* The finale of our series dedicated to Tom Cheek, 2013 Ford C. Frick winner. .... 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
By Bob Elliott
From Bill Singer to Terry Adams.
From Juan Acevedo, Jim Acker and Glenn Adams at one end of the alphabetical spectrum to Gary Woods, Chris Woodward and Eddie Zosky at the other.
And the 429 Blue Jays players in between.
Tom Cheek saw every pitch,
From Singer’s first pitch to Ralph Garr of the Chicago White Sox opening day April 7, 1977 at Exhibition Stadium to the Adams pitch Jermaine Dye lifted for a run-scoring fly ball in the bottom of the 11th June 3, 2004 in Oakland.
From first-year manager Roy Hartsfield to John Gibbons.
From 100-loss seasons to champagne-filled clubhouses in Atlanta and at SkyDome, not to mention American League East championships and AL Championship Series which seem so long ago ... 20 seasons.
Cheek was there when the Blue Jays hit the air waves in 1977, until June 2004 when his father died in Salinas, Calif. the Jays’ Cal Ripken as general manager Gord Ash used to call him was there for ...
_ 4,306 consecutive games.
_ 41 post-season games.
_ Home games after the streak ended and he underwent surgery for a brain tumor.
_ Spring training contests, the number varying each year.
_ Countless off-season, caravan stops.
_ And finally a cameo on opening day in 2005.
* * *
April 7, 1977
White Sox at Blue Jays
Top of First
First pitch: Bill Singer, Jays.
First batter: Ralph Garr, White Sox.
First fly ball: Alan Bannister, White Sox.
First ground out: Eric Soderholm, White Sox.
First home run: Richie Zizk, White Sox, first inning.
First double: Zisk, White Sox, second.
First strikeout: Ken Brett fans Jays John Scott.
Home run: Doug Ault.
First single: Gary Woods.
First stolen base: Woods.
First RBI-single: Pedro Garcia.
First ground ball out: Rick Cerone.
* * *
This was Cheek’s ninth year on the Ford C. Frick award ballot, he was only alive the first time.
A total of 21 voters have the power toe elect the Frick award winner, 16 former winners and five broadcast historians/columnists,
We spoke to 12, including:
_ Tony Kubek, from his cottage on Smoke Lake, which has one end in Wisconsin, the other in Michigan, the 2009 winner who did Blue Jays, Yankees and NBC games.
_ Jon Miller, San Franciscio Giants broadcaster, from the city by the bay, the 2010 winner.
_ Dave Van Horne, now of the Florida Marlins, the 2011 winner, who suggested that the Montreal Expos hire Cheek as a back-up announcer when Expos games were televised twice a week and should be in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
_ Jamie Jarrin, the 1998 winner who held the consecutive-game streak working for the Los Angeles Dodgers -- he’s still working.
_ Marty Brenneman, Cincinnati Red broadcaster, the Frick winner in 2000.
_ Denny Mathews, the long-time voice of the Kansas City Royals and 2007 winner,
_ Milo Hamilton, the former Houston Astros broadcaster who won in 1992,
_ Jerry Coleman, former voice of the San Diego Padres, the 2005 winner.
_ Vin Scully, the Dodgers gem, the 1992 a winner, who said: “Tom’s a worthy recipient of the Ford Frick award, a fulfilling definition of a great sports announcer. He was also a marvelous human being who had a tremendous effect on his audience.”
_ Bob Uecker, the Milwaukee Brewers announcer and the 2003 winner.
“When you talk about a guy like Tom Cheek, who did every game the Toronto Blue Jays ever played (until his father’s funeral), did Montreal games, did everything in Canada it seemed, and was one of the nicest guys I was ever around, you wish this would have happened while he was still alive,” said Uecker. “The one thing that always bothered me about the balloting was that Tom Cheek didn’t get in earlier.
“I’m really happy for his family and Toronto baseball fans and Canadian baseball fans who listened to Tom for all those years.”
Uecker called Cheek an “outstanding” broadcaster.
“He made some great calls on exciting hits and plays in games,” said Uecker, “he was a great family guy. I spent a lot of time around Tom and it’s one of the great memories in my broadcasting career.
