‘BoniBlog – Jay not only one influenced by Howie

By John Iaboni, Sports Media Canada special correspondent

Spring Training and virtually all aspects involving the media simply couldn’t operate as smoothly as it does without the Blue Jays communications unit.

Jay Stenhouse

In October 2002, Jay Stenhouse was promoted to the lead role in that department as director, communications after six years as assistant director, public relations. He was next named vice president, communications in October 2005, with the Jays and Rogers Centre his responsibilities.
When I caught up with Stenhouse at Spring Training, invariably our conversation got around to Howie Starkman and his influence on him as a mentor/role model.
Well, it turns out that Howie has had a major impact on me as well. I was 20 years old in the fall of 1971 when The Telegram folded and I became one of 62 Day Oners at The Toronto Sun. At the outset I was backup to Eaton Howitt on the Maple Leafs beat.
Howie first began working at Maple Leaf Gardens in the summer of 1964 and full time in 1967. By 1969, he was director of administration and publicity for the Leafs working under GM Jim Gregory.
When I eventually became the full-time Leafs reporter in 1972-73, Howie was invaluable in providing me the essentials to do my job. We traveled together for several years and gained an instant mutual respect, savouring many a meal while on the road.
His loss by the Leafs became a massive gain for the Blue Jays as Peter Bavasi made Howie one of the fledgling club’s first hires as director, public relations in July, 1976, less than a year before they even played their first game. Starkman’s been a Jay ever since: Becoming vice president, media relations in 1999 and then vice president, special projects in 2002 where he remains to this day.
“Howie’s taught me many things,” Stenhouse says. “Life lessons, everything. I had the good fortune of starting to work for him in 1985 when I was in Grade 9 and yes we were just running photo copiers and doing little things but he taught me so much over the years and got me prepared for what I’m doing now.
“He’s been a tremendous asset to me. I learned a lot about composure and knowing to take care of what’s important and not getting caught up on what others believe is important at that time. He was very good about addressing the priorities and making sure what needed to be done got done.”
During Spring Training, Stenhouse is ably assisted by Sue Mallabon, Mal Romanin and Erik Grosman in a rotating schedule at Dunedin.
“Sue and I are usually the ones to open Spring Training and then she’ll go back, get ready for the regular season because she has to take care of all the credentials and get everybody all set to cover our games throughout the season,” Stenhouse says.
“Mal also travels (as does Stenhouse) with the team during the regular season so it’s important for him to be down here for some time as well. Erik, who deals with a lot of the stats and baseball information in the press box, comes down for a short time period spelling the time with Mal during the non-game time and the beginning of games.
“It’s important for both of them to be down here to establish relationships with the players and the media because during the season they’re going to have to go to the players and try to facilitate interviews or to fill them in on current situations.”
The Weston born-and-raised Stenhouse is firmly focused on his role.
“Our department serves three customers,” he says. “Our first priority is the organization and all the departments. Then we also have all the uniform personnel and the media. We want to get the media everything they need and access to everything but when it comes right down to it our No. 1 job is to make the organization look as good as we can.
“So I get involved with message management with the players and the front office and put them in positions where they can succeed. We don’t sell anything in our department; we are a service department to help the whole organization.”
The professionalism in this department started with Starkman. It continues with Stenhouse who heeded Starkman’s advice and eventually became his successor.