Wilner on Jays: Cheek deserves high praise

February 7, 2013, 12:34 PM

At this week’s State of The Franchise event, Toronto Blue Jays President Paul Beeston made sure to mention that in addition to all the positive on-field moves that the team made over the winter, there was also a hugely significant off-field highlight that failed to receive the same attention. Tom Cheek, the first ever full-time voice of the Blue Jays, won the Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcasting Excellence in December, which will get him a plaque in the Broadcasters’ Wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY this July.

The award is an incredible honour, and one that thousands of Blue Jays fans helped make possible by coming out strong and voting for Tom every time fan balloting for the Frick was open.

Twelve years ago, Cheek won the Jack Graney Award, which is essentially the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s equivalent to the Frick, though they don’t give it out every year – and this year, Tom’s longtime partner Jerry Howarth is getting the same very well-deserved honour.

But there’s more to The Summer of Cheek as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame announced its five-man Class of 2013, which will be inducted at the beautiful museum in St. Marys on June 29, with one of those five being the great Tom Cheek.

For all the same reasons that we campaigned for Cheek to win the Frick Award, he will be posthumously inducted as a member of Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame, an honour that is so richly deserved.

Joining Cheek this year will be Nat Bailey, after whom the stadium at which the Vancouver Canadians play is named. Bailey had a significant impact on baseball in British Columbia, from being a hot-dog vendor and public address announcer at Vancouver Athletic Park to sponsoring many little league teams across the province with the proceeds from his White Spot restaurants (there was even one just outside the Whistler Media Centre at the Olympics) to buying the Triple-A Vancouver Mounties in the ‘50s and raising the profile of professional baseball in B.C.

On the players’ side, the Canadian Baseball Hall will honour George Bell, Tim Raines and Rob Ducey.

Bell was a huge part of the Blue Jays’ early success as part of the great outfield trio with Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield that helped lead the Jays to their first-ever division title in 1985. He won the American League MVP in 1987 – still the only Blue Jay to have been awarded that honour – and wound up with three all-star appearances and three Silver Slugger Awards in his nine-year tenure with the Jays. He was here for two trips to the playoffs and three other seasons in which the Blue Jays fell short of a post-season berth by a mere two games.

Raines, who should be enshrined in Cooperstown someday soon, was arguably the best lead-off man in National League history, and second only to Rickey Henderson. He spent parts of his 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos and is their all-time leader in runs, stolen bases, triples, walks and singles. He’s back where he belongs now, employed again by a Canadian team – Raines will be the Blue Jays’ minor-league roving baserunning and outfield coach this year.

Ducey, a Toronto native who played for the Blue Jays and spent his final big-league year with the Expos, also suited up for Team Canada as a player at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and as a coach at the ‘06 World Baseball Classic and ’08 Olympics in Beijing. He’s one of only four Canadians to play for both the Blue Jays and Expos, along with Denis Boucher, Shawn Hill and Matt Stairs.

The induction weekend includes a celebrity slo-pitch game and a golf tournament, and the Blue Jays will hold a kids’ clinic, as well.

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