For Jerry Howarth, it all started the day he walked into Hunter Gardner’s print shop in downtown Tacoma, Wash. It was the spring of 1974, Howarth was the new play-by-play man for the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Twins, and he needed scoresheets. Gardner decided that 3,000 seemed like a good round number and upon filling the order joked that he’d sold the rookie broadcaster enough to last for 20 years.
Neither of them could have guessed that more than four decades later, Howarth would still be in the booth—never mind that he’d be heading into his 35th season calling Toronto Blue Jays games. Howarth, who turns 70 this month, still carries around the little leather binder Gardner gave him. It holds a season’s worth of scoresheets, perfect for quickly flipping back during a broadcast to reference moments from earlier in the year—how a pitcher had previously handled a particular opponent, or how one of the Jays’ big bats fared against a rival’s ace the last time he was in town.
Howarth, who describes himself as “old-school,” doesn’t use a laptop during games. Instead, he relies on his own meticulous notes—the first thing he does after arriving at the ballpark is update his scorecard from the previous day. His scorekeeping style has evolved over the years, always with an eye to include more detail—whether it’s using shorthand that only he can understand or different colours of pens and highlighters.
“If your paperwork is good,” says Howarth, “your play-by-play will be better.”
JERRY HOWARTH: THE SCORESHEETS
For years, once the final out on the Blue Jays campaign was recorded, Howarth snapped a rubber band around that season’s pile and filed them away. On occasion, he’d dive into his archive to check a fact. But then, in the summer of 2013, a flood wiped them out: “My basement filled up to about two feet and all those were gone.”
He’s not nearly as heartbroken as you might expect. Turns out he’s not all that nostalgic. Plus, he says, it’s all a click or two away on Baseball-Reference.com.
That’s not to say he isn’t happy that several big games were framed and on a shelf above the waterline. Included in that bunch is the first Jays game he ever called (“Jack Morris started that day for the Tigers against the Jays and later became my partner for a year,” says Howarth); Kelly Gruber hitting for the cycle in ’89; a couple of no-hitters—including the only one that went in the Jays’ favour (Dave Stieb vs. Cleveland in 1990), as well as one that didn’t (Nolan Ryan’s in 1991); and the World Series–clinching games in ’92 and ’93.
To commemorate Howarth’s 35 years in the booth, we will be posting fully annotated versions of his classic scoresheets on Sportsnet.ca all season long, complete with feature clips from the games and interviews with Howarth. (Kicking things off is his sheet from game five of the ALDS against Texas from last October.)
Though he had no idea at the time that he’d go on to make a career out of it, Howarth has been calling games since he was a teenager. Back then, he often broke out his radio voice while playing the precursor to Strat-O-Matic Baseball with a buddy. “I’d roll the dice and start calling the play-by-play: ‘Here’s the pitch to Willie Mays… there’s a fly ball deep to left…’”
And yet Howarth didn’t score a game until his first triple-A broadcast in Tacoma. And he learned a valuable lesson that day in April 1974. The Twins scored in the last frame to win 2–1, and Howarth told the fans at home that George Pena, who had reached base that inning, had scored the winning run. It was only after reading the sports pages of the local paper the next day that he discovered he’d slipped up, the result of spending a moment too long on his paperwork. “I didn’t see a pinch-runner come out of the dugout,” he says. “One of the keys for a play-by-play announcer is eyes on the field.”
While those early lessons remain top of mind, that first batch of scorecards ran out years ago. In recent years, Howarth has had five seasons’ worth printed at a time. “At the end of this year, I’ll have to go to the printer again.” By that time, for those keeping score at home, he’ll have called more than 7,500 ball games.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.