The Hawk in the front office; Baylor-for-Easler a logical deal
His official title is executive vice-president of baseball operations for the Chicago White Sox, but Ken Harrelson much prefers being called ``the Hawk,'' a reference to what one national magazine described as ``the Nose for All Seasons.'' And that's pretty tame, considering some of the things the Hawk himself has said about his Pinocchio-like trademark. Harrelson, because he usually voices whatever happens to be on his mind, is going to get more media attention this season than most guys do who hit 40 home runs or win 20 games. And while the Hawk's credentials may not be those usually associated with front office types, his magnetic personality sells instantly -- as the White Sox demonstrated in naming him to their top post last year.
Ken was a pretty good hitter in his playing days, but is probably best remembered as the player who in 1967 told off Charles O. Finley, then owner of the Kansas City Athletics, who promptly made him a free agent. He also helped popularize the batting glove; made an art form out of annoying the pitcher by repeatedly stepping in and out of the batter's box; and set a baseball fashion trend back in the '60s by wearing a Nehru jacket.
Even in his present position he leans heavily toward sporty attire, topped off by a collection of oversized and expensive cowboy hats that look as though they've been lighted by an interior decorator.
When Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, the principal owners of the White Sox, decided their third-place team needed a shake-up in the front office, they looked no farther than their own radio booth. Sure, they would be losing a popular broadcaster, but since when did the Hawk ever need a microphone to communicate? Reinsdorf and Einhorn's theory seemed to be: Sign him, give him the power to make his own moves, and then get out of the way of his rattlesnake-skin cowboy boots.
Harrelson has already said that if he doesn't do the job the White Sox owners expect of him, he'll be the first general manager ever to fire himself. Don't laugh! If you know the Hawk, he'll make his exit as much of a happening as the first publicity wave for a bad movie.
Meanwhile Harrelson has the press eating out of his hand with little dandies like: ``What we have in baseball is a lot like duplicate bridge. We're all trying to get the most out of basically the same hand. One guy might make four spades, but I just might make a little slam.'' I'm not sure I know what the Hawk is talking about, either, but it's a lot better than listening to a manager telling you that ``we're gonna be a lot more aggressive.''
Already Harrelson has rocked the baseball establishment by hiring two pitching coaches, one to tutor his starters and the other to counsel his relievers. He's also planning to have two resident hitting coaches, one for the power guys and the other to teach people with delicate wrists how to create line drives.
And if you can believe the small talk going around, manager Tony La Russa had better get his club away fast or risk having Harrelson mailing him back to his Florida law office by the July All-Star break.
The thing one should never do is underestimate the Hawk. After batting just .200 down the stretch for the pennant-winning 1967 Boston Red Sox, Harrelson came back the next year to hit 35 home runs and drive in a league-leading 109 runs. And despite his reputation as a clotheshorse, you'll never see the Hawk carrying more than one small bag at a time, even when he's parading through airports. The rest of his luggage he always sends on ahead -- special delivery! Jackson in the twilight
Some baseball people think 19-year veteran Reggie Jackson (Kansas City, Oakland, Baltimore, New York, and California), the self-proclaimed straw that stirs the drink, has been in the drink so long that the straw is now the consistency of wet spaghetti. In fact, ever since the end of last season, there have been rumors that the Angels would just as soon see Jackson take himself and his $985,000 salary elsewhere.
That is a lot of money to pay a designated hitter, although Reggie did hit 27 homers and drive in 85 runners last season. Jackson explained to writers during spring workouts: ``I'm now training harder to play less.'' Assuming he gets enough at-bats, Reggie, with 530 home runs already to his credit, seems certain this season to pass both Jimmie Foxx (534) and Mickey Mantle (536) on baseball's all-time list. Both clubs like Baylor-Easler trade
Usually it takes at least a year to evaluate a baseball trade properly. But the recent deal between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox involving designated hitters Don Baylor and Mike Easler got baseball's instant seal of approval.
Baylor, a right-handed pull hitter with power, could be another Vern Stephens in Fenway Park, where the left field wall is only 315 feet down the line. Don averaged 24 home runs and 88 RBIs per year the last three seasons while playing half of his games in spacious Yankee Stadium, and in Boston he should be able to increase those totals.
Meanwhile, New York gets a solid left-handed batter with a .293 lifetime average and pretty good power of his own. Easler is coming off a year in which he hit only .262 and fell from a career-high 27 homers to 16, but his hit-to-all-fields style seems made to order for Yankee Stadium's roomy outfield. And while he isn't a dead pull hitter, that ``short porch'' in right field (312 feet down the line) also has to be some help. Harrah wants to play every day
Texas Rangers' second baseman Toby Harrah, who at 37 is older than his manager (Bobby Valentine), says baseball is a game of quickness, timing, and mental attitude, not age. Harrah is not pleased at the prospect of rotating at his position with Curtis Wilkerson and Scott Fletcher. Last season Toby was second in the American League in walks, with 113, and third in on-base percentage.