On Wednesday, my favorite team, the Oakland A's, played a game against the Chicago White Sox. Because the A's have a TV deal that isn't even worth speaking about, the game was only broadcast on White Sox TV. This meant nothing to me in terms of being able to watch the game because I have MLB.tv one way or the other. What it meant is that instead of Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse, a colorful, charismatic, and chemistry-laden, if not entirely stat-friendly, announcing team, I had to pass the three hours listening to Steve Stone and Ken "Hawk" Harrelson.
As one does, I took to Twitter to complain about this, mainly because of two plays. First, the A's turned a really pretty double play somewhere in the middle of the game, with Jemile Weeks (at second) not giving Cliff Pennington (at short) a very good feed, causing Pennington to essentially have to catch the ball, pirouette away from the bag, and make a strong throw to first to complete it. I don't know what the standards for Web Gems are these days, but it was a pretty compensation by Pennington for a mediocre throw from Weeks, an athletic play, one surely worthy of comment even by the announcers for the Chicago team. And from Hawk? Nothing.
This game was the one that went fourteen innings. The White Sox took a lead in the top of that inning, much to Hawk's excitement, as he whooped and hollared home two Chicago runs. In the bottom half, Yoenis Cespedes added to his legend by ripping a game-tying two run homer. The A's wound up winning on a bloop single by Kila Ka'aihue, but the Cespedes homer was surely at least as exciting as the go-ahead runs in the top half of that inning, the runs that had caused Hawk such joy and commotion. And yet: nothing. When the A's eventually won, you could practically hear the man pouting over the air.
@jlwoj He's a 12 year old. He doesn't listen to games on the radio on the ride home after losses because he's upset. Literally a child.— Omar Sneed (@NotOutOfThe) April 28, 2012
That tweet was part of a discussion I had while watching the game. (The date is explained by the fact that I was watching it archived, as is my wont.) What really prompted this post, though, is something Mr. Sneed tweeted to me just a few minutes before that, basically asking "Aren't all announcers homers?"
This caused me to realize the existence of two different kinds of homerism, which are, at heart, driven by two different characteristics of the way that people root for their favorite teams. First is what I'd call run-of-the-mill homerism, and it's what you find on nearly any broadcast, except perhaps for those done by Vin Scully, who seems, in my few experiences with him, to be entirely immune to this. Run-of-the-mill homer announcers complain a little louder about 50/50 calls (or missed calls) that go against the team that employs them. Their home-run calls are a little bit more excited for the good guys than the opponents. They call the home-town squad by first names and the other guys by last.
Hawk homerism, by contrast, completely denies the existence of good plays by the other team because those plays necessarily hurt the good guys. A 14th-inning game tying homer by one of the most exciting new players to hit these shores in years isn't something to celebrate (if slightly muted because it's a White Sox broadcast), it's something to be gloomy about. An athletic double play isn't something to admire, it's something that drops you into a funk because it cut off a possible rally.
These versions of homerism are, of course, not limited to announcers. They're also different ways that we, as fans, approach watching games involving our teams. Some of us have a very hard time being excited about things that end up hurting our team, even when those things are 500-foot homers or triple plays or whatever else might normally float our boats. Others of us enjoy the beauty or skill of both teams, but enjoy that of our team more. We know the umpires flat-out suck, but we get a little more angry at them when they make calls against our team.
Given that I don't like to tell fans how to root or enjoy themselves to the extent that it doesn't involve other people (do The Wave if you want; keep that foul ball; boo players -- I really don't care), I'm reluctant, at first, to ask that Hawk tone it down a bit. In the end, though, I think I'm justified in doing so. It's kind of an issue of subsets, right? Run-of-the-mill homers, not to mention neutrals, get annoyed at Hawk homers. But is there a Hawk homer fan out there who would complain that her local (run-of-the-mill homer) announcing team celebrated a good play by the other team too much? We've all seen games with our teams called by neutrals (on national TV) -- are there really people who can't handle that?
