Saturday, January 7, 2017

Harrelson's Ballad of Cowboy Joe West and The Hawk

Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and Joe West have become the unlikeliest of friends, and the veteran White Sox broadcaster sat down with CSN Chicago and the White Sox Talk podcast to tell the tale of how a seemingly bitter feud from the days of Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen has transformed into a story bigger than baseball.

Joe West and Hawk Harrelson at a golf outing.
Photo from @ChuckGarfien.
In 2010, you might recall, Joe West ejected then-Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen for arguing a balk called against pitcher Mark Buehrle, before ejecting Buehrle himself for arguing a similar call one inning later. In one of the Hawk's famous rants, Harrelson tore into the long-time umpire:
[West]'s a joke, he's becoming a joke is what he's doing. He's becoming a joke to the umpiring profession. Joe is, uh, getting to be that time for Mr. Joe West...Joe West deserves a suspension is what—he needs a rest, he needs a rest. I tell you what, Mark Buehrle is one of—Joe West just wanted to stick it right up his behind and he did. He should be suspended. That is a flat out absolute disgrace to the umpiring profession what this guy has been doing.
Harrelson, of course, has levied similarly impassioned criticism toward other objects of ire over the years, namely Mark Wegner ("You gotta be bleepin' me! What are you doing Wegner? That is so bad, it is absolutely brutal"), Angel Hernandez ("NO! NO! And ANOTHER blown call by Hernandez!"), Gary Darling ("These are times I wish I could cuss"), Lance Barrett ("He is absolutely brutal"), and even the White Sox themselves.

To be fair, Harrelson has been consistent in his level of decorum throughout his career, as evidenced by this 1991 diatribe against Joe Brinkman ("That is absolutely unbelievable").

In 2012, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig met with Harrelson over his rant against Wegner, with White Sox Senior VP Brooks Boyer stating, "I think moving forward those types of bursts and snaps will be limited if not eliminated."

And they have.

Although Harrelson has continued to use phrases like "horsebleep judgement" (Alfonso Marquez) and "that's BS and he's right" (Jeff Nelson), his tenor has certainly been more restrained...although he did go after the home plate collision rule ("this rule is BS, pure simple BS"), at one point stating that "next thing you know, they'll have catchers wearing skirts out there."

It all started with Joe West's absence and delayed return to baseball in 2013 (See: Rehab report from 4/26/13). The Hawk explains how and why:
Joe West is the best umpire in the game. He and I butted heads for 30 years...[In 2013], We were doing a game down in Texas and [Steve] Stone tells me that this is going to be the first day a couple months into the season that Joe's back, and I say, 'back, where's he been?' 'Well, he had throat cancer,' Steve said. I didn't know that. So after the game was over, I went down and knocked on the umpire's room. And one of the umpires was shocked when he opened the door and I was standing there. I said, 'Where's Joe?' Said, 'He's in the shower.' So I walked in, went back, and Joe was in the shower, soap all over his face. And finally rinsed his face off, looked at me and said, 'Hawk!' I said, 'Joe, let me tell you something right now.' I said, 'I don't mind arguing with you, I don't mind fighting ya. But the one thing I cannot have is you getting sick on me.' And he started laughing, and since that time, Joe and I have become good buddies.
Harrelson told CSN that he and West play golf together, and said he keeps a copy of West's country music CD (Blue Cowboy, available from in his car.

Hawk's story and discussion on West, umpiring, and his passion for baseball begins at the 25-minute mark.


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