“I give my congratulations on something that should have taken place a long time ago.”
_ Tim McCarver, of FOX-TV, who is in his final season.
_ Bob Wolff, the 1995 winner, who worked Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins games.
We missed Frick winners: Gene Elston, who did Houston Astros games and won in 2006, Joe Garagiola, the former NBC broadcaster and 1991 winner, Lon Simmons, the former Giants voice now living in Hawaii and 2004 winner and Felo Ramirez, the Marlins broadcaster who won in 2001,
We didn’t speak to the other voters Ted Patterson (historian), Curt Smith (historian), Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News) and Bob Costas (NBC). Voting member Stan Isaacs (formerly of New York Newsday) died in April.
We spoke to possible future Frick winners like Eric Nadel of the Texas Rangers and Tom Hamilton of the Cleveland Indians, Cheek’s partner Jerry Howarth, who has been in the booth from 1981-2013 and George Grande, who doubles as a Reds broadcaster and the nicest man in baseball.
We wrote that the powerful Rogers machine should begin vote Howarth lobby this fall even though he might not want it. But we were wrong there.
This year’s lobby should be a two-pronged approach: A) Jack Morris is in what his 15th and final year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballots and B) Howarth.
* * *
Cheek’s pals -- Cito Gaston, Gord Ash, Susan Cutajar, Pat Gillick, Bruce Brenner, Paul Williams, John Lowe, Jeff Ross, Gerald McGroarty, Dale Wilson, Mike Shaw and Mike Trenton -- told of his quirks and Cheekie’s “Cheekyisms” and day-one employee Howard Starkman who said in the early days you were like a rock star.
Oh how we wished we’d been there the day Brenner won the first annual Tom Cheek Invitational organized by Michael Firestone.
We spoke to Marnie Starkman, Daniel Joseph and Ryan Stone, of the Rogers Centre scoreboard crew who won an IDEA award (Information Display Entertainment Association) at a conference in Montreal.
We even spoke to our first hip-hop artist, RationaL, who recorded “Swing and a belt.”
And Cheek’s story of Wynn insulting Ted Williams on the field at Fenway Park, ruining his pre-game show is a beaut ... as was Cheek’s ideal way to get to the airport when in Manhattan, when he don’t have any bags.
* * *
Last Game of the streak
June 3, 2004
Blue Jays at Oakland A’s
Network Associates Coliseum
Bottom of 11th
Last pitch: Terry Adams, Jays.
Last batter: Jermaine Dye, A’s.
Last fly ball: Dye, scored Eric Brynes with winning run.
Last ground out: Scott Hatteberg, A’s.
Last home run: Rich Aurilia off Ted Lilly, sixth inning, Mariners (June 2).
Last double: Byrnes.
Last strikeout: Jason Frasor struck out Billy McMillon (10th inning).
Home run: Josh Phelps (June 2).
Last single: Eric Hinske.
Last stolen base: Hinske.
Last RBI-single: Reed Johnson.
Last ground ball out: Phelps.
A’s 2, Jays 1
WP-Chad Bradford (3-1), LP-Terry Adams (4-4)
Manager: Carlos Tosca.
Cheek saw 2,135 wins, 2,168 losses and three ties, as well as 41 post-season games and two World Series titles.
* * *
Jeff Ross, the boss of the Jays clubhouse and Cheek’s golfing partner, recalls a beautiful fall day in Florida as manager Cito Gaston, Ernie Whitt, Cheek and Ross on the first tee.
The long 162-game season was over.
The foursome could relax until February.
“It’s just the most beautiful fall day,” said Ross “and all of a sudden you hear Tom’s booming voice say ‘ROSS! What about the ozone layer?’”
* * *
Before the days of cell phones making a drive on a wet morning during spring training could mean an abrupt turn around to Dunedin for the Jays.
Kevin Malloy recalls the morning Cheek arrived at 7 am. The Jays were headed to Kissimmee to play the Houston Astros on a Sunday, a radio broadcast day.
“You guys still aren’t going over there are you?” Cheek asked.
He was told yes.
“You’re crazy, you know it’s going to rain,” Cheek insisted.
Hours later the Jays were taking batting practice when Cheek arrived behind the batting cage.
