mlb

Jays announcer Tom Cheek passes away

Tom Cheek

Tom Cheek

10/9/2005 9:11:48 PM

Tom Cheek never used gimmicks or catchphrases and never tried to make himself part of the show.

All he did was tell listeners, plain and simple, how he saw the game, putting his trusted stamp on every milestone moment in Toronto Blue Jays history.

And - day in day out during his astonishing streak of 4,306 consecutive regular-season games called - it was perfect every time.

   This season Cheek's voice was missing from airwaves, as brain cancer forced him out of the broadcast booth for good and on Sunday, the disease got the better of him.

Cheek died at his home in Oldsmar, Fla. He was 66.


 

"It's difficult to put into words the overwhelming sense of grief and loss shared today by the Blue Jays family, the city of Toronto, the extended community of Major League Baseball and its many fans," Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey said in a statement. "Tom Cheek has provided the soundtrack for the most important moments in this team's history, with his choice of words and intonation always perfectly suited for the occasion.

"He was far more than just an outstanding announcer though. He was a great goodwill ambassador for baseball in Canada. His love for the game, which radiated through his words on the radio, captivated fans across this country and helped to grow the sport from one coast to the other."

Cheek was first diagnosed with a brain tumour last summer and had surgery to remove it on June 13, 2004, his 65th birthday. The procedure was partially successful and a round of chemotherapy that hampered his short-term memory followed.

He returned to the booth late in the summer, bringing his charm and smile back to the Rogers Centre, and was set to return to work in 2005 when doctors recommended additional brain surgery.

The operation took place in March, but it could only add some brief time to Cheek's life, not save it.

"It sure does hit you hard," said Jerry Howarth, Cheek's longtime broadcast partner. "He will be missed. His voice was the signature voice of this ball club."

The second round with cancer came as a shock, as Cheek had planned to call some road games this season, as well as all home contests. That optimism faded quickly as his health deteriorated much faster this time.

"I don't want to sit and wait for something to come get me," Cheek said during the spring, weeks before the second diagnosis. "That's the way I feel. With everybody, everything is different. There have been guys that have gone on for years."

Cheek made it to the broadcast booth once this season, calling a half-inning of Toronto's opening day 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in St. Petersburg. He had planned just to sit quietly in the booth but asked Howarth if he could call the top of the fourth, with the Blue Jays down 1-0.

"I said of course and then Frank Catalanotto led off the inning with a double, Toronto's first hit of the game," Howarth recalled. "Orlando Hudson was the next batter and he homered and Vernon Wells followed with another home run to make it 3-1. a After the inning Tom signed off and said, `I'm tired now, but I just wanted to say thank you.' I thought that was a nice bit of divine intervention and magic right there."

Cheek later made one visit to Toronto, a sort of last hurrah, taking in a couple of games from a private box. When he was shown on the videoboard, fans stood and cheered him in the type of gesture the humble Cheek never took for granted.

Cheek's popularity with fans was never more evident than during his absence last season, when cards and e-mails poured in by the thousands wishing him well. A crowd of 44,072 feted him Aug. 29 when the Blue Jays added him to their Level of Excellence with the number 4,306 by his name, signifying his streak.

"Until last summer, I don't think he knew how much he meant to people," said broadcaster Mike Wilner, who joined Cheek and Howarth as the third man in the booth in 2002. "It really overwhelmed him."

   During that Blue Jays ceremony, Cheek kept shaking his head in disbelief that he was being honoured so elaborately.

"You're going to make me cry," he told the crowd. "This is more than I'm going to be able to handle."

The next day he thanked each reporter who had written about him for, "saying such nice things about me."

Born in Pensacola, Fla., in 1939, the beloved broadcaster became the voice of baseball in Canada during his streak, which began on April 7, 1977 when Bill Singer threw the first pitch in club history and ended on June 3, 2004 in Oakland because of his father's death.

"That streak was phenomenal because of all the sacrifices he had to make," said Howarth. "His family was so supportive, they told him `You go broadcast games, we'll be here.' He did it not for himself, but for the fans."

Cheek attended the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston and began his radio career in Plattsburg, N.Y. He then moved to Burlington, Vt., where for nine years was corporate sales manager and sports director for a group of three radio stations, doing play-by-play for baseball, basketball, football and hockey at the University of Vermont.

He moved up to Canada in 1974, where for three years he served as swing man on Montreal Expos radio broadcasts on television nights before landing the Blue Jays job in 1977.

It was in Toronto he became an institution, never taking a night off until his father's death. Along the way, he called Doug Ault's two homers in the franchise opening 9-5 win over Chicago in 1977, the record 10-homer barrage against Baltimore in 1987, George Bell's three opening day homers in 1988, Dave Steib's no-hitter in 1990, Carlos Delgado's four home run game in 2003, five AL East titles, a pair of pennants and two World Series titles, capped by Joe Carter's walkoff homer in 1993.

His call on that homer - "Touch 'em all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life," - was his calling card and the best example of how perfectly he captured each moment, without getting in its way.

"Nothing about Tom is pre-packaged," said Wilner. "He's never setting up to get to a specific call or a specific story.

"He lets the game dictate what he says - and that's the way it should be."

Even in the bedlam that followed Carter's homer, Cheek was able to cover all the bases.

"It's a strange kind of thing," Cheek said recalling the moment. "I was looking for something to say and Joe gave it to me because he was jumping up and down.

"I didn't know if he was hitting all the bases out there and I was just making the point that you have to do that. I was merely mentioning - to him, through the airwaves - that you've got to touch all the bases.

"That's where that came from."

Cheek was nominated for the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award this year, which is given for major contributions to baseball broadcasting.

Longtime San Diego Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman was chosen instead, something Cheek handled with his usual grace.

"There are some things that the guys on that list have done that just blow me away. Just having my name there is pretty nice," Cheek said of Coleman and the other nominees. "I'm an old guy myself and I watched a lot of those guys do what they did."

This summer Canada's Sports Hall of Fame established the Tom Cheek Media Leadership Award to honour those who play a key role in promoting Canadian sports. Cheek was the first recipient and it was presented to him by a large delegation of Blue Jay dignitaries at his home a few weeks ago.

"Those of us that worked with him and of course the listeners and fans of Blue Jays baseball desperately miss hearing him," said Nelson Millman, vice-president and program director of The Fan 590, the Toronto all-sports radio station that carries Blue Jays games. "He was the voice of the Jays to all of us."

Cheek is survived by his wife Shirley, a native of Hemmingford, Que., their three children and seven grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known. 






NO. AUTHOR MESSAGE
1hailey25A sad, sad day for canadian sports, we're