* Tony Kubek during his acceptance speech after winning the Ford C. Frick award in 2009. .... MLB, Brewers open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2013 Canadians in College Letters of Intent
Tom Cheek: On HOF War Horses Ted Williams, Early Wynn
RationaL: A Swing and a Belt
By Bob Elliott
TV Labatt had a planning meeting headed by John Hudson, with on-air talent Tom Cheek and Tony Kubek, after selling a handful of Blue Jays games to Super Channel in 1982.
Kubek remembers the first meeting going like this:
Cheek: “What do you want me to do Tony?”
Kubek: “No, Tom I should be asking you, what you want me to do? The most important part of any broadcast is the play-by-play man. Do the same thing on TV as you did on radio. You are THE guy. You get us on the air. You get us off the air. I’m the analyst ... I can make things up. Tom you can’t make stuff up.”
Cheek is this year’s Ford C. Frick winner for excellence in broadcasting. His wife Shirley will accept the award at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown eight days from now on Saturday July 27.
Peter Bavasi’s hire of Kubek, the former New York Yankees shortstop, gave the expansion Jays instant credibility in 1977. Kubek worked Wednesday games on CTV, the NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon and Jays games on Sundays.
Kubek was a Jays broadcaster from 1977-to-1989 before signing a five-year deal with the Yankees.
“Tom was very uncomfortable on TV, radio was built into him,” said Kubek, Thursday. “Dewayne Staats (his partner as MSG in New York) one of the most accurate guys I ever worked with, was another.”
Kubek was at the cottage on Smoke Lake, Mich., with wife Margaret enjoying the good wife with three of their six grand children, a short drive from their home in Appelton, Wisc.
In 2009, Kubek was presented the Frick award, giving him a vote in future elections and “every year since I’ve had Tom Cheek No. 1 on my top 10 list on the ballot.”
Like any election process lobbying exists.
Hall of Famers called Kubek.
Guys with hyphenated titles from different networks called.
Massive P.R. packages from clubs promoting broadcasters arrived in the mail.
The message was the same: “vote for our guy.”
“It didn’t matter if was a friend, Tom was first,” said Kubek, never described as Cheek’s best friends, yet the former Yankee knew deserving talent.
Kubek golfed with Cheek all of once, in Cleveland, with borrowed clubs riding in Ernie Whitt’s cart.
“I was on the TV side, he was on the radio side,” said Kubek, “Tom was a professional, a good guy, a family man, whether he was knocked or loved by fans, he was who he was during the presentation. He was not a phony. You can be a phony on the air and get away with it for a while.”
Cheek worked longer than ‘a while,” as he had a 27-year, 4,306 consecutive-game streak until June of 2004 when he had surgery to remove a brain tumor. The next year he inducted to the Level of Excellence at the Roger Centre.
“Wish I had been there,” said Kubek, who called Cheek and said Cheek was upbeat and appreciative of the call despite chemotherapy treatments.
Then, Kubek called Cooperstown and Jeff Idelson, who he knew from their days in New York, then the commissioner’s office (“Bud Selig and I grew up in the same town, but I was from the other side of town in Milwaukee”) asking that some kind of tribute be done before Cheek passed away.
Cheek died Oct. 9.
“Tom had a hard core group of fans, people that went through tough years, the Roy Hartsfield era, the 100-loss seasons, the old ball park and then ... for the franchise to reach those monumental achievements,” Kubek said. “I don’t think fans were turned off by Tom. I think when the game ended, they thought ‘you know what? I’m tuning in again tomorrow at game time.’”
With his NBC job Kubek, perhaps the hardest working, most informed national broadcaster I’ve ever heard, knew every voice in every booth from his travels.
“Everyone has an ego but Tom didn’t wear it on his sleeve, Tom got along with co-workers, not like some guys who try to run their partners out of the booth at the end of the year,”
When Kubek would fly into Toronto he’d ask the limo driver to put on the ball game. Aside from those few games on Super Channel that was when Kubek heard Cheek.
“Tom came across as a Blue Jays fan, but not an over-the-top homer, not obnoxious like some,” he said. “Tom was more than a good voice, he passed the test of time, survived bad times and enjoy good times with the franchise.”
And soon Cheek’s picture will hang where it belongs ... in Cooperstown.