The always up beat travelling secretary John Brioux said “see Tom, we’re going to play, there’s no rain to worry about.”
Said Cheek: “Rain? I’m not worried by rain. This area is decimated by forest fires.”
* * *
TV producer Rick Briggs-Jude recalled the 1995 all-star break. Due to construction at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Jays played the final three games before the break against the A’s, all-star Robbie Alomar headed to the game in Arlington, Tex. and then returned to play the first game after the break in Oakland the next day. They then headed up the coast to Seattle.
Rather than fly to Toronto most TV people stayed on the coast and a round of golf at Pebble Beach was arranged.
“I don’t really golf that much and all of a sudden I hear this booming voice say “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” it was Tom,” said Briggs-Jude. “Then he sees Dan Shulman and in an even louder voice asks “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
* * *
Seated beside Cheek on a charter in 1989 the flight attendant delivered the food and Tom said in his loud voice: “ELLIOTT! I’m worried about a world potato shortage, this is three flights in a row we’ve had rice.”
* * *
We enjoyed stories which spun off to other people:
How Cheek’s original partner Early Wynn was fielding phone calls and someone asked “Early, how do you figure out an ERA.” Wynn answered “well, you’ve got your innings and your runs .... and ... hey I came on here to answer questions. I didn’t come on the radio to talk stats!”
Even in 1977 stats were an issue with some.
We never heard Wynn on radio, but spoke to him in 1990 after Nolan Ryan missed his first try at 300 ... and recall Wynn, who needed nine tries to get to 300 saying: “OK, go ahead I’ll talk, your call has ruined the only Andy of Mayberry episode I haven’t seen,” and at the end of the call Wynn saying he hoped Ryan would soon win his 300th.
Are you guys friends?
“Not really, but if he wins, then you writers will quit calling me.”
And we heard someone do an impression of a Wynn broadcast:
“The pitch ... (sound of the crack of the bat) ... (silence) ... (silence) ... (crowd roar) ... and Doug Ault slides in with a double.”
* * *
April 4, 2005
Jays vs. Tampa Ray
At Tropicana Field
Top of Fourth
Last batter: Eric Hinske strikes out on an 0-2 pitch.
Last fly ball: Shea Hillenbrand flied to right for second out.
Last ground out: Corey Koskie bounced to third.
Last home run: Vernon Wells on 1-2 pitch, three pitches after Orlando Hudson homered to give the Jays a 3-1 lead.
Last double: Frank Catalanotto off Dewon Brazelton.
Blue Jays 5, Devil Rays 2
WP-Roy Halladay, LP-Brazelton. S-Miguel Batista.
Manager: John Gibbons.
And there was plenty of reaction from Cheek fans ...
Great work on the Tom Cheek columns, Bob!!!! Very touching ... brought a few tears to my eyes ... but let’s keep that between us ... great columns.
That’s why you are a HOFer....
Loved the Cheek stuff. Brought back memories of my youth. Those were great days, going down on the subway to sit with 50,000 people to see the Royals on a Tuesday in May. Safe travels,
Congrats on Tom Cheek getting into the Hall Of Fame. Everybody talks about ‘93 and “Touch ‘em all Joe” but I remember this line from the ‘92 WS victory.
“There’s a huge pile of players celebrating. OH NO! Someone at the bottom of the pile might get hurt.”
Awesome coverage of Mr. Cheek’s induction into The Baseball Hall Of Fame and Ford Frick Award this week.
I remember as a young lad in Montreal hearing him call the odd Expos game when Dave Van Horne was off and then of course all those games behind the mike of the Blue Jays broadcasts over the years.
He was a huge part of the Blue Jays history and I’m glad that you gave him the coverage that he so rightly deserved this week, it is unfortunate that he was not here in person to accept.
I was born here in Toronto but lived in Montreal from 1974 to 1980, Gary Carter (still can’t believe he’s gone) and Thurman Munson (hard to believe it will be 34 years on Friday) being my favorite players.
Dave Van Horne and Mr. Cheek were my favorites to listen call a game.
Again, thank you for the great coverage of a legend in his field and thank you for your column in the Sun, here’s to the great game of baseball.
From my retired mother...
