Tom Cheek had his loyal backers
* Tom Cheek moved into the book alongside Ernie Harwell and all the other broadcasting greats when he was named the 2013 Ford C. Frick award winner ….
By Bob Elliott
NASHVILLE – Tom Cheek always had backers when it came to the Ford C. Frick Award. And on Wednesday, they were happy backers …
“I’m so happy the Frick Award is going to Tom. He’s been at the top of my ballot the last two years. Tom’s career was off and running after he joined the Montreal Expos. Tom and I remained friends until his passing. Tom, Buck Martinez, Duke Snider, Tommy Hutton and I all worked playoff and World Series games for Telemedia Sports Network (radio) when Telemedia had Canadian broadcast rights in the early ‘80s.”
— Former Frick winner Dave Van Horne, Florida.
“I can now say publicly I voted for Tom. It’s a shame he’s not around to enjoy it, but I’m sure his family will. Our paths crossed rarely, Tom working the AL, me the NL. What I know, however, when we did meet I came away with the certainty that Tom was a man who was blessed with the ability to broadcast well the toughest game of all but, more importantly, was a man who treated everyone the same. In our vernacular, he never “big-leagued” anybody. The combination of talent and class over all the years he did Jays baseball will be a legacy that will be hard to beat. Tom is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the words.”
— Former Frick winner Marty Brennaman, Cincinnati.
“I’m thrilled, Tom Cheek was extremely professional, his love for the game came through during his broadcasts. Blue Jays baseball was not baseball without Jerry Howarth and Tom.”
— Jays’ Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick.
“Since the inception of the Jays he played a vital role in promoting baseball in Canada in an extraordinary and enduring way. Tom Cheek was the constant. He was a model of consistency, professionalism and excellence. He was the voice of summer, professional but passionate with a tone we could trust and embrace. Tom provided the sound track for many of the important moments in this team’s history, with his choice of words and intonation always perfectly suited for the occasion. It is a tremendous recognition for Tom and his family.”
— Jays president Paul Beeston.
“Bruce Brenner (Cheek’s good friend and former engineer) phoned me with the news. Tom and I golfed together, we rode buses together, we rode planes together from 1982 to 1997. Of all the guys with the organization I spend more time with Jeff Ross (equipment man) and Tom. I can’t wait to call Shirley. I’m waiting until my wife Lynda gets home so them we can both get on the line. We all loved him. It’s so good so many media guys pushed for him all these years.”
— Former Jays manager Cito Gaston.
“After a day of golf, that night at the game, Tom, was smiling as widely as I’d ever seen him smile. So, naturally, I asked: “’Why so happy?’ He said with another grin: ‘I just got into Cito’s wallet!’ He had sunk a birdie putt on 18 to win. It was very moving for me in 1992 to see an emotional, Tom Cheek, crying throughout the night celebrating in Atlanta, both in the clubhouse and later that night at the team hotel, knowing that this franchise, his baby from 1977, had developed into World Series champions. A night I’ll always remember.”
— Jerry Howarth, Cheek’s partner in the broadcast booth from 1981-2004, who has now worked more games.
“Since the World Series ended, I’ve probably only watched Tom’s call of the home run … 3,000 to 4,000 times. It’s an awesome call. Every where I go people say: ‘Touch ‘em all, Joe.’ He was telling like he saw.”
— Joe Carter.
“A lot of people called or sent emails. Broadcasters from other teams like Joe Castiglione of the Boston Red Sox, people who worked with Tom, Susan Cutajar and Vicki McKee, both were crying. Jerry Howarth called of course, plus Paul Williams. I spoke to Cito and the calls are still coming.”
— Shirley Cheek.
“He absolutely loved the Blue Jays. He taught me well, he got the Jays going across Canada and was proud of that. With all that’s going on with the organization right now, this fits — you know he’s watching, smiling, happy about his ball club.”
— Jays broadcaster and former catcher and manager Buck Martinez.
“I can still hear in my heart the many highlights of Tom’s radio call. From Bill Singer’s first pitch in the snow, to Dave Stieb’s no-hitter in Cleveland, to caravans across the country. He loved talking baseball but he loved even more talking Blue Jays baseball. This is an honour richly deserved and I look forward to the celebration in Cooperstown in July.”
— Gord Ash, Milwaukee Brewers assistant GM.
“It’s a great day for Toronto, for Tom and his family. Growing up in Montreal, I didn’t get the games on radio, when it came to the Blue Jays we thought of Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez on TSN. One of my first trips with the team we were in the lobby in Baltimore and Tom came down and said he felt tired. I thought of my father, when he passed. But this is amazing news for Canadian baseball fans.”
— Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos
“I played a number of games of golf with him when I was a coach. He was a wonderful guy. This honour was long overdue.”
— Jays manager John Gibbons.
“I knew when I saw the 416 area code on my phone, it was a Toronto call. And the only reason someone from Toronto would be calling would have been a reporter asking about Tom. People probably knew I told everyone for the past three years that they should vote for Tom. I got my Ford Frick 21 years ago, so younger guys ask me who I was voting for. He’s a great choice.
“Our ballot is two pages, rank your picks 1-through-10 and the second page is to include guys who should be on the ballot in the future. Before Tom was even on our ballot, I used to write his name on the second page. I had known Tom from West Palm Beach when I did the Braves and he was doing part-time work for the Expos in the 1970s. That’s how far we go back. I didn’t really help, he earned it himself. I am elated for Tom’s family.”
— Milo Hamilton, former Frick winner, Houston.
“Tom and I talked quite a bit his first year on the job. He tapped my brain, and soon found that there wasn’t anything there. He was very inquisitive about the job, dedicated to his craft. Towards the end of his career, he had that consecutive string of games. I was taking games off every few years. Tom was proud of his streak, but once, about three or four years before his streak ended, he told me: ‘I have very few regrets in my life, but one would be letting the streak go so long. Do you realize how many family things I missed?’ Weddings, high school functions only happen once. There are games every day. It was interesting that he came to that mindset.
“Tom was a nice guy, always on an up-kick, fun to be around. Our booth was beside his, separated by a glass wall and often we’d stand, lean out and talk. One night, Tom stands, my partner, Fred White, sees Tom standing, so he stands. They both lean out and no one says anything. Each thought the other had a gem. They both sat down. It was a funny incident.
“Tom was my No. 1 guy. It’s a shame he isn’t here to enjoy it. George Brett told me, when I went to Cooperstown, it would be four of the most memorable days of my life and the four fastest, so try to slow it down.”
— Denny Mathews, former Frick winner, Kansas City.
“In Game 3 of the 1992 World Series against Atlanta, Joe Carter homered. It didn’t get as much attention as the one the next year. But it was the first World Series homer hit in Canada. I was in the auxiliary press box in left. The ball hit behind me, rattled around and landed at my feet. I picked up the ball. After the game, I found Tom and we went into the clubhouse to find Joe. There was Joe watching a replay. I asked about what pitch he hit and if he got the ball? I stuck out my hand and gave it to him. Joe was excited but what I noticed was that Tom was happier seeing all this unfold.
“We started going to Toronto with ESPN when Bobby Cox was managing. Any time I sat down to talk with Jerry Howarth and Tom it struck me how they wanted to talk about the game, the team, the players or the city. Neither made it about themselves.”
— George Grande, who began working in New York in 1973, now in Cincinnati.