Hawk and Gordo: A Colorful Life and a Hitter of Destiny

Jonathan Daniel

Here's the think about Ken "Hawk" Harrelson ... Love him or hate him or somewhere in between, you have to admit he's one hell of a character, and has lived one hell of a life. Which is why I was thrilled to learn this morning that MLB Network is showing Hawk: The Colorful Life of Ken Harrelson. A few highlights from the press release:

Ken Harrelson on the broadcasting advice he received from Curt Gowdy and Howard Cosell:
They were both right, both right. You cannot please everybody, especially in a two-team city. ... Over the years, I've had a lot of critics and I've had a lot of love. I'll tell you what, obviously I love the love better, but I don't mind the critics.

Harrelson on turning down three manager jobs:
I turned down three manager's jobs and that's the reason I turned them down: because my temper is not conducive to being a good manager at all.

Harrelson on how he made money early in his MLB career:
I think in '63, I was platooning. My first two years in the big leagues, I made more money playing golf, shooting pool and arm wrestling than I did in baseball.

The program's supposedly airing next Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern (my DirecTV is telling me something slightly different, but I'm sure you'll figure it out). A long time ago, I asked Harrelson if he might write another book -- he did one in the early '70s -- and basically told me he didn't want his kids reading about his youthful hijinx. But maybe he's opening up some about those years. And I'm sure he's got a lot of material that won't fit into this relatively brief show next week. A miniseries, maybe.

Anyway, one of the things I like about Harrelson is that he's always got an opinion, is always saying something interesting, whether right or wrong. Just today, Gordon Beckham was hitting and Harrelson said this:

As I mentioned earlier, Gordon is starting to do just what he's always done, in his baseball career. Probably starting from Little League on. Becoming the best hitter on this team. Today is his seventh multi-hit game in his last 10.

Then Beckham struck out. But he has been good this season, granted in just 42 games. But it's the audacity of Harrelson's claim that really got me excited. It's not just that Beckham's having a good 42 games. It's that he's going to be the best hitter on the team. And that he's always been the best hitter on the team.

I don't have a source for Beckham's Little League statistics, and I don't want to look up his high-school days. It's not hard to find his University of Georgia stats, though. As an 18-year-old freshman, Beckham was good but not great. He was better as a sophomore, and as a junior he batted .411 with 28 homers in 71 games.

Uh, yeah. He was the best hitter on his team. The Bulldogs' second-best hitter that season was sophomore Rich Poythress, who took over from Beckham the next year before the Mariners used their second-round draft pick on him. Poythress is now toiling for Triple-A Tacoma, but at 25 he's no longer a prospect.

Meanwhile, Beckham was the eighth pick in the whole draft after his .411 season. He signed late, and batted .310 with three homers in just 14 games with the Kannapolis Intimidators.* Was he the best Intimidator? Yeah, probably. Only three of his non-pitching teammates made the majors: Brent Morel, Jordan Danks, and Eduardo Escobar.

* Intimidators? Really, Minor League Baseball? You allowed that to happen?

Beckham opened the next season with the Double-A Birminghmam Barons. He was there just long enough to play in 38 games, and batted .299 with 21 extra-base hits (17 doubles, 4 homers). Was he the best Baron? Nope. He hit better than fellow future major leaguers Danks, Dayan Viciedo, Jayson Nix, and Donny Lucy. But Tyler Flowers, just a year older than Beckham, hit significantly better in significantly more games. Maybe it was a fluke and maybe it wasn't -- Flowers didn't do as well in Triple-A, and he really hasn't done as well in the majors -- but Beckham was not Birmingham's premier hitter.

Beckham's next stop was Triple-A Charlotte. He batted .464 in seven games, and then it was off to the South Side of Chicago for his meeting with Bad Bad Leroy Brown. There were a lot of once-and-future major leaguers on that team that year (2009). Daryle Ward played on that team! Not counting pitchers, I believe there were 27 major leaguers on the roster at some point in the season.

Was Beckham the best-hitting Knight? Sure, in his seven games. Carlos Quentin was on the club, but he was rehabbing and got into just a dozen games with the club. As for the rest of them ... Well, you can see for yourself, but with the exception of Quentin, Beckham might well have been the most talented hitter, that season anyway, in the whole bunch.

If Beckham's the best hitter on his current team, though, it sure has taken him a long time to get there. While he hit reasonably well as a rookie in 2009, he entered 2013 with a .245/.312/.382 line in 535 major-league games. Which was actually sorta awful. Maybe Hawk's right, though. Beckham's 806 OPS currently leads the hitting-starved White Sox.

But it'll take more than 42 games to convince me that Beckham's finally achieved his Hawk-ordained destiny.

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