By Bob Elliott
Candian Baseball Network
CLEARWATER, Fla. _ Hello Thomas.
You know, I really didn’t think I’d be turning off of Sunset Road Point into Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park this spring for what has become our annual talk. Not that I have been ill or anything, but I retired from the Toronto Sun in June.
So, really did not plan on being in Florida ever again. Thought I was done with spring training and all of those awful early mornings, I detested and you loved so much. My labour of love, known as the CanadianBaseballNetwork.com site, thought it would be a good idea to cover the World Baseball Classic.
I arrived in Tampa Thursday after dark but not driving into a cemetery. Probably could have found the grey bench Saint Shirley installed and invited every Blue Jays fan to stop by for a visit and talk some ball. Just up the lane to the traffic circle, past the pond, then 13 headstones past the big tree which looks like four trees.
Am only going to be writing a little about the Jays when in Florida, mostly Team Canada, but I had a few people on Twitter and via e-mail ask variations of “we know you are not working at The Sun any more, but any chance you might be going south and visiting Tom’s grave?”
This World Baseball Classic starts Tuesday, first with exhibition games here against the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees before playing against the Dominican Republic in Miami. Then it is a quick turnaround as Canada plays Wednesday afternoon in Tampa and Thursday in Miami to start their pool. They won’t be hometown faves.
I was driving out to Grant Field as it was called when we first saw it when I received a text from your pal Gordon Ash commenting upon something I had tweeted earlier. Gordon is scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers. I asked where he was and when he said Dunedin ... for the first time in 16 years ... I called him.
Gordon is now living in Toronto with wife Sue, who used to work at your station. Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick chose Gordon to replace Gillick. Always wondered how Gordon would do if he was working for Labatt’s rather than the absentee landlord Belgians. As legendary Jim Proudfoot of the Toronto Star always said “He was the most honest GM, he ever met.” And Chester covered them all in all sports from Punch Imlach to Ralph Sazio to Peter Bavasi.
We talked for a couple of minutes and then all of a sudden I thought Gordon had patched in Jerry Howarth to the call. “Yes Sirrrrr ... Jose Bautista has put the Blue Jays in flight. Let’s sit back and admire that one. Hellllo friends ... the Blue Jays are up 2-0.” Bautista had homered in the first off Yankee RHP Luis Severino. Gordon does a very good Jerry impression ... better than Tom Henke, who used to say in a Jerry voice “Welcome to Tiger Stadium where all the seats are blue, except those that are green.”
The Little Guy had a rough winter. I was at the Sport Media award luncheon that John Iaboni and Steve McAllister put on in November. Finishing his 35th year in the booth this fall, he was honoured with the George Gross Award for excellence in broadcasting at the 21st annual luncheon.
Howarth told the crowded Imperial Room at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel how it came to be that he landed in Toronto. He explained how speakers always say ‘and lastly, I’d like to thank my wife,’ well, firstly ... I’d like to thank my wife.” Jerry applied for the Seattle Mariners’ broadcasting job and didn’t get it. Saint Mary insisted Jerry apply to “the other expansion team” which led to 20 games of work in 1981 and full-time employment with you soon after.
A few days later I heard that he was headed to surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his prostate gland. Jerry was a better man than Gunga Din, as after being asked by Dr. Robert Nam, he turned into a walking public service announcement. Get your physcial and know your PSA number. Have grandchildren ask grandfathers: ‘What’s your PSA number?’”
Cancer was and still is an awful disease. I admire Jerry’s stance. When I worked in Ottawa, the announcer at Rideau-Carleton Raceway was Des Smith, who played for the Boston Bruins the last time they won the Stanley Cup before Bobby Orr arrived. He had some kind of cancer and I remember going over to see him at his house in the Glebe.
He sat up and said, “Hello Doctor, thanks for coming over ... you’re looking at the first man who will beat cancer.”
Well, that didn’t happen for my friend Des, but he had the right attitude I think.
Jerry took over for Early Wynn. Remember that Early Wynn story you told me about him and Ted Williams?
“Hello Wynn,” Williams snarled.
“Hello Williams,” Early snapped back.
Then, in the middle of the pre-game interview between the two Hall of Famers at Fenway, Early started arguing and if I remember, The Splendid Splinter split. You had to try and get them to kiss and make up and do a Take II.
Anyway I saw Gord Ash -- his first game at Dunedin in 16 years. He said that the place had not changed that much. Of course it has no Bobby Mattick, or Moose Johnson, or Ellis Clary. So, it’s not a noisy.
