The Ford C. Frick award for excellence in baseball broadcasting was handed out yesterday by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The winner was Dave Niehaus, one of the Mariners’ broadcasters since 1977. Not to take anything away from Mr. Niehaus who is certainly deserving, but as a Jays fan, I’m disappointed once again that Tom Cheek has yet to be named to the Hall of Fame. He has been nominated in each of the last four years, which is good; hopefully that will translate into a win one of these years.
Tom started with the Blue Jays the same year that Niehaus started with the Mariners (1977, the inaugural year for both teams), and announced every Blue Jays game, including all pre- and post-season games, from then until June 2004, a streak of 4,303 consecutive games. He began his streak five years before Cal Ripken began his, and ended it six years after Ripken’s had ended. Can you imagine not missing a day of work, despite working almost 7 days a week for over seven months a year, for seventeen years?
Cheek died of brain cancer a year and a half later and has been honoured by the Blue Jays with a banner on the Level of Excellence. During the 2006 season, all the Blue Jay players wore a patch on their uniforms with the letters “TC” in honour of Tom Cheek.
I grew up listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth (who is still a Blue Jays broadcaster) doing Jays games on the radio. For me, Tom was always the “voice of summer” (I stole this phrase from Mike Wilner, another Jays broadcaster, because it couldn’t be more fitting). When driving somewhere in the car, I’d ask my dad to put the Jays game on. When doing homework, I’d have the Jays game on. When hanging out in the backyard or helping my dad in the garage, we’d always have the Jays game on. When the irritating Tony Kubek or the inane Fergie Olver were doing Jays TV broadcasts, I’d sometimes even turn the sound down on the TV and listen to the radio while watching the game.
Cheek was the consummate professional — he had a great voice, knew baseball inside and out, and obviously loved the game as well. He wasn’t one for “catch phrases”, though Jerry had a couple. I remember going to games at Exhibition Stadium and a bunch of us yelling “Swing and a miss, he struck him out!” on opposing team strikeouts, or “There she goes!” on Jays home runs.
Anyway, congratulations to Dave Niehaus on his award, and hopefully this time next year, I’ll be able to congratulate Tom Cheek on his posthumous election to the Hall of Fame.