Assorted thoughts on Hawk Harrelson on MLB Network


It’s interesting to watch a clip well after the Twitter freakout over it. By the time I actually got home from U.S. Cellular Field, it had already been well-established that Hawk Harrelson had broken new barriers of ridiculousness in his televised conversation with Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds. Imagine my disappointment to find a clip that was filled with the same old, same old Hawk Harrelson.

Which is not to say he did well. He did not. A friendly interpretation is that Harrelson simply had no interest or consideration for any point Kenny offered, and chose to ignore him. A less friendly interpretation…well, isn’t willful ignorance from someone who presupposes themselves as an insightful voice on the sport damning enough?

Hawk’s resistance and obstinance is well-established, to the point where halfway through an 11-minute segment of Harrelson blowing past actual points of contention to defend ideas that no stat-oriented baseball man questions–such as the notion that make-up matters or that overloading players with information should be avoided–it was baffling that Kenny would try to push along a concept as convoluted as extrapolating Harrelson’s numbers across different eras and ballparks. It also was based in the notion that if Hawk’s ego is stroked enough, he would relent in his objections. There’s plenty of room to condescend to Hawk’s opinions while leaving his integrity out of it.

So many anti-stat arguments get bogged down in diatribes about how numbers aren’t descriptive enough, then turn around and defend even more vague and antiquated numbers as eternally useful. Hawk is not an exception to this rule, since he defended pitcher wins  but also complained that tangible metrics had failed to capture the impact of intangible qualities. Hawk will still quote batting average and home runs–which aren’t any closer to discovering the secrets to a man’s heart than UZR–yet employs a defense that rejects improvements to his information until perfection can be offered. The end effect is that he’s just not open to being convinced, and there’s not much fun in working up against that.

A more fun exercise is to see how any of the principles Hawk extolled work in application, since the White Sox are clearly applying them, if no farther than the #TWTW (The Will to Win) hashtag that Alex Rios picked up immediately (his emergence as a rah-rah type on Twitter and even in person to a degree is a prominent entry on the list of things people who haven’t watched baseball since 2011 wouldn’t understand).

As far as rallying cries go, it’s a hell of a lot better than Rios quoting Bane’s lines from The Dark Knight Returns last year. When I heard that the White Sox had picked up the slogan immediately after Hawk’s appearance before having seen it, I was admittedly disgusted. It seemed to be the team embracing insularity as their public image, touting Hawk as if they only noticed he was a trending topic and didn’t bother to check the tone of discussion, and were desperately grasping at relevance despite the costs–the same motivations that when employed by the front office, can make the team a struggle to watch at times.

But Hawk’s delivery of the centerpiece of his argument–stats can’t measure TWTW, The Will to Win–is so blatantly prearranged and pre-planned that it doesn’t irritate anymore than any other piece of marketing ever has, and it beats the pants  off of the lip-synching video as the face they show the world.

The actual, for me at least, most depressing takeaway for me is that couching baseball as a test of mettle, heart and personal drive only is an uncomfortable thing for a White Sox fan to do. Understanding that bad luck with seemingly safe big signings blowing up and mishaps in the talent pipeline both home and abroad have sapped away at the Sox strength the past few years at least offers solutions, even if they’re difficult and slow. If baseball is determined by the will to win, then the Sox have been regularly found wanting, and how does one fix their essential nature?

There weren’t just second-half slides the past four years, there were humiliating trouncings at the hands of chief rivals in crucial series and back-breaking failures by otherwise reliable players in crucial moments. Hawk touted Jake Peavy’s mental toughness as a key, but I would much rather appreciate his accomplishments through cold accounting of his 219 innings than think about any of his second-half starts against the Tigers last season.

It’s extremely odd that such an unabashed fan of the Sox would open the door for that type of thinking, but something tells me Hawk wasn’t mapping it out that far ahead.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan