Thursday, December 6, 2012

Late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek deservingly named to Cooperstown...

The name "Tom Cheek" and his legacy probably means nothing to you unless you were a baseball fan in Canada after the Toronto Blue Jays joined Major League Baseball in 1977. Cheek was the Jays' radio play-by-play announcer from the time of the club's inception through 2004, broadcasting 162 regular season games a year for almost three decades without missing a single one. That's a total of 4,306 straight ball games, which is an extraordinary achievement and doesn't even include all of the spring training games or the 41 playoff games that he called. He missed his first Jays game when his father passed away in June 2004 and many more that season after having a brain tumour removed just a little over a week following his dad's death. Cheek got better for a short period, but succumbed to the cancer the following year and I don't mind saying that I shed tears when I heard of his death. That's how much his work meant to me and many others who fell in love with baseball and the Jays with the help of the sound of his voice and partner Jerry Howarth's (yes, Tom and Jerry). "The voice of the Blue Jays", as many referred to Cheek, was as much a part of the identity of the Jays as anyone or anything else and in an era where every game wasn't available on TV like today (we were lucky to get one or two a week), Cheek's vivid depictions of the games was a fan's lifeline to their beloved team. Legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully are considered the gold standard for baseball play-by-play announcers - give me Cheek and his superlative work over them any day of the week. 

In an announcement yesterday that made my week (and actually got me a little emotional once again), Cheek was selected as the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. It's a huge honour, considering the sizable and impressive list of other nominees, the fact that Cheek's career was less visible working outside of America, and because the Baseball Hall of Fame (unlike most other sports halls of fame) is exclusionary and not inclusionary. The induction standards for media figures and the game's off-the-field personnel aren't quite as stringent as they are for players, but any Cooperstown inductee still really needs to have been one of the best in their field to get in. It's great that the Hall recognized Tom Cheek more than met that requirement. 

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