Visiting old pal Tom Cheek’s grave
* Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek when he was presented the Jack Graney award in 2001. ….
By Bob Elliott
CLEARWATER, Fla. _ Good morning Thomas.
Man, it was foggy on the drive to Sunset Point Road and Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park.
First things first as I stand here in front of the grey bench marked CHEEK: congratulations.
Having spoken at Doubleday Field, I was a tad pushy when I ran into Ford C. Frick award winners during the playoffs.
I asked about your chances and Thomas, I didn’t get very encouraging responses from three broadcasters.
“When are you guys ever going to honour Tom Cheek? You know he belongs,” I said not trying to be too arrogant.
Reactions were not good:
“It’s going to be tough for Tom,” said one.
“Naw, I don’t think so, he really didn’t do enough national broadcasts,” said another.
The third wrinkled his face and walked away.
I was seated in the back row of press room at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville in December when someone came up and said “hear about Tom?”
That was the day you finally were honoured by the 21-man voting Frick committee.
I spoke to Saint Shirley that night and man is Shirley a trooper, handling every question with grace and ease. And I held it together for the most part.
That night I was on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt — you remember him, he used to be at the Globe — we were talking about you and all of a sudden I broke down.
“Dang phones in Nashville,” I manage to mumble.
That’s the affect your winning the award had on me, tears of happiness.
That’s how happy all your pals like Cito Gaston, Jeff Ross, Buck Martinez, Jerry Howarth and Bruce Brenner were.
That’s how excited the women who used to work at The Fan — Vicki McKee and Sue Cutajar — were phoning Shirley in tears.
It would have been better had you won in 2005 your only year on the ballot before passing, but as a member of the late Ron Santo’s family told me last July in Cooperstown: “better late … than not at all.”
I phoned announcers to ask about you winning and reached two of the three guys who down played your chances against Montreal’s Jacques Doucet, Minnesota’s John Gordon, Texas’s Eric Nadel, Mike Shannon of St. Louis and Dewayne Staats of Tampa Bay among the 10 finalists.
Two said “I had Tom No. 1 on my list,” so I asked why they hadn’t told me.
“You expect ME to tell a writer how I’m going to vote,” replied one. “Broadcasters don’t trust writers.”
Alan Ashby, Don Chevrier and Mike Wilner were on the secondary list of 41 voters. Thomas you have no idea how much work Wilner did on your behalf.
Ashby has returned to his home in Houston, except his Astros have switched leagues.
I notice you have a new neighbor in Claude K. Brannan, who wasn’t there last spring. The plaque on his tombstone reads that Branan was part of the 7th Infantry which helped liberate France during World War II.
I remember your father, also named Tom, was a hero as a pilot in the Battle of Midway, knocking down three Zeroes. His damaged plane crashed into the barrier on the Yorktown while landing.
Oh how proud you were that night we were in Baltimore when you told me about the reception at the White House to honour your father and other pilots.
Thomas your old team had a great winter when it came to adding players, but we both know no one wins in December.
Still, I’ve have not seen this much excitement surrounding the Jays since the spring of 1994 coming off back-to-back World Series wins, looking for a third.
Before Cooperstown are the Canadian Hall of Fame inductions in St. Marys and you’ll join Allan Simpson, founder of Baseball America as the only two media members to be inducted.
Jerry will be speaking too, he won the Jack Graney award. He asked me for help with his speech but I refused. Just kidding, as I was when I told him “chairs are for players,” when I saw him sitting talking in the clubhouse this morning.
Right now in Cooperstown at the Scribes and Mikemen exhibit is a 6-by-7 1/2 inch photo of me. On the other side of the wall is Tim McCarver of FOX. Yours will go up soon.
Someone suggested asking that the two hang together for one day, before I’m go amongst the yearly award in a 4-by-4 square. Two Toronto guys … but it would be impossible to take a picture of the two sides of the wall anyway.
Have spoken to Shirley and guess she rented a house five minutes from the Hall for Jeff and Lisa, while Tom Jr. wants to camp in Cooperstown. Shirley said 47 blood relatives are coming.
Shirley doesn’t know if she’ll do the speech or she’ll share.
You make sure you get a front row set to watch it all.
It’s going to be a great weekend.
Plenty of Jays fans will be there to cheer you.