Mercy! Ken Harrelson honored by election as 2020 Frick Award winner

Written by: Bill Francis

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, a part of professional baseball for eight decades, has been recognized for his stellar work behind a microphone.

It was announced on Wednesday, Dec. 11, that the former big league outfielder-turned-legendary-broadcaster would be honored this summer in Cooperstown with the 2020 Ford C. Frick Award.

“It’s just such an honor,” said Harrelson on a media conference call from Orlando, Fla., soon after he received the good news. “I’ve always considered myself to be probably as lucky, if not the luckiest, human being who ever stepped two feet on the face of the earth.

“I’ve got a great family and had a wonderful career. I’ve been with some great people and with an organization (the White Sox) that I think, in my opinion, is certainly the best in baseball and one of the best in all of sports. So it’s going to be an honor. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Frick Award is presented annually to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball." The award, named after the late broadcaster, National League President, Commissioner, and Hall of Famer, has been presented annually since 1978.

Harrelson, 78, becomes the 44th winner of the Frick Award, as he earned the highest point total in a vote conducted by the Hall of Fame’s 15-member Frick Award Committee. This year’s eight finalists – which came from the Current Major League Markets category – included Joe Castiglione, Jacques Doucet, Tom Hamilton, Pat Hughes, Ned Martin, Mike Shannon, Dewayne Staats and Harrelson.

Former White Sox broadcasters to receive the honor include Jack Brickhouse (1983), Harry Caray (1989), Bob Elson (1979) and Milo Hamilton (1992).

Asked what he was feeling after receiving the Frick Award news from Hall of Fame President Tim Mead, Harrelson, a Frick Award finalist in 2007, 2014 and 2017, replied: “I just couldn’t think. It was almost like I had a brain cramp. I’ve won some awards in my life and done some things in my life that I was very proud of, but this was something different. I really haven’t digested it yet. Maybe I have, but ‘Hawk’ hasn’t. That’s my buddy. We’ll get this thing sorted out to where I can get my thoughts together.

“Last night was really – when I went to bed – the first time that I had trouble falling asleep because I knew what was going to happen today. I just started thinking about all the great names on that list. There’s great announcers there. It was just an honor to be (on the ballot) in the first place. Then an unbelievable honor to have been selected.”

Harrelson, the voice of White Sox television for 33 years, left the broadcast booth following the 2018 season. After his playing career ended and an attempt playing professional golf, he began his broadcast career with seven seasons for the Red Sox from 1975-81 and two years with the Yankees from 1987-88.

“I think I learned something from everyone I worked with over the years,” Harrelson said. “The thing that hit home with me early in my career was Curt Gowdy and Howard Cosell. After I’d been working with the Red Sox for a couple of months, Curt Gowdy called me up and said he wanted to talk to me. So he came to Fenway Park and we talked. He said, ‘I’m going to give you the best piece of advice you’ll ever get about announcing. Don’t try and please everybody because you can’t.’

“About two or three weeks later, Cosell called me and he said he was coming to Boston and wanted to talk to me. We met at Fenway and he said, ‘I’m going to give you the best piece of advice you’ll ever get about announcing. Don’t try and please everybody because you can’t.’ That has been my motto since I began broadcasting in 1975.”

A two-time Illinois Sportscaster of the Year and five-time Emmy Award winner, Harrelson was a big league first baseman/outfielder for nine seasons. After helping the Red Sox win the American League pennant in 1967, he came back the next season with 35 home runs with a major-league leading 109 RBI. Also spending time with the Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators, his time on the diamond ended in 1970 with a broken leg.

“In a bad game where it’s 11-1 or 12-2, I’d be out there in right field and start announcing the game. You’d try and put your own little touch on it, so to speak,” said Harrelson, explaining his transition from player to broadcaster. “It was fun and it helped pass the time in a bad ballgame. Of course in a good ballgame you wouldn’t even think about it.”

Harrelson joins Joe Garagiola (1991), Bob Uecker (2003), Jerry Coleman (2005), Tony Kubek (2009) and Tim McCarver (2012) as the only big league ballplayers to be honored with a Frick Award.

Included among Harrelson’s litany of memorable catch phrases are “He gone!”, “Mercy!” and “You can put it on the board, yes!”

Harrelson will be recognized during the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2020 Induction Weekend, to be held July 24-27.

The annual Awards Presentation will be held on Saturday, July 25, at Doubleday Field.

“Who I’m happiest for now and who keeps popping up in my mind is my beautiful Greek wife, Aris, and our children, Krista and Casey, and our grandchildren, Nico, Alexander and Hank,” reflected Harrelson on his upcoming Cooperstown summer. “I thought that one day that I would go in, but I told my family that it would probably be after I’ve passed away. I’m just so happy to be able to share this with them.

“I love baseball right now more than I ever have because of the fact that it’s the greatest game going. It’s just been a wonderful life for me.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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