The young Jays staff under Pat Gillick would do their jobs by day and then learn more over three or four or five or six hour diners. There were plenty of arguments, give and take, but even more learning from lessons.
Thomas I’m not sure this latest generation of young executives takes the time to learn from their elders. There used to a woman who worked in the Jays office and about 10 years ago before she retired she explained how she missed scouts coming telling stories for organizational or pre-draft meetings with hilarious stories from life on the road. And then ... how the current crew would head into the bathroom with their lap tops open.
Thomas I mentioned retiring in June. A lot of people were surprised that I’d walk away during the season. Fact is, in November of 2015 after the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in the World Series, I went into the office, filed in my expenses and went upstairs to ask for a buyout since there was a lot of talk that they were coming.
In January, I was told I was getting one. Same thing in February. Usually in January we buy our tickets for spring training. I was surprised when the office phoned one day in the second week of March and asked me to head south two days later.
Once the season began, oh maybe early May, I asked again about the buyouts and was told that there would not be any for a year and a half. Thomas it got to be too much and I would not make it a year and a half. Mike Rutsey had taken a buyout in November, your golfing buddy Ken Fidlin was only doing road games due to an impending hip surgery and Steve Buffery was combining horse racing and baseball. It got to be too much work - so I gave my two weeks’ notice. It took a while but our “Kid Line” as you used to call it was finally broken up.
Steve Simmons, John Lott, Alexis Brudnicki and Don Brennan all wrote nice pieces. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis said some nice things. It was a good run: my first byline was 50 years ago that April, covered baseball for 38 1/2 years and was at the Sun for 29 1/2 years. And ... I “never went on the dole,” as mother ordered against when I started working after finishing grade 12 (second try).
We are a little shy on talent for the World Baseball Classic. There isn’t one reason, there are a dozen reasons why. Illness at home. Guys stayed in camp to make teams. Am sure GMs and assistant GMs are giving shots like “are you really sure you want to fly all the way from Arizona to Florida for one game (if they lose)?”
As you well know how patriotic Canadians are, but the minor-league minimum is $535,000 US, while the WBC (paid by Major League Baseball and the Players Association) amounts to less than $6,000.
Your son Jeff is 46 and pitched three seasons. They have Ryan Dempster, 39 and Eric Gagne, 41, pitching. Think Jeff can get loose in time?
There is this guy in Etobicoke who does radio interviews and hosts podcastsfrom his basement. His name is Toronto Mike’d. I did a session with him and they played some clips of your calls. So, I sent the link off to Shirley. She probably didn’t have any problem getting to sleep that night.
Big news at the station. The FAN brought in my cousin Elliott Price from Montreal. Well he’s not really my cousin, but he was the first radio baseball guy I ever met, who knew the game better than some of the beat writers (not counting broadcasters in the booth).
Joe Siddall, Mike Wilner and Jerry had another good year and was the go-to for listeners as fans ocne again did not enjoy US broadcast on TV.
As to catch up on old news:
* Cito has moved north, spending part of the summer in Traverse City, Mich.
* Your golf partner, Buck Martinez, is working WBC games in Tokyo. Hhe and I were at a banquet in Okotoks, Alta. Buck was inducted the night before into the Sacramento Hall of Fame. He landed at 7:46 PM in Calgary for the banquet, arrived and just nailed it. Best I have ever heard him.
* Jeff Ross, your old golf partner, wasn’t around the Jays clubhouse. Heard he had back problems. Think he was out for a walk with your pal Ernie Whitt and he hurt it.
* Howard Starkman will still at the Rogers Centre this summer. But he’s not running the exhibition series at Olympic Stadium. Howard is lucky he has a grandchild minutes away. I’m lucky too to have grandchildren, but they are in Moncton.
* Saw your pal Ken Carson, now president of the Florida State League. The park was a lot easier to enter when Commander Carson ran the Florida facility. Now, you have to go to the media parking lot to park, but you can't park without a pass and you can't get into the other lot to pick up your pass without a pass. Round and around we go.
* I see your good friend Bruce Brenner, your former engineer, at the park once in a while.
(Oh, almost forgot. I have one of those dumb rentals where you don’t need a key. While I was at the grave I left the key sitting on the seat. No one scooped the key of the car and it’s busy today with four burials. So, guess you have some good neighbors.)
Tell my father he’s a great grandfather with another on the way come May.
That’s about all, Thomas.