For almost half a century – 36 of those years as an original member of the Toronto Blue Jays staff – Howie Starkman was been a pioneer in media relations. He is respected, thorough, dedicated to the Blue Jays now and the Toronto Maple Leafs before that. He did his tasks effectively for his clubs and his players, all the while navigating through the tricky waters of understanding the role of sports journalism and the needs of the media.
Starkman was recipient of the 2012 Sports Media Canada President’s Award in recognition of his legacy of excellence.
“I’m deeply honoured with the Sports Media Canada President’s Award,” Starkman said. “It’s something totally unexpected. I’m not sure I really fit the qualifications for this but I’m honoured that the Sports Media Canada selection committee chose me — it’s a special tribute.
“I’ve had a nice career in Toronto and the sports world. Dealing with the sports media in Canada has been a great experience and I truly appreciate the fact the media thought this highly of me.”
The Toronto native started in the sports business in 1964 at Maple Leaf Gardens as a summer employee. Following his university days at Western and Toronto, he went full time at the Gardens in 1967 working in the ticket department before evolving to promotion/group sales a year later. When Jim Gregory was installed as GM of the Leafs in 1969, Starkman found his way to his true calling by becoming Director of Administration and Publicity of the NHL club.
When Peter Bavasi required a Director, Public Relations for the fledgling Blue Jays, Starkman came on board in July 1976 as one of the club’s first employees. As we look back on the first 36 years of the Blue Jays we see Starkman’s significant place in club history because he’s been involved in publicity, media relations, broadcasting, team travel, strategic planning, scheduling, program publishing and print publications, including the production of 26 media guides.
The prestigious Robert O. Fishel Award was bestowed upon Starkman in 1995 for excellence in the field of Major League Baseball (MLB) Public Relations. The Toronto Chapter of the Baseball Writers of America has twice made Starkman winner of its Good Guy Award. He was made Vice President, Public Relations of the Blue Jays in 1999 and then to his current title as VP Special, Projects in 2002.
“Career highlights, obviously from a work point of view, it begins with the start of the ballclub even before we had the name and getting it going in 1976 before playing our first game in 1977,” Starkman said. “Then, of course, those years of winning the World Series were very good. I was fortunate enough before that to work for MLB at many postseason events and I saw World Series, All-Star Games those types of things. I won the Bob Fishel Award which was your peers voting you for PR excellence so that was an honour. I had the chance to be the PR guy for the Major League All-Stars that went to Japan in 1998. I worked on the PR side with MLB in conjunction with Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in ’06 and the big game they won over the USA so I was involved for that special event.
“It’s been amazing and it’s been a fun time. I’ve seen lots of sports, lots of hockey games a lot of baseball games, enjoyed it all, enjoy the people I work with, enjoy the media on the other side. I always felt that my job was one where I had a loyalty to the club but I also had a loyalty to the members of the media. I’d find myself defending the players or the club to the media but on the other side I’d be defending the media to the players and the club. That was sort of the way I always looked at it.”