* Hall of Fame CEO Jeff Idelson, left, presents Shirley Cheek, with the Ford C. Frick award, alongside, Jane Forbes Clark, and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan on the stage at Doubleday Field. Milo Stewart Jr., National Baseball Hall of Fame. .... 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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RationaL: A Swing and a Belt
By Bob Elliott
COOPERSTOWN _ On the at Doubleday Field sat two people who were in the same building 20 years ago when the Blue Jays played their last post-season game.
On one side was Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, while Montrealer Bill Shaiken, of the Los Angeles Times and past president of the Baseball Writers of America Association, was on the other.
In between were Shirley Cheek and Paul Hagen.
Shirley had watched from the seats, Hagen was in the press box, when Tom Cheek make that famous home run call, Oct. 24, 1993, so neither heard the famous home run call, played again Saturday afternoon prior to Shirley’s acceptance speech for the Ford C. Frick award her husband won:
“A swing and a belt! Left field! Way back! BLUE JAYS WIN IT! The Blue Jays are World Series Champions as Joe Carter hits a three run home run in the ninth and the Jays have repeated as World Series Champions! Touch em’ all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”
A city, a province and a country celebrated as Cheek’s call was played again and again. Shirley did not hear the clip until four or five hours later when the Cheeks returned to their Burlington home.
Hagen, this year’s winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award, was covering the Phillies for the Philadelphia Daily News, went to the clubhouse, was unable to leave SkyDome due to the crowds. Then he made a 6 a.m. flight home, wrote “five or six stories” Sunday and guessed he didn’t hear the call until a few days later.
“The last time I heard Tom’s call was at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies,” said Shirley. before giving her wonderful, heartfelt speech, “people post the link to it Facebook, I do hear it all the time.”
Hagen deadpanned that the call “from the Philadelphia side was perceived diffidently” by fans.
“Every time you see a show of the greatest homers, there is Carter’s, with Tom’s call,” said Hagen, now with MLB.com.
Shirley spoke from the stage on second base facing the grandstand with an estimated 4,000 fans plenty wearing Jays jerseys -- Dave Stieb, Robbie Alomar, Jose Reyes -- in front of her, with 40 Hall of Famers, including Pat Gillick and Alomar -- whose names Tom said so many times behind her.
“Tom loved everything about his job, he wanted to be a broadcaster from the time he was seven in Pensacola, Fla.,” Shirley told a press conference. “Play stick ball he’d have an imaginary mike in his hand, calling the game.
“The only thing bad about his job was the time required to spend away from home, but I understood: the job took him away. I was the one to drive kids to their ball games or practices.”
Daughter Lisa and husband Karl Olsen, son Tom and his wife Lisa, son Jeff and wife Amanda were in the crowd with their children, part of 45 relatives there.
Hagen told about how difficult travel is for the families of a ball writer/announcer explaining how wife Karen phoned his hotel “for two days and couldn’t find me. I’d moved on to the next town. If anyone can relate to that story its Shirley and her children.”
Shirley welcomed Jays fans and received cheers, made mention of manager Cito Gaston and broadcaster Buck Martinez, who Cheek mentored. Both received ovations.
Shirley said her speech would be “about Tom, his life, his history and the fans who were so important to him. I’ll try hard to pull it off ... hopefully.”
Shirley pulled it off.
Shirley hit one out of the park, over the parking lot onto Main Street with a high enough arc to clang the nearby church bells.
Tom Cheek was more than one call.
More than a streak.
He was a good man, who did was excellent at his job, touching 1,000s of fans lives.
But he’s mostly associated with the streak and the Carter call.
That’s where Shirley went to wrap things up in her calm, measured speech, saying:
“To paraphrase, thank you all for coming, from the oldest Cheek (me), to the youngest, we’ve never had a bigger day in our collective lives. You have touched us all.”
As Shirley, who cared for her husband during his illness, returned to his seat, a fan down the first base line yelled:
“Shirley Cheek! You’re a saint.”