There was really no reason to shell out whatever tickets cost in Chicago these days to watch the Orioles vs. White Sox series in person this week, as the sparse crowds at the former Comiskey Park aptly indicated.
The series featured two clubs that are almost laughably unwatchable. First the Sox, who are rocking a first-year manager and a roster’s worth of big-contract busts, including a No. 3 batter who’s hitting .169 over his last 132 games and probably makes a habit of missing even the toilet. Over on the first base side was Baltimore, who is marred in fifteen years of irrelevancy and shows no sign of slowing down thanks to a steady stream of lackluster talent on the farm and a name so synoptic with losing that free-agents rather become Jermaine Dye than sign with them.
The four-game set ran during a mid-week in April, when most people are at work and some don’t even know that baseball has started back up again. Thursday’s game was an afternoon one and temperatures hovered in the fifties all week. That Illinois wind isn’t exactly a warm breeze. Plus the Blackhawks were on, so you can’t blame the almost entire city of Chicago for abandoning their boys in black and white.
But perhaps there’s more to this story. Most of the people in attendance probably directed the bulk of their attention to the field, thinking the players they paid to see in this freezing cold were the most interesting people in the ballpark. If showing up was their first mistake, this was their second. You see the most interesting people in attendance last week in Chicago weren’t in the dugouts. They were in the broadcast booths.
Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has been calling White Sox games since 1990 (he also did from 1982-1985, when he left and briefly served as the team’s GM – but that’s another story), over time developing into an act so unique you’d think he was the name of a top college basketball recruit. During broadcasts he grossly overshadows his partners, controlling the wavelengths with an incredible assortment of clever, homering catchphrases for seemingly every situation a baseball game can possibly showcase.
When most announcers are impressed, they go “Wow”. Hawk screams “MERCY!” at the top of his lungs, sometimes sounding like he’s fallen out of his chair. Instead of “Strike three” he says “HE GONE!” He calls Chicago “the good guys,” and when the good guys hit a fly ball that looks like it might have a chance, he screams at it to “stretch!” If there’s another announcer who has made a perfect game call more famous than the game itself, please let me know.
Over on the Baltimore side, probably just a few press suites over, sat Gary Thorne. A 35-year veteran of the booth – where he’s done both baseball and hockey – Thorne is the consummate professional in the way he provides listeners with heavily detailed analysis while instituting an obvious separation from those he covers. His voice is deep and distinguished, his calls enthusiastic but appropriate. The way he mentions every detail makes you think he could make flossing sound invigorating. He is what broadcasters are taught to be: an unbiased, informative mediator between time and place. The anti-Hawk.
Despite their differences, both men are giants in the field of play-by-play. Hawk has Emmy’s, Thorne’s done video games. Both are fan favorites. And maybe this is why nobody showed up this week to watch the Sox play the O’s – because it was just more fun to watch at home.
Although the Harrelson and Thorne don’t share a market and fight for viewers, it’ll be fun to put these two together head-to-head in a competition to see who “won” the series. Thorne’s Orioles took three of four from Chicago, but let’s be real, nobody else cared about that, so why should we? Time to crunch the numbers.
Game 1 – Monday April 16, 2012
Recap – Chicago leading 4-2 in the 9th before Hector Santiago blows the save by giving up homers to Nolan Reimhold and Adam Jones. Baltimore blows it open in the 10th thanks to a grand slam by Matt Wieters. Adam Dunn Ks swinging to end it.
- White Sox pitchers strike out 15, resulting in 15 “HE GONE!”s, each escalating in enthusiasm. Three points for each HE GONE = 45 points.
- White Sox hitters struck out 11 times, meaning Hawk probably didn’t even say anything for at least five of them. Not speaking gets you negative points as a broadcaster. Minus 11.
- A.J. Pierzynski went deep in the 2nd inning, during which Hawk did his best verbal impression of “what-Carlton-Fisk-was-probably-thinking-as-he-skipped-down-the-line-waving-his-arms-in-1975”. Pure magic – 20 points.
- On Paul Konerko’s sixth inning double that broke a 1-1 tie – ““That’s not gonna work – that’s trouble…. that’s in there! Here comes one, here comes two – the double by Konerko – what do! 3-1 good guys – yes!” Need we say anything else? Oh right, the points. I give him 100.
- He described Mark Reynold’s RBI double and Nolan Reimhold’s circus catch in painstaking detail. We like style, but we like substance too. 20 points.
- When Reimhold and Jones homered in the ninth, Thorne gave us pitch location, swing, outfield position, back, back, back and then the classic “Goodbye! Home run!” Textbook. 40 points.
- Sounded like a proud Dad who is too shy to brag openly about his son who has sucked his whole life when Wieters went deep in the 10th, clearing the bases with a grand slam. We feel you, Gary. 32 points, just for living with him for so long.
Scoreboard after one game – Hawk 154, Thorne 92.
Game 2 – Tuesday April 17, 2012
Recap – Japanese import Wei-Yin Chen out-duels John Danks and the O’s win 3-2.
- Kind of the boring game for Hawk, with only nine Oriole strikeouts and no Sox home runs. We’ll give him a point for each K though, plus one for good luck (now who’s the homer?)
- Told viewers to “go up to Nolan Reimhold and touch him, maybe some of the magic will rub off,” after the left fielder followed his big Monday with a home run and a diving play Tuesday. 20 points for calling both, and 10 extra for not even believing what you were seeing while doing it.
- Even though Thorne has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome, the Orioles win their second game in a row, which is pretty noteworthy. Give him 20 more points for witnessing it.
Game 3 - Wednesday April 18, 2012
Recap – Jake Peavy tossed seven innings of one-run ball and the Sox bats exploded for eight runs. 8-1 final.
- When Dunn cleared the bases with a double, Hawk screamed, “That’s a base hit!”, only half believing $14M a year can buy so much. We were expecting a little more. 5 points.
- Got two of his classics in on one call – “You can put it on the board!” and “Mercy!” – when Pierzynski went deep in the second. 2x bonus – 40 points
- 50 points for Hawk’s first “stretch!” of the series, whipped out on Alejandro De Aza’s solo shot.
- All he really had to do was describe Mark Reynolds’ web gem going towards the line to rob Pierzynski of a hit. But he did it awesome. 50 points.
The score going into the series finale: Hawk – 259 Thorne – 192
Game 4 – Thursday April 19, 2012
Recap – Adam Jones drives in three runs and Jason Hammel ties a career high with 10 strikeouts as the Orioles take the finale, 5-3, and the series.
- Put a little hiccup in his “h-yes!” when Alex Rios tied the game at 1 with a single in the third. “Don’t stop now, boys,” he said as Rios touched first. We wish he wouldn’t either. 15 points.
- Sounded so dejected after Alex Rios struck out looking to end the game and didn’t even have the heart to run to first after the ball got away. It looked like Hawk had this one in the bag, but I just can’t let a guy win when he sounds so much like he’s lost. Minus 100 points. There’s your opening, Thorne.
- Added some flair when Jones went deep in the fifth, saying, “we don’t have to worry about that one,” and then making sure everyone knew that it was his 5th homerun and 6th and 7th RBIs of the season. Deliberately dominant. 25 points.
- Made us all feel like Endy Chavez when describing how the left fielder went back, kept going back, then went back some more before making “what a nice play” at the wall on a fly ball off the bat of Eduardo Escobar. 20 points.
Final score after four games on the South Side – Gary Thorne – 242, Hawk Harrelson – 174
In the end, Thorne’s steady consistency pulled it out over Hawk’s sensationalism. Isn’t that how it usually turns out? Hawk was entertaining as always, and was clearly who this writer was pulling for, but things don’t always work out. Even for the Good Guys.
We’ll do this again. Do the Dodgers play the Yankees this year? Scully vs. Sterling sounds pretty good….