Less is more with Hawk and DJ

Published: 9/7/2007 12:19 AM

A funny thing happened on my way to doing an intent analysis of White Sox TV announcers Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and Darrin Jackson this week: a 1-2-3 inning.

And not just a 1-2-3 inning, but a quick 1-2-3 inning. In looking previously at their Sox radio counterparts Ed Farmer and Chris Singleton, then their Cubs TV counterparts Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, in both cases I transcribed pages of dialogue from a randomly selected half-inning.

But the Sox' top of the seventh Tuesday night in Detroit produced just over a single legal sheet of remarks by Hawk & DJ on WCIU Channel 26. I could almost run the whole thing in its entirety and leave it at that.

Yet that only serves to underscore the brevity that makes this a fine baseball play-by-play TV team. Hawk has a reputation for being loquacious, for his distinctly Southern flair for language, and his skill at creating nicknames. But more than any other TV announcer in town, Hawk has a tendency to let the visuals tell the story and just step back. Here he is with leadoff man Jerry Owens:

"Jerry is oh-for-three. He's grounded to short, grounded to first, and then he hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Outfield slightly to the left, gap in right-center."

Then Zach Miner slips a called third strike across the inside corner and Harrelson says absolutely nothing -- until the replay.

"Right there, with a lot of tail on that fastball right back to the plate."

He lets the visuals tell the obvious, then adds his own analysis -- or not. When Josh Fields followed with an out, Harrelson said nothing but to add, "Two down." Jim Thome came next. "Softly hit," Harrelson said with a rare underline of the action, "as Polanco is there, and they get him. 1-2-3 for Miner. That didn't take long. Seventh-inning stretch, Sox by two."

Now, a couple of things.

First, Hawk has been known to be terse when things go wrong with the Sox, and a lot has gone wrong with this year's team. But he has also lambasted them when they've deserved it. On the other side, he was utterly silent for much of the final inning of Mark Buehrle's no-hitter earlier this season. Hawk can talk, and he clearly likes to talk, but I think given his druthers he'd let producer-director Jim Angio tell the story and just watch.

Secondly, I think DJ, having done some play-by-play the previous inning, was out of the booth for at least part of the frame, so I'm going to continue on to the bottom half, where Hawk & DJ, both being ex-hitters, indulged in their penchant for umpire criticism, albeit with reserve.

"Where was that pitch?" Hawk asks of a Garland curve, then adds, "Hanging outside."

"One thing," Jackson says, "Tim Welke has not had many questionable calls tonight."

"No, he's had a good, solid game," Hawk adds, almost with a note of disappointment in his voice.

Even when they go off on tangents, they tend to stick with the game and the team.

Hawk: "Boy, it was nice to see the performance by Jose Contreras on Sunday against Cleveland."

DJ: "Well, Jose winning his last two starts. Hasn't done that all year long. So it's started something good, as he's talking to the right-hander Gavin Floyd," with Angio showing a shot of them in the dugout.

Hawk: "Downstairs. One and two the count. I didn't know Gavin spoke Spanish."

DJ: (Chuckles.) "Yeah, Jose's English is just perfect."

I know a lot of Sox fans loved the way Harrelson and Steve Stone interacted while Jackson was out on paternity leave last month, but DJ actually fits quite well with Harrelson.

Where the Hawk seems to deliberately try to rein himself in by allowing silence now and then, DJ seems naturally taciturn, with a deceptively dry wit. He brings out qualities in Harrelson no one else would. As a partner of several years now, he's definitely an improvement on Tom Paciorek, and that's worth a note in itself.

Paciorek was an ebullient player who seemed a natural to go into broadcasting, but over the years he and Hawk fell into bad habits -- a glib good cheer and an over-reliance on catch phrases -- and only got worse. DJ had some rough spots coming in, but Hawk has only revived and improved with him as a partner. This is a good team, idiosyncratic and yet not too much so, reserved in spots, but never to the point of blandness. If they're not the best in town right now -- and it's hard to be good with a team so bad -- they're nowhere near the worst either.

I'll do the Cubs' Pat Hughes and Ron Santo later this month, then grade all the teams at the end of the season. And if I'm spotting Hughes and Santo an advantage in judging them during games of high drama, well, I'm also giving Santo the opportunity to deliver another classic "Oh no!" moment like when Brant Brown dropped that fly in Milwaukee nine years ago.

In the air

Remotely interesting: Wednesday night's Cubs game with the Dodgers produced the highest ratings of the season on WGN Channel 9. The 11 local Nielsen meant more than 350,000 households tuned in, or a 19.2 percent share of the viewing audience. It topped last Thursday's Cubs game with the Brewers, which drew a 10.7/18. Cubs ratings are up about 25 percent since the all-star break. … Pat Foley will return as the voice of the Wolves for their games carried on Comcast Cable this season.

Ryan Chiaverini plays host to "The Chicago Huddle" debuting at 11:05 p.m. Saturday on WLS Channel 7. … WPWR Channel 50 is picking up the NFL Network's "Total Access" previewing the weekend's games. It airs at 8 p.m. Saturday. … Comcast SportsNet Chicago will do a post-game show for each Bears game this season, starting at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday. "Bears Recap" will review the game at 5 p.m. Monday. "Bears Blitz" scouts the upcoming opponent at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Muhsin Muhammad appears on the weekly "Countdown to Kickoff" at 11 p.m. Thursday. … The NFL is offering a package of games and highlights for purchase on Apple's iTunes. … ESPN2 and Univision's WGBO Channel 66 will both carry the U.S.-Brazil soccer game at Soldier Field at 3 p.m. Sunday.

End of the dial: Dan McNeil's afternoon show with John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz has extended to five hours starting at 2 p.m. weekdays on WMVP 1000-AM. …

Loyola's men's basketball games will air on either WYLL 1160-AM or WIND 560-AM this season.

-- Ted Cox