BOSTON – Jerry Howarth’s devotion to his job as radio broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays means he’ll be at Fenway Park on Saturday calling a contest against the Boston Red Sox rather than be in St. Marys, Ont., to be feted as the Jack Graney Award winner from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
His day will come Aug. 11 at Rogers Centre before a game against the Oakland Athletics, when a pre-game ceremony will be held on the field in his honour.
Still, from a distance he’ll be thinking of long-time radio partner, the late Tom Cheek, who will be enshrined by the Canadian ball hall along with Tim Raines, George Bell, Rob Ducey and Nat Bailey.
"What an honour for Tom to not only win the Graney Award, which he did, but then to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, too, you go in there twice," said Howarth. "For me it’s a real nice honour, and when I look back at the previous winners, not only Tom but friends of mine, Milt Dunnell, who lived to be over 100, and Neil MacCarl, Hal Kelly and Joe Crysdale, they were the real first announcers in Toronto for the triple-A Maple Leafs, Len Bramson who hired me, I’m in some great company."
Canadian Baseball Network: Hall of Fame podcasts featuring Shirley Cheek, Rob Ducey. | Listen here
That the Canadian hall is recognizing Howarth and Cheek on the same day is fitting given their lengthy radio partnership. Cheek was with the team from its inception in 1977, while Howarth joined them in 1981.
"That made it for me," Howarth said of sharing the day with Cheek. "I came to Toronto and the media conference that introduced me, Tom was right there and all of a sudden said, ‘Hey, Tom and Jerry,’ and I’d never thought about it, and then I thought, ‘I loved that cartoon growing up.’ Tom was as big as a cat and of course I’ve got the size that fits Jerry, so it was real good.
"Tom took me under his wing and I rode his coat-tails there in the beginning just to get myself situated with the audience in Canada. Both of us, while we weren’t former athletes, we stuck to the game, we called the game, we made the game first and foremost, and after that we let the win-loss record take care of itself."
Howarth and Cheek got to know three of the four fellow inductees fairly well, having watched Bell and Ducey, in particular, along with Raines over the years. Bailey was an influential baseball builder in the Vancouver area and part-owner of the minor-league Mounties.
Bell starred for the Blue Jays in the 1980s and is the club’s only winner of the American League MVP award.
"When I came aboard, this young kid was a Rule 5 draft pick from the Philadelphia Phillies, who would have thought George Bell with that slender build would grow into the person he was, the left-fielder he was and an MVP," said Bell. "Home runs, RBIs, and a personality second to none – everybody raves about Munenori Kawasaki for the right reasons, but George before him was that lightning rod too for a lot of different reasons. He put them on the map."
Ducey, from Cambridge, Ont., was signed and developed by the Blue Jays and played in parts of 13 big-league seasons.
"I think of Rob Ducey and the still major-league record 10 home runs against Baltimore (Sept. 14, 1987)," said Howarth. "The record was eight, and his first home run in the major leagues was No. 8, and that tied the record, then later Ernie Whitt hit No. 9 and Fred McGriff hit No. 10."
Raines is a candidate for a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame as well, but finds a home in St. Marys for all he accomplished over 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos.
"I’m surprised he’s not in Cooperstown," said Howarth. "What he did for the Montreal Expos, and how he ran so well, just what a good person, now with the Blue Jays as an instructor, you can’t have better people like that. He was modest, too, and like my own partner Jack Morris, I hope he someday gets in the Hall of Fame."