Jon Miller: Cheek gave you the game

* Jon Miller, San Francisco Giants broadcaster and 2010 Ford C. Frick winner in 2010, says Tom Cheek is a worthy winner of the 2013 award. .... MLB, Brewers open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent


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By Bob Elliott

What makes an excellent radio play-by-play man?

Jon Miller says you have to give people the game.

“Listeners can’t be left frustrated on a play, not knowing where the ball went,” said the San Francisco Giants broadcaster. “It’s not ‘a ball into the gap’ ... did the ball go all the way to the wall?

Tom Cheek gave you the game. It wasn’t the good guys vs. bad guys. It was The Game.”

Miller said with Cheek’s voice of authority whatever he said was gospel, going so far as to day Cheek could have done U.S. evening news.

“Like Walter Cronkite, Tom had classic, stentorian tones,” said Miller the Ford C. Frick award in 2010.

Shirley Cheek accepts the same award Saturday in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Covering the Texas Rangers in 1978, was the first time the two met. Miller broadcast Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles games before joining the Giants and ESPN, often joked about a 1-for-1 deal.

“I would kid Tom after they SkyDome opened, he should take the Baltimore job, it was a great opportunity as an American, while I’d take care of things in Toronto,” Miller said. “I enjoyed Toronto, it’s one of the great cities in North America.

“Mind you I never wanted to make the trade when the Jays were at Exhibition Stadium.”

Actually there was serious discussion about Cheek joining the O’s. Baltimore had an opening and with Interbrew taking over the Jays, Miller called Cheek, who had not signed for the next season.

“Tom was a little flustered he had not been re-upped, but he was confident they would, I told him we’d love to have him in Baltimore,” said Miller.

Eventually both men agreed it was best for Cheek to stay and for the club to gets its act together and re-sign him. Miller reasoned it was a great gig for Cheek, like broadcasters Bob Murphy (New York Mets), Dave Van Horne (Montreal Expos) and Dave Niehaus (Seattle Mariners): “see the first pitch, see it all and become a walking, breathing history of the organization.”

In those early years Cheek’s partner was Hall of Famer Early Wynn. Miller described Cheek as affable and sociable, while Wynn was a character.

After a day game Miller’s plane landed in Toronto, he took a limo downtown, put on the Jays game on and Wynn was at the mike.

“Early says ‘John Mayberry at the plate, runner on third, they’re setting their defence for a squeeze. This is big John, he’s not a bunter, big John won’t bunt,’” recalls Miller and then the call. “Here’s the pitch, here’s comes the runner -- I was WRONG! -- Mayberry squares.”

Known his hilarious impressions of Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Bob Sheppard and Harry Kalas, the funniest man to enter a booth, recalls a banquet in London, featuring Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Willie Stargell and Dennis Hull, with Cheek as MC.

Miller did an impression of Tom and Jerry broadcasting, except ...

Howarth’s voice was that of the Underdog carton character, whose voice was comedian Wally Cox: “there’s no need to fear ... Jesse Barfield is here.”

Cheek’s voice sounded like Rev. Jerry Falwell: “we really wanna keep these broadcasts on the air for you good people ... George Bell fouls a ball off to our right ... so please send your cheques to Tom and Jerry.”

When competing stations began using out-of-market highlights Miller heard Cheek’s call of a Bernie Williams game clinched a New York Yankees win at the SkyDome on New York radio.

“The crowd went quiet,” Miller said “the announcer ripped Tom for being a homer, said he sounded like he was at a funeral.”

Miller told Cheek the story at the next Orioles-Jays meeting. Cheek replied “bad enough that they use your call and don’t pay you, but they use it and rip you ... that’s hard to take,”

The 1993 season was over for the O’s so Miller and his wife were in Hawaii at World Series time when games were shown on tape delay. Miller turned on TV to see the Jays losing 14-9 in Game 4 and saw “the most impressive, fastest rally ever, it seemed like eight minutes,” as the Jays scored six in the eighth on 31 pitches for a 15-14 win.

Three days later walking down Waikiki he saw on TV (without sound) Joe Carter’s home run. Back at the hotel he heard Cheek’s call.

“I was in awe, that’s the greatest call: “touch em all Joe ...” It was clear, concise and not only captured the moment, but the guy who hit it,” said Miller. “It was interesting to read his wife explain years later he was making sure Carter touched the base because he was jumping.”

Cheek underwent surgery on June 12, 2004 to remove a brain tumor. When the home stand against the Arizona Diamondbacks was over, the Jays flew the San Francisco for an inter-league series.

“Jerry was distraught, the whole entourage was sad about Tom, shell shocked,” said Miller. “Jerry asked me to go over and help out in the booth, my partner Dave Fleming did the same.”

It was a sad time.

This weekend is time to recall the good times.