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MORRISSEY: Coming to Hawk Harrelson’s defense

06-14-08 Portrait White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson.  FOR KONKOL'S 'THIS I KNOW' PIECE. Phoby Chris Sweda/Sun-Times

06-14-08 Portrait of White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson. FOR KONKOL'S "THIS I KNOW" PIECE. Photo by Chris Sweda/Sun-Times

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Updated: June 6, 2013 7:05AM



Something has been
bothering me for a while,
and I hope you’ll indulge
me while I try to make sense of
it. It has something to do with
sabermetrics and the abuse White Sox play-by-play man Hawk
Harrelson has been getting lately, but those are only symptoms of a larger problem.

Buffalo (N.Y.) News columnist Jerry Sullivan recently wrote a lovely tribute to longtime colleague Larry Felser, who had just passed away. This clause stood out: ‘‘At a time when people tweet their thoughts without filters and everyone wants to be the smartest guy in the room . . . ’’

I thought to myself: That’s it, isn’t it? The need to be the smartest guy in the room has taken over sports discussion and turned it into a cold, unwelcoming place where no attempt is made to understand the other side. There is only the attempt to crush it like an uprising.

If you think you’re the smartest guy in the room, there isn’t room for civil discourse. There’s only room for you, your opinion and the people who agree with your opinion. When you regard yourself in this way, it makes it very difficult to acknowledge the possibility someone else might have a thought in his or her head.

Harrelson has been the target of ridicule for having the nerve to suggest recently that one of the most important things in baseball, a player’s heart, can’t be measured. Hawk, who is so down-homey he probably lives underground, called it TWTW: the will to win.

The reaction on the airwaves and websites was almost immediate: What a silly, misguided rube. What a numbers-phobic fool. His critics didn’t use the word ‘‘feeble,’’ but Deadspin.com, which has reached critical mass in terms of the smartest guys in rooms, called him ‘‘old.’’

The people who love stats will argue that whatever it is you’re trying to measure in baseball almost surely will show up somewhere in the numbers. If the will to win is so strong in a player, you’ll see it in his batting average with runners in scoring position or some other stat.

But why is it so outlandish to suggest some things can’t be quantified, at least for now? We all know talented people who don’t work hard. We all know people who put every ounce of energy into their jobs. We don’t need numbers to tell us who wants it and who doesn’t.

Is there a stat for the Bulls’ Nate Robinson playing sick Thursday?

For years, people have been saying nobody had the will to win Michael Jordan did. Never mind his great physical skills, they say; this guy would have taken out his mom’s knees in a battle for a loose ball. He tormented teammates in practice. He once punched Steve Kerr. He has been lauded for all of it.

But when Harrelson mentions that numbers can’t tell the whole story, that some people have a brighter pilot light than others, he’s an idiot.

These days, the cool kids are on the numbers side. They’re a cross between frat boys and stat boys. Strat boys?

The dummies are the ones who prefer to watch the game and let their eyes tell them what they’re seeing. They’re living by candlelight at night, we’re told.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t know what that makes me. Invisible? A wimp?

Harrelson and I have had our differences. The last time I saw him in the Sox’ clubhouse, it looked like he wanted to hit me with the golf club he had in his hand. He was upset I had written that if baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf were mad about Harrelson’s on-air criticisms of umpires, then they should look in the mirror. They had allowed it to go on for years.

I think he needs to open up on the numbers front, but I don’t understand the tidal wave of derision that has threatened to carry him into Lake Michigan. There’s an absolutism at work now that says if your argument is good, mine is not only bad but will regret the day it rolled off the tongue. The idea is to reward the world with your point of view and reduce the other side’s to molecules.

‘‘How Hawk’s brain generates enough impulses for him to walk, much less than talk, is a medical mystery,’’ one poster wrote on a message board.

Allow me to sign it for him: Smartest Guy in the Room.



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