal him to be plain old Kenny Harrelson. "How can I not give Roger my blood?" he says. "When I was a rookie in '63 and he was a star, he'd come up to me and ask me how things were going and did I need some help. One time I was holding him on first base, and he said to me, 'Hawk, what are you doing after the game?' and I said, 'Nothing, just going back to my hotel.' He said, 'No, you're not, you're going to meet me in the tunnel after the game and we'll go out and have a few beers.' And we did, and I'll always remember that a star was nice to a rookie."

Giving blood might seem a small gesture, but small things can reveal a person. Here's Kenny Harrelson, as big a guy as The Fabulous Hawk. Maybe bigger.

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