Ford Frick Broadcasting Excellence Award to Tom Cheek

By John Iaboni, Sports Media Canada.

He touched us all in Canada and he spun a remarkable broadcasting career by calling the first 4,306 regular-season and 41 postseason games in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tom Cheek

Tom Cheek – a true gentleman, unique storyteller and passionate broadcasting pro – died on October 9, 2005. But his calls live on, bringing goose bumps to all who listen to them … from magic moments supplied by the likes of Doug Ault, Dave Stieb, George Bell, Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.
Now Cooperstown bestows honour on Cheek as the 2013 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Count me as one of Tom Cheek’s multitude of fans. From Day 1 of the Blue Jays in 1977 with his sidekick Early Wynn followed by partner Jerry Howarth from 1981 until Tom’s death, Cheek grabbed my attention … holding it with mainly ups and sometimes down of the franchise. Tom and Jerry were distinctive voices who formed as good a baseball broadcasting partnership as any the game has known.
In 2003, Tom and Jerry were recipients of the Sports Media Canada Award for Outstanding Broadcasting. Cheek was then added to Sports Media Canada’s Honour Roll for Lifetime Achievement after a brain tumour silenced him far too young at the age of 66.
While Tom would have thrived had he chosen television as his path he once told me of his long-standing love for radio because it was theatre of the mind. And how he painted the picture for us! He allowed us –each in our own way – to visualize the sights and sounds of the ballparks from each crack of the bat to the popping of the glove.
“Since the inception of the Blue Jays he played a vital role in promoting Baseball in Canada in an extraordinary and enduring way,” Blue Jays President/CEO Paul Beeston said in a statement after the announcement of the 2013 Frick Award for Cheek.
“Tom Cheek was the constant. He was a model of consistency, professionalism and excellence. He was the voice of summer, professional but passionate with a tone we could trust and embrace. Tom Cheek has provided the soundtrack for many of the important moments in this team’s history, with his choice of words and intonation always perfectly suited for the occasion.
“The Blue Jays are extremely pleased and excited that Tom is being so honoured. It is a tremendous recognition for Tom and his family.”
Cheek will be honoured as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 July 26-29 in Cooperstown, New York. He is the second Frick Award recipient whose career came primarily with a Canadian team. Long-time Montreal Expos broadcaster and now Miami Marlins voice Dave Van Horne was the Frick Award winner in 2011. That same year, Van Horne and Jacques Doucet, the French-language voice of the Expos, were honoured with Sports Media Canada’s George Gross Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The Canadian team connection at Cooperstown has also been evident in other ways over the past two years. Blue Jays great second baseman Roberto Alomar was inducted in 2011 while in 2012 Toronto Sun baseball columnist and 2008 SMC Lifetime Award recipient Bob Elliott received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing.
“Touch ’em all, Joe,” is Shirley Cheek’s favourite of Tom Cheek’s many radio calls. Not because of its eloquence or simplicity or timelessness, as much as because it was the call of a man who simply cared about what was hap- pening in front of him.
Joe Carter had just homered to win the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. Cheek wanted to make sure he touched the bases, that’s all.
“Maybe it’s because I’ve heard it so many times, but that really is my favourite call of all time,” Shirley Cheek said on a conference call after Tom was named the winner of the Frick Award.
“It was so off-the-cuff,” she said. “Tom was just an off-the-cuff guy, whatever came out of his mouth came out of his mouth. He didn’t have a preplanned home run call, it was how it happened. When Joe Carter was running around those bases, it looked to Tom like a kangaroo jumping up and down, and he was mentally telling him: ‘Joe, don’t miss a base.’”
Cheek was born one day after the National Baseball Hall of Fame formally opened its doors will enter the Hall two years after the voice of the Montreal Expos, Dave Van Horne. Cheek spent two years as Van Horne’s backup, before becoming the Jays radio voice in 1977.
Cheek was chosen from a list of 10 Frick Award finalists, three of which were chosen by fan balloting. Cheek was first in the fan balloting, followed by Expos French-language broadcaster Jacques Doucet and Bill King, the long- time voice of the Oakland Athletics.
Sports Media Canada extends congratulations and best wishes to the Cheek family for this most-deserving tribute to Tom Cheek.