I always read your column in the SUN and especially enjoy the personal ones about the players and your contacts with them over the years.
I’m 87 1/2 years old and have loved the game for over 60 years. Being from Sault Ste Marie, the Detroit Tigers were my team and George Kell was my favorite player. Third base was his position if I remember correctly.
Your Sunday column about Tom Cheek was great, it brought back a lot of memories. One think I do want to say is that Jerry Howarth, Tom’s sidekick at one of the World Series’ games, was doing the play-by-play and I think it was when Joe Carter hit the home run and Jerry passed the mic to Tom to let him finish the inning.
Am I right about that?
What a class act from Jerry.
I’m miffed. I read your column from Cooperstown in the Saturday Sun and was surprised that you didn’t mention that a loyal fan had reminded you about Jerry Howarth’s world-class gesture on the night of October 24th, 1992 (incidentally, my oldest son’s birthday).
Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to send my reminders to Mike Rutsey from now on!
Just kidding, Bob, I still like your columns the best but in your picture in the Sun you look too serious.
I enjoyed your comments on Early Wynn. I especially enjoyed the impression of a Wynn radio broadcast. Occasionally, Early would insert words such “He catches it” or “ He throws”. You never knew who these players were.
The beauty of Tom Cheek was his ability to pause and not say anything for a moment or two. Baseball is not played in a rat-a-tat style. It is a game that has gaps in the play. It allows you to think about the next move or notice how the ground crew has prepared the field. Tom Cheek knew that. He watched the game as a fan would watch it and reported accordingly.
Jay fans were lucky to have him around.
Thanks bob for the write up on Tom’s work.
I am glad he finally in, when I was in Collingwood, I used to listen the games on radio him and Gerry.
The next guy will be Jerry. Thanks again bob. I will keep the write ups in my hall of fame downstairs.
If you come Kingston some time and we meet and you have time I show you my hall of fame downstairs.
My son set it up to keep an old guy busy, as I take care of my wife who is in a wheel chair.
My grandson loves football and is at the Christian Academy in Georgia. He hopes he gets an offer from Tennessee.
I can’t tell you hope much I have enjoyed the series on Tom Cheek.
As someone who was lucky enough to work with him ... Tom didn’t work for anyone, except his family ... I’m smiling at the memories you are bringing back.
He was a very special man ... and you are a very special writer.
I was listening to you on the Primetime Sports today and realized that you may be the perfect person to ask for some help with this. I have a story about Tom Cheek that I would like to share with his family. I tried using the Blue Jays website that was setup, but they have a very small limit, which allows only 2 or 3 sentences to be input.
Could you please forward the story below to either Tom’s wife or one of his children for me? I would truly appreciate it.
Thanks in advance for the help.
I hadn’t started watching the Blue Jays regularly until 1989, when I was a teenager. As a new fan, I often took my “Walkman” to the game to listen to the radio broadcast, hoping that I would learn about the game and the team from Tom and Jerry. I decided one afternoon that I wanted to learn more and wrote a letter to Tom, asking him if he could recommend any baseball books that would help my cause. I got a stamp and mailed the letter, hoping for a reply. Tom did one better.
One afternoon, our phone rang and my mom said, “There’s a call for you”. When I went to the phone, the voice on the other end was instantly recognizable. It was Tom Cheek. We talked about the Blue Jays and the history of the game for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. He gave me suggestions on a few books and as luck would have it, I found that list earlier this year and remembered our conversation fondly.
I thanked, Mr. Cheek for taking time for me and hung up, thinking, “What a great surprise. I just got a call from Tom Cheek”. My mom asked me, “Who was that”? When I told her, she said, “I knew I recognized his voice”.
I have always appreciated the few minutes that Tom took for me, as a young man, on a summer afternoon in 1989. That kindness will lead me to join you in Cooperstown, this weekend and watch as one of the “The Voices” of Blue Jays baseball for me, finds his spot in The Baseball Hall of Fame. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few minutes on a summer afternoon.
Thank you for sharing your dad and husband with me, for so many years.
Just wanted to send a quick note - meant to send this to you last week but I enjoyed reading your stories about Tom Cheek during the HOF weekend.
Hope everything is going well on your end...