When the Slugger Came to Town

Indians fans are excited for the arrival of Edwin Encarnacion, but almost 50 years ago the arrival of another slugger created quite a stir among Indians fans...

Indians fans are looking forward to next season with great anticipation.  The playoffs are still fresh in their memory. The roster looks as good or better than last year. But the biggest reason for the excitement is the Indians signing of Edwin Encarnacion. He is considered a bona fide slugger still in his prime. Rarely, if ever, have the Indians acquired a position player with such a potential impact. But it isn't the first time.

Back in April of 1969 the Indians traded for Ken Harrelson of the Boston Red Sox. That was a big deal. It shook baseball even more then than Encarnacion signing with the Indians today. Those of you that know Ken Harrelson only as the old homer broadcaster for the White Sox need to be clued in. At one time, “The Hawk” was the flashiest and one of the most popular players in all of MLB.

Harrelson had originally been part of the Kansas City A's organization. But in 1967 his flamboyant persona and criticism of owner Charley Finley got him released. The Hawk became one of the first free agents and had multiple teams interested. The Red Sox were trying to replace Tony Conigliaro and had the cash, so they signed him (some things never change).

The Hawk and the Red Sox were a match made in heaven and his career really blossomed. He loved Boston and the fans loved him back. He usually batted fourth, right behind Carl Yastrzemski. 1968 turned out to be a career year for Harrleson when he hit 35 homers (13 game winners) and led the league with 109 RBI. He was an All Star and ended up placing third in the MVP vote.

While Harrelson was a very good player, the Hawk was a phenomenon. He went around in “mod” styled flashy clothes and bell-bottomed pants. He had the shades and long hair. If ever there was a player that symbolized the late sixties, it was the Hawk.

He was the interview everybody wanted. He was always good for a quote or an opinion. He also happened to be an excellent golfer and even won some tournaments in the off season. A song, “Don't Walk the Hawk” was written about him. He had his own Hawk trademark on his clothing line.

But early in the 1969 season the surprising trade was made with the Indians. The centerpiece in return to the Red Sox was a very good starting pitcher, Sonny Siebert.

Boston was shocked. Fans picketed outside Fenway. Harrelson was distraught and threatened to retire and become a professional golfer. There was such turmoil that a special meeting was held with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Indians President Gabe Paul and others. Eventually, the Indians sweetened his deal and Harrelson finally reported.

The Hawk was welcomed warmly in Cleveland. He was reunited with old friend manager Alvin Dark. He usually batted third in front of the anxiety plagued Tony Horton. Ken finished the season well for the Indians and wound up with 27 homers and 84 RBI, although he only batted .222.

The Hawk was still flying high in Cleveland as he had endorsement deals and even had a locally produced TV show called “The Hawks Nest”. His autobiography was published while he was in Cleveland.

But in spring training in 1970, Harrelson was sliding into second base and severely broke his leg. He was out most of that season. He tried making a comeback, but was unsuccessful. Ken Harrelson was done as a player after 1971. These days he can be seen as the crazy homer broadcaster you love to hate for the White Sox.

Whenever I see him on TV I think back to the days of the Hawk. When he was comparable to celebrities like Joe Namath, and as big as anybody in MLB.

Edwin Encarnacion may not be the celebrity that Ken Harrelson was, but he is a better ball player. We all think he can be an important part of this team. Plus, who knows? Maybe he can have his own TV show too.


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