A review in 90-feet or less: Ken Harrelson is the guy you wish was a teammate of Jim Bouton when the later was in the process of writing “Ball Four” in 1969.
As Bouton was starting that season in Seattle, then getting traded to Houston, Harrelson was in … let’s see. He started in Kansas City, just had a great ’68 season with the Red Sox, but then they sent him to … Oh, right, Cleveland.
By page 176, this happens:
“Baseball always has had its superstitions, more than any other sport. I didn’t create them, but I believed in many of them. Some are too crude to detail. (Some struggling ballplayers would try anything to get out of a funk.) Another was, “If you are going badly at the plate, get into a fight to change your luck.”
We were in Oakland and I was in a major funk at the plate. Lew Krausse Jr., my old buddy from the Athletics, was still playing for the A’s and we had made arrangements to meet after the game. I told him I was going to look for the biggest guy I could find and start a fight.
“Lew and I headed to a nightclub and it wasn’t long before he spotted one for me. The guy was about 6-foot-5 and walked right by our table. Lew elbowed me, saying, “There he is.”
“I noticed the big guy went out to dance with his girl, so I grabbed another girl and headed to the dance floor. I bumped into the big guy “accidentally.”
” ‘Don’t do that again!’ he screamed at me.
” ‘Well, let’s go!’ I shot back.
“I happened to be wearing a new pair of cowboy boots. We headed out of the club and as I walked down three steps toward the street, I turned around to swing at him when my feet came out from under me. I hadn’t broken in those boots and it was as if I was standing on ice. He landed a good shot to my eye and I swung again and missed. We started to fight before the police arrived to break it up.
“The police recognized him as soon as they arrived, cuffed his hands behind his back, and loaded him up in the back of a paddy wagon. I noticed he had blood all over his shirt.
Just before they closed the door, he looked at me and said, ‘I know who you are!’
“That was unsettling to hear, to say the least.
“I headed back to the Edgewater Inn and went to Sam (McDowell’s) room. Sam always carried a gun in his bag. Back then, you could stick one right in your luggage wherever you traveled. I explained what happened and asked him if I could borrow his gun. Sam went over to his bed and reached underneath his pillow. He pulled out his pistol and handed it to me. He was sleeping with a gun under his pillow!
“Before we left Oakland, the other guy’s lawyer came over to the Edgewater Inn to see me. After I told him there was no way I would be pressing charges, he said his client’s clothes were ruined in the fight and he wanted to be reimbursed to the tune of $700.
I couldn’t get $700 out of my pocket fast enough. I paid the lawyer, gave Sam back his gun, and that was the end of it.”
If it’s Bouton-esque stories you crave about baseball in that era, Hawk has volumes — and as it turns out, he was also doing his own book in ’69, also called “Hawk” and still available in some used book stores. Wonder if that incident above is included in the original or the updated version.
With this version, we’re not even sure what the subtitle is.
The review copy we got called it “Hawk: I Did It My Way,” a reference, perhaps, to his one meeting with Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs when he was out golfing once with Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
The book jacket that’s being pushed by the Chicago-based publisher seems to go with: “Hawk: My Free Swinging Life On and Off The Field,” which seems more appropriate.
The soon-to-be-retired TV analyst for the Chicago White Sox even has some self-revealing comments in the opening chapter that kind of puts it all into a more palatable explanation and put that previous story into the proper framing:
“I received a nickname that stuck like glue, but I admit that the Hawk became my alter ego.
“There was a huge difference between me and the Hawk. I didn’t want to fight, but the Hawk did. Sometimes pressure ate Kenny up, but it wasn’t a problem for the Hawk, whether it was on the baseball field or the golf course in front of a big gallery.
“A prominent psychologist once told me the Hawk developed his own personality to help Kenny deal with his issues.
“Anyway, the day after that scrum in an Oakland nightclub, I showed up at the ballpark sporting a huge black eye. I had to plead with my manager to put me into the lineup. I then hit a long double off the wall with only one eye open.
“That episode illustrated a theme in my life.”
We get a eyes-wide open shot of Harrelson/Hawk in a colorful, fascinating take because, if we really want a better understanding of the broadcaster, we surely need to remember what he was like as a player who once freaked everyone out by wearing golf gloves when he batted, claims to be baseball’s first free agent (before Curt Flood, after Charles O. Finley let him go) and the first player to hire a bodyguard (mostly to protect himself from getting into scraps – he’s admitting to having had five broken noses).
The stories he has about working with Drysdale on White Sox broadcasts rival the tales Dick Enberg used to tell us about his days with Big D doing the Angels game – and those later once were alcohol free.
With a goal to keep working as a broadcaster until 2020, Harrelson sets himself up nicely with this explanation of his life, in his words, rather than ones often used against him.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Twenty-five bucks worth of fun.
Which is the same amount Harrelson said he once earned from Charles O. Finley back in the Kansas City Athletics days.
That $25 came from riding Finley’s mule, Charlie O., onto the field before a game at Yankee Stadium. Roger Maris eventually threw a fungo bat at the mule’s backside, causing him to buck and throw Harrelson to the ground as he swallowed his chewing tobacco.
“Still, I had an extra $25 in my pocket for spending money in the Big Apple,” he wrote. “You think that experience would have been enough humiliation for me, but when we arrived in Los Angeles, Finley offered $25 for me to do it again. ‘Sure, why not?’ I said. ‘It can’t go any worse than the first time.’
“We were at Dodger Stadium, where the Angels played their home games that season. This time, I got the mule going pretty good on the warning track and headed toward the left-field stands. That is when a fan happened to stick a box of popcorn in front of Charlie O.’s face.
“It stopped suddenly, as though it had hit a brick wall. Again with no harness or saddle, I went flying right over its head and landed on the warning track. My knees were all skinned up.
“Did Finley care?
“Of course he didn’t. He was laughing so hard, watching his namesake munch on that popcorn. The fans were laughing, too. I laid there hurting. But I had another $25 in my pocket to spend in Los Angeles.”