|Jason Benetti (left) has been added to the White Sox broadcast team.|
Benetti, 32, will call 81 games alongside Stone this season. The local product grew up as a White Sox fan and has called college basketball, football, baseball and lacrosse at ESPN since 2011. He also previously served as the radio play-by-play man for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
"Jason is one of the top up-and-coming voices in sports television," White Sox vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer said in a news release. "He is a homegrown talent who will mix a love for the game with a deep knowledge of the White Sox and an informative and entertaining style. We believe Sox fans will immediately connect with his humor, intellect and personality."
"Joining the White Sox television team of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone -- with the chance to work with Steve on home games -- is truly a dream come true for a kid who grew up in the south suburbs watching Sox games during the 1990s," Benetti said in the release. "This is beyond exciting for me."
The 74-year-old Harrelson will begin a reduced schedule this year. Like Benetti, "Hawk" will work 81 games, 78 of them on the road, plus Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field and the two home games against the Cubs.
I like the move to bring Benetti on board for a few reasons. First, he's a professional broadcaster. He already knows his way around a broadcast booth, and he has earned this opportunity through his previous work. Those things seem like they should be a prerequisite for the job, but that's not always been the case with the White Sox -- who have inexplicably tried to force former players into the booth in the past. Darrin Jackson has improved through the years, but he really struggled when he first started with the team. And Chris Singleton's time in the Sox radio booth was a disaster. With Benetti, there shouldn't be any sort of learning curve that makes the broadcasts an awkward listen. He'll be ready to do the job from day one.
Secondly, Benetti is a guy who grew up in the area, so he's familiar with White Sox history, the Chicago market and the fan base. That institutional knowledge can only help as he works to build a connection with the fans in his first year. I'm optimistic his broadcasts will both entertain and inform, regardless of whether the White Sox are winning or losing. Too often, the Harrelson-Stone TV booth has had fans reaching for the mute button -- if not the off button -- in recent years. Benetti hopefully can provide a change of pace that makes Sox baseball more fun.
And, lastly, I think the reduced schedule will be beneficial for Hawk Harrelson. He has sounded terrible at times during these past few seasons, perhaps beaten down by the Sox losing a total of 264 games the last three years. His extension is a multiyear deal, but he admitted this could be his last year if the 2016 Sox stink it up.
"It’s a contract, that, as I told [Brooks Boyer] and [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], it might be at the end of the season where I say 'Hey, I’ve had enough,' " Harrelson told the Sun-Times Wednesday. "I hope that’s not the case because that means our team didn’t do well again. If I have to go through another season like we did last year, that would probably be enough -- no, you can count me out."
Hawk has been a polarizing figure throughout his career, even for Sox fans, but I've always said this about him: He's great when the team is doing well, because his passion for Sox baseball shines through on the broadcasts. But when the team is doing poorly, as has been the case for three years, he becomes completely miserable and makes the broadcasts hard to listen to for even the most diehard of fans. I think the combination of bad play and grumpy Hawk has caused a lot of people to change the channel away from Sox baseball.
Hopefully, the Sox play well this year, and it all becomes a moot point. But if they do play poorly, it will be better for Hawk's health and demeanor if he doesn't have to watch the team flounder every day, and it will be more tolerable for fans if they don't have to listen to Hawk grump every day.