With the news of Hawk Harrelson retiring after the 2018 season, after nearly three decades as the White Sox play-by-play man, I decided to use this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday” as a moment to look back at one of the greatest examples of just how much Hawk loved the Chicago White Sox.
No stranger to calling games for a team that has seen limited success during his tenure, Hawk Harrelson is all too familiar with some of the flack that the media dishes out towards the White Sox and their fan-base, but there was one former local reporter in particular who really loved to dish it out to the organization and the fan-base. Jay Mariotti was a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 17 years before taking his tired act on the road for various outlets outside of Chicago.
During his tenure covering Chicago sports, Mariotti always seemed to let it fly when talking or writing about Chicago White Sox Chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf. Finally, at SoxFest in 2004, Hawk told fans in attendance that Mariotti was, “the biggest sports fraud.” Hawk went on to say that Mariotti, “wouldn’t know a good or bad team if he saw one . . . In six or seven years, I’ve never seen him in the clubhouse.”
The comments from Hawk sparked a feud between the two that lasted for months, with both Hawk and Mariotti firing back and forth at one another through telecasts and print before finally the feud reached a boiling point in July of the 2004 season, when the two nearly came to blows during a match-up between the White Sox and Twins in the Hubert H. Humphrey Dome, the former home of the Minnesota Twins.
Prior to their confrontation at the Metrodome, Mariotti slammed Hawk and the White Sox in response to Hawks original comments.
“Now that official team puppet Hawk Harrelson has targeted me as Osama Sox Laden–the one and only reason why the ballmall is obsolete, the fan base is shrinking and bad drunks rush the field and attack people–allow me to use my almighty powers in a more productive manner.”
Mariotti often referred to Harrelson as “[Chairman Jerry] Reinsdorf’s shameless mouthpiece.”
But Mariotti crossed the line one too many times in Hawk’s eyes after he compared the then U.S. Cellular Field to a “state penitentiary” after a scuffle in the stands between fans during a previous game. Calling the White Sox fans “drunks” and even comparing them to the father and son that infamously ran onto the field and attacked former Kansas City Royals’ first base coach, Tom Gamboa.
Prior to a match-up between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox at the Metrodome in July of 2004, Hawk, and former broadcast partner Darrin Jackson were on their way to the TV booth in the tight corridors of the old Metrodome when Harrelson allegedly bumped into Jay Mariotti who was sitting in a chair in the back row of the press box, the route that one would have to take to get from the hallway to the TV booth, talking on his cell phone at the time.
Of course Harrelson said that he simply “brushed” past the chair, and wasn’t aware that Mariotti was sitting in the chair, while Mariotti claims that Harrelson “rammed into him.”
After Mariotti shouted to Harrelson to “watch where you’re going!”, the incident became heated. After the two took turns screaming insults back and forth across the press box, Mariotti rose from his chair and according to witnesses in the box told Hawk, “I ought to clock you right now.”
Witnesses claimed that Mariotti was within four inches of Hawk’s face when he made the threat to the then 62-year old Harrelson. After tough guy (insert heavy sarcasm here) Jay Mariotti threatened to batter a senior citizen, the “Hawk-a-roo” wasn’t phased and simply told Mariotti, “You do what you’ve got to do, Jay.”
The feud simmered with occasional jabs between the two for the remainder of the 2004 season before blowing over, and Mariotti eventually leaving the Chicago market.
The incident at the Metrodome, and the feud in particular only cements one of the reasons why White Sox fans will always love the Hawk, his unwavering love of the franchise and it’s fans, and while fans had to read Mariotti’s regular attacks of the White Sox and their fan-base, Harrelson was having none of it in 2004.
After Mariotti allegedly threatened to batter Harrelson that season, Mariotti claimed that the feud was a result of a “war” with the White Sox led by Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, citing “10-15” times that he was confronted by members of the organization and its fan-base in an attempt to “ruin” Mariotti’s radio career in Chicago.
Mariotti’s sob-story aside, the old “Hawk-a-roo” wasn’t taking no crap from the one-time embattled columnist, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let the fans take crap either.