Hawk ready for White Sox to start fresh
Legendary broadcaster focused on team's core of young talent
CHICAGO -- A prevailing thought running through the mind of Ken "Hawk" Harrelson goes something like this: Don't even mention the 2013 White Sox season at the start of the 2014 campaign or any other time throughout the 162-game schedule.
This iconic television play-by-play personality, beginning his 30th season in the White Sox booth, understands that thought won't be entirely possible to execute.
"Yeah, I've never seen a ballclub perform that poorly," Harrelson told MLB.com of last year's 99-loss campaign during a recent Spring Training conversation. "Not any club I played on or any club I was associated with.
"I told players this is the worst performing team I've ever been associated with in my life and I never want to see it again, I can tell you that. It took me a long time to get over it.
"When the season is over, I usually can shake it off in three or four weeks," Harrelson said. "It took me a couple of months before I could get over that season. I've been asked questions by friends every day I see them: 'What happened? What happened?' Finally I got to a point where I said, 'I'm not talking about it anymore.'"
So enough discussion about the White Sox porous defense and an offense that was last in the American League in runs scored. Enough talk about the seemingly different ways the White Sox found to lose each night, making them a group just good enough to be bad.
Harrelson would rather focus on the young core put together by general manager Rick Hahn since last July, when Avisail Garcia was acquired from Detroit in a three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. He also wants to talk about the job Hahn has done in not only reshaping the roster and organization, but building a buzz around a group that previously had flat-lined in regard to fan interest.
"Unbelievable," said Harrelson, picking out one glowing word to describe Hahn's body of work. "We lost 99 games last year. We were 63-99 and you lose 99 games and the perception is not real good.
"Our fans now, because of SoxFest and because of what Rick has done, we are optimistic after losing 99 games. I've never seen that before.
"The good young players are absolutely stunning," Harrelson said. "You got some guys out there who have a chance to be really good players. The new kid [Jose] Abreu and of course Avisail is the real deal, and we've got a guy who is going to really benefit from all of this in [Dayan] Viciedo. Abreu and some of the guys we have, Garcia, are going to bring Tank up. I think that's how people go off of each other in baseball."
Plenty of kudos were saved by Harrelson for Paul Konerko, a deserved Harrelson favorite, who fills a part-time playing, full-time mentoring role in '14 during his 16th and final season with the White Sox. Harrelson believes those responsibilities perfectly fit the captain.
"His role this year is going to be huge and he's going to be the leader he has been in the past," Harrelson said. "I was the leader on a couple of ballclubs I played on, and when you are the leader and you are not going well, it's hard to be a leader.
"He was crippled up last year, was going bad and the team was going bad. He is going to be an inspiration to a lot of these young players this season. He'll have a bigger role this year than he has in the past few years. He's going to help these guys. ... We are going to have a situation now where, the only way you can win at the Major League level is to have fun. The way we can have fun is go win."
In regard to those winning ways, Harrelson is more optimistic about the White Sox contending in '15 than '14. But he quickly points out that Red Sox fans weren't very optimistic going into '13 after a forgettable '12 and all they did was win the World Series behind general manager Ben Cherington's roster shuffle.
"You know why? He's one of the few guys who didn't go after talent. He went after an attitude," said Harrelson of Cherington. "He brought in [manager John] Farrell. He went out and got [Jonny] Gomes and [Mike] Napoli, he got grinders to complement [Dustin] Pedroia. It can happen here.
"Young players we have are going to bring the veterans up. That's about the only way you can rejuvenate veterans, by young blood. We have enough young blood on this team and enough young talent."
There isn't much that Harrelson hasn't seen baseball-wise at this point when factoring in his parts of seven decades in the game. He's trying to focus on the upcoming positives and put last year's "nightmare," as Harrelson describes it, out of his memory.
"I know one thing," Harrelson said. "Our fans this year are going to have a good time watching this ballclub play."