As the ennui of the Hawk Harrelson-Steve Stone era set in over the years, I listened to other broadcasts and became a fan of the rotating analyst (see this post from 2015 about Oakland and Eric Chavez). A different voice every series seemed like it stood the best chance of keeping broadcasts and on-air relationships from going stale.
Even with Stone being far more valuable to a broadcast with Jason Benetti setting him up, I’m still a fan of bringing in another voice or two into the mix over the course of the season. On Sunday, Paul Konerko delivered what I had in mind.
In today’s column for The Athletic, I claimed that Konerko was the best broadcast partner Harrelson has ever had. Is that an intentional overstatement? Sure, because 1990s Tom Paciorek was immensely entertaining and covered for Harrelson’s sharp edges while keeping his bombast intact. But 2010s Paciorek can’t pull Harrelson out of his funks, snits and rants nowadays, as they both fall into “kids these days” modes, while Konerko, making his broadcast debut, somehow solved the problem that had plagued Sox broadcasts for the last decade. If you adjust for the era, it might not be such an outlandish argument after all.
Just like his playing days, Konerko must’ve spent plenty of time in the video room honing his approach. When Harrelson came at him with one sabermetrics rant, he defused it with an answer to the one similar James Fegan relayed from Konerko about the state of the game. When Harrelson then presented his Moneyball diatribe the next inning, Konerko pulled off his bit of wizardry:
At any rate, Harrelson opened the bottom of the sixth assailing the movie at length the way he usually does, and this time Konerko didn’t get in his way. The broadcast’s genial vibe was in jeopardy as Harrelson fumed, “When I first heard they were coming in with this, I told DJ – [Darrin Jackson] was my partner at the time – I told him, I said, ‘DJ, this is going to get a lot of good baseball people fired. And it has.’”
He was interrupted by Moncada’s fly ball to right.
And then a miracle.
“You touched on DJ,” Konerko said. “One of the things I wanted to ask you was, you know, talking about you getting into broadcasting. You spent a lot of time with Tom Paciorek, Wimpy, up here. Tell me about…”
Konerko did it. He cracked the code. From my couch, I cheered that pivot louder than any of the White Sox’s three homers. After years of broadcasts being at the lowercase mercy of Harrelson’s moods, somebody solved the problem by saying, “Hey, let’s talk about this instead.”
And it wasn’t the only masterful pivot of the day, either:
my favorite part was when Hawk was talking about aggressive Latin hitters, and Paulie immediately said “I think all young hitters are aggressive"
— A Broken Fan (@WriteSox) August 19, 2018
If you took Konerko’s lines from the transcript and sprinked in “, Grandpa,” here and there, you can kinda get what he was going for, and it worked. He steered Harrelson from getting too deep into hazard territory, and took it upon himself to relay information about modern players while getting Harrelson to tell stories about his broadcast career. It was the balance of old and new Harrelson broadcasts lacked, and it kept Harrelson primed for the game’s big moments.
He also wasn’t bad at pausing his thoughts to relay what he saw on the screen — praising Adalberto Mondesi for a nice ranging play at shortstop, or calling Don Cooper his crossword mentor when he showed up on the screen, to name a couple. My chief concern about Konerko as an analyst was whether he’d be able to shape his paragraph-long thoughts to fit around the action and between innings, and that really wasn’t an issue.
Konerko joked during the broadcast that he had a bunch of baseball thoughts stored up after years away from microphones, and perhaps the one-shot deal of it explains why he had so much to offer. Maybe he’s more John Paciorek than Tom Paciorek, content to go 3-for-3 with two walks in a game and call it a career with the highest possible OBP. However, if the Sox were interested in exploring the Chavez route with recently minted ex-players who have fresher insights about the league and its players, Konerko might be a good place to start. In two weeks, we’ll find out how the guy next to him compares:
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 19, 2018