“Everyone loves a good train wreck. Or, possibly, and epic beatdown. Or if things go sideways, everyone will probably take some sick fascination in watching Brian Kenny go insane. Any or all of which may happen tomorrow as Hawk Harrelson will appear on “MLB Now” with Kenny and Harold Reynolds at 4PM on MLB Network.”
Come to think of it, Hawk Harrelson appearing on national television in any capacity does not particularly jive with my daily hope that the White Sox–the team, the employees, their fan base, their surrounding region and larger essence–can skirt by without widespread scorn and embarrassment.
Harrelson’s vitality as a public figure these days is very much tied into how well entrenched he is as the voice of the White Sox, rather than his own merits. Thanks to MLB.TV and the degree to which in-depth digital media coverage has shrunk the baseball world, even Harrelson’ work as a hometown announcer can come under significant fire, but still enjoys support from his primary audience–fans for whom his presence is as natural and inseparable from the game as family and friends they watch them with.
Uncommon among Hawk defenders are terms like “incisive analyst” or “valued voice on statistics” or even “diplomatic.” Because of that, his acceptance of an invitation to discuss his view of sabermetrics on MLB Network could easily read as him walking into his own demise in a manner that would make Sonny Corleone wince.
The problem is not even that his views on advanced statistics are contrarian, it’s that they’re underinformed and somewhat tossed-off. It’s fitting of his dismissive attitude toward the topic that would be so much more acceptable if he was dismissive enough to not discuss it at all, but all the more ill-suited for some sort of televised debate, where his opinion might actually be challenged once or twice.
What can hope to be accomplished from this? Did viewers really long for an idea of what Harold Reynolds would be like if he did less prep work?
Yet in all likelihood, this isn’t going to be the nuclear fallout it’s being billed as. First of all, rarely is anything the nuclear fallout it’s billed as–breakdowns in decorum are typically unplanned. Second, Hawk removed from the emotion of a live game is inevitably a less volatile entity and more reasonable. Finally and most salient is that Harrelson was calm when he acknowledged Kenny’s complaint on air and asserted that he still liked the man personally.
And as blusterous as Kenny might have come off in the isolated clip where he harangues Hawk, he’s too experienced and well-versed in the views of the old guard to actually keep the fire of this confrontation burning for much longer than the running time of the diatribe. If anything, this whole episode is out of character for Kenny, and the elements of this confrontation–save for the whole “virulently anti-advanced stats guy discussing advanced stats” part–aren’t particularly explosive. Especially since Harold Reynolds will be there, essentially echoing Harrelson’s worldview while in a nicer suit.
If and when two men who appear on television professionally managed to navigate through a seven-minute long segment without stabbing each other, the pointlessness of the encounter should set in. People discussing ideas they’re not interested in makes for some truly awful television.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan