Tom Cheek finally gets recognition with Frick Award: Griffin
It was a great day for Canadian baseball fans on Wednesday as Tom Cheek was welcomed to Cooperstown, winner of the 2013 Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence. The announcement was made in Nashville by Hall-of-Fame president Jeff Idelson.
The late Blue Jays' radio icon, who passed away on October 9, 2005, wil be honoured on Hall-of-Fame weekend July 26-29, 2013 represented by his wife Shirley and their three children, Tom, Lisa and Jeff. The voice of the Jays since the club's inception, Cheek worked the first 4,306 regular season and 41 playoff games before missing a game, June 3, 2004 due to illness and to the death of his father, war hero Tom Cheek.
Initial memories? I remember this tall gangly Vermont radio guy driving up from his Burlington radio job to fill in for Dave Van Horne with the Expos at Jarry Park between 1974-76. I had started with the Expos in 1973 and was keeping a detailed score sheet for all the games used in an early form of arbitration. Sometimes Tom would kick me out of the booth I used as my personal headquarters because he needed to practice.
“It was 100 miles up to Jarry Park," Shirley Cheek recalled. "Tom, when he was asked to come up and do the games fillng in for Dave Van Horne when he did TV, he asked if he could have a radio booth a couple of days beforehand. He went up, took a friend with him. Took a tape recorder, broadcast to himself and on the way home with his friend would listen to it on the radio to critique himself."
It seems amazing that two Frick award winners would start their careers with the same Canadian team, often sitting in adjoining booths atop the rickety aluminum grandstand of Jarry Park. Van Horne, still behind the mic, was the 2011 Frick Award winner for his wonderful body of work with the Expos and Marlins. Canadian fans have been fortunate.
It's true Cheek was forced to wait too long for his recognition but, in a way, it's fitting that he followed Van Horne, the man he filled in for when he made his first major-league radio call. Shirley was asked if, as Tom arrived home after broadcasts late at night in Vermont, did he ever see this day coming of him possibly being recognized in Cooperstown.
"Never in a million years," she said. After three years -- he never had a contract -- but finally somebody said a Canadian should be having this job. Thank you to the Montreal Expos, at the time for allowing him to have the three years up there. (Telemedia president) Len Bramson found out about Tom and his dream was realized. He always wanted to be a broadcaster from the time he was seven years old. It came true."
The Expos TV schedule at the time was just one game per week, so by the time Tom was hired by the Blue Jays in '76, he had no streak going, but now he had one of 24 major-league radio play-by-play jobs. He took off and ran with it, never missing a day of work for 4,306 season games.
The highlight Tom Cheek call that everyone remembers is, of course, the Joe Carter game-winning hme run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. "Touch 'em all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life." To this day, it is still replayed on stadium scoreboards around the majors and on "Biggest Home Run Ever" compilations. It's a subconscious thing, but whenever I watch a baseball game that involves a walkoff home run, I immedaitely listen and compare it to Cheek's call. Nobody ever matches up.
Shirley was asked if that was also her favourite call her husband ever made.
“Maybe because I've heard it so many time, that really is my favourite call of all time," she said. "It was so off the cuff. I think I can say this pretty openly, Tom was just an off the cuff guy. Whatever came out of his mouth came out of his mouth. Nothing was pre-planned. He didn't have a pre-planned hoe run call. It was how it happened.
"He saw when Joe Carter was running around those bases and he looked to Tom like a kangaroo jumping up and down. Tom was mentally telling him, 'Joe, don't miss a base.' It was how it came out and that's just how Tom developed his calls. There was no signature call. It was just whatever the moment was. A lot of his calls were pretty important but that was the highlight."
Cheek was a unique character with a warm, sincere personality. When I came to The Star and started covering the Jays, I reminded him of the Expos days of his early career and he forever had a smile for me each time he saw me. He had great respect for the print media and even if he disagreed with what was written would discuss the issue and continue the friendship. Shirley was right. He was funny, off the cuff and nothing was pre-planned.
When Tom discovered we had a mutual passion for golf, every spring training I would make sure that I travelled with my clubs in the trunk of my rental. I knew there would be days that Tom would amble up the pathway in front of the clubhouse at the Mattick Complex in Dunedin, look at me, put his hands in a Vardon overlap grip, give a little waggle and a smile and that was the signal that I needed to take the rest of the day off.
It's becoming a nice little streak for Canadian baseball and Cooperstown. In 2011, it was Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick going in as a player and a builder. The same weekend, Van Horne accepted his Frick. Then in 2012, it was Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun winning the Spink Award for baseball writing excellence. Now it's Cheek's turn.
"Tom Cheek was the constant, he was a model of consistency, professionalism and excellence," Jays president Paul Beeston said in a club release. "He was the voice of summer, professional but passionate with a tone we could trust and embrace. Tom Cheek has provided the soundtrack for many of the important moments in this team’s history, with his choice of words and intonation always perfectly suited for the occasion."
Other Canadian connections honoured at the Hall-of-Fame, over time, are Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, each entering wearing the Expos cap, along with Howard Starkman, the Jays' vice-president, winner of the Robert O. Fishel Award for P.R. excellence.
The streak by all rights should be allowed to continue next year with the inclusion of Jacques Doucet, the iconic French-language Expos broadcaster who helped invent many of the French-language baseball terms that have become accepted into the language.
Congratulations to Tom and Shirley Cheek and to Blue Jays fans, spearheaded by Mike Wilner of the Fan590 for keeping his legacy alive and his name on the Frick ballot until he finally received his much-deserved recognition.