The other aspect of Hawk's homerism that bugs me gets back to what Mr. Sneed said about him being twelve years old. There's something deeply unsettling about a man of Hawk's age (and experience in baseball) appearing completely unable to take any enjoyment from baseball beyond his team winning. Even at my worst as a fan, when I would throw tantrums far, far past the age when tantrums are even close to acceptable, I could still get some pleasure from the opposing team's success. To take this in a personal direction, maybe what gets to me about Hawk is that I worry about becoming that person, about regressing emotionally to where I was when I was eight, about losses by "my" teams dropping me into a deep funk rather than just bumming me out for a few minutes (or a few hours, when those losses come in the playoffs). I don't necessarily see a lot of myself in Hawk (though if you know me, you know I'm corny as hell, too), but I see enough.
@TheRoyalJake I know Michael Kay is far from perfect, and I am not blind to his faults. But he isn't even close to Hawk in this regard. He still gives opposing teams' home runs a "see ya!" and comments on outstanding defensive plays and such. That's actually one of the things I like about him, as compared to Hawk and some other announcers I've heard when watching games in which I had no particular rooting interest. He's definitely not the best, or neutral by any means, but I think it's quite unfair to accuse him of being on Hawk's level.
This was fantastic. I personally prefer to listen to games rather than watch sometimes because I feel I learn more. Ultimately an announcer is a storyteller. @Jason Lukehart really hit the nail on the head. Harrelson is a carnival barker. I think when you're calling a game, a little homerism is absolutely fine but there's a fine line.
@commnman @jlwoj at least Hawk didn't say stop watching or turn the sound down if you don't like it as Tom Grieve did. http://t.co/Q9ZAklky
This post is too kind to Harrelson. His over-the-top homerism is obnoxious, but as you said, there are many fans who feel the same way, and must enjoy that about his announcing.
What really bothers me about Harrelson is that I never learn anything from him during a game. There is nothing he says that hadn't been said a million times by 1980. He doesn't tell interesting stories, he doesn't understand most of the newer statistics, and so he either ignores or badmouths them. He adds nothing of real value to the broadcast. (on the other hand, Cubs play-by-play man Len Kasper spends part of every game trying to educate viewers).
I watch as much baseball as I can, and living in Chicago, a lot of that is White Sox baseball. I generally turn to volume down so that the voices barely come through, while allowing a little stadium noise to drift into my ears. It's a shame.
@Jason Lukehart As a White Sox fan, this is what depresses me the most about their announcers. I've watched as many games as I could over the last 30 years, and I learned more about the Nationals and Dodgers players this weekend listening to Vin Scully than I have ever learned about the White Sox from Hawk.
Not only is he quiet and dismissive when the other team does something good on the field, around the middle of the season, after the White Sox get knocked out of contention and are playing bad, he tends to stop talking in general. Leaving Stone, or DJ before him, to basically carry the entire broadcast, while he pouts in the corner.
Ugh, the Darrin Jackson years were the worst. I wish I had a link for a game I recall, in which Hawk and DJ spent half an inning discussing how runs are overrated in baseball. That would seem to be among the most untenable arguments one could possibly make, but the two of them were content to prattle on about it for ten minutes.
@commnman @jlwoj sadly, there are people who believe home team announcers sometimes are too objective. Stinks but true.
@Ben_Duronio I'm ok with small homerism but too much gets disgusting. Announcers who use "we" are the worst.
@Ben_Duronio @commnman @jlwoj I've seen complaints that one team's announcer sounded too exited about a good play by the other team.
Great piece, Jason. I have arguments with people all the time about Hawk Harrelson, because I'm one of the few non- White Sox fans who guiltily enjoys him. I listened to Harry Caray for years, who in my view was just as extreme in his home rooting, but somehow has managed to stay beloved in the public eye. It was like having your drunk uncle in the booth with you. With Hawk he may not be your uncle, just a childish, pouting jerk you happen to know, but I never take the guy seriously or personally, and prefer his back porch drawl and corny catch phrases to thirty seconds of Tim McCarver, fifteen of Rick Sutcliffe, and less then five of John Sterling calling a Yankee home run. But that's just me.