Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, everybody’s favorite (or least favorite) baseball uncle, was profiled Monday by the New York Times. The piece centered on The Hawk’s firmly entrenched stance against Sabremetrics taking over the baseball conversation during broadcasts, calling their rise a “joke.”
Here’s the full paragraph that cites the veteran White Sox broadcaster’s disdain for all things numbers:
"Harrelson maintains that he does, in fact, like numbers and that sabermetrics does have a valued place in baseball, but that he would prefer it be a role much more limited that it is now and that too much deference is being paid in general to numbers crunching. He called its rise over the last decade “the biggest joke I’ve ever seen.”"
The rest of the Times story explores an interesting question for baseball fans to consider in what they want from their home broadcasters. Do you prefer a broadcast dominated by folksy, homespun stories in the vein of the Hawk and his cadre of catchphrases, or would you rather hear a more scientific approach, one which can explain to viewers why a hitter just blasted a home run by saying something other than, “he likes the high cheddar”?
Sometimes we do tend to forget that baseball is meant to be entertainment. The role of a broadcaster like Harrelson on White Sox telecasts isn’t the same as that of Chicago’s General Manager Rick Hahn. (Harrelson, a former GM himself, i no longer signing players based on their ability to ‘get their uniform dirty.’) If a broadcaster doesn’t put any stock into OPS+ or FIP it’s going to catch up with them sooner rather than later. They’re only going end up looking like the cranky old uncle Hawk does, as more-and-more baseball fans become educated through the spread of sabremetrics.
It’s worth noting most baseball broadcasts have gotten better adopting statistics. The majority of MLB broadcasts now include some variant of either on-base percentage or OPS as a graphical overlay when a batter comes to the plate.
But back to the Hawk, who’s become easy target as the symbol of old-school baseball Luddites. Here’s Harrelson, in his own words, on “MLB Now” earlier this year talking Sabremetrics with Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds when he broke out his “T.W.T.W” measuring tool: the will to win. Like him or not, give Hawk credit for sticking to his guns.
As usual, I’ll maintain there can be a happy medium between the old-school, “rub some dirt on it” baseball-lifers like Harrelson, and the forward-thinking “kill the win” Kenny types. Ideally, as we head into the future the next wave of baseball play-by-play guys will be able to entertain through narrative storytelling and educate through statistics, if we’re lucky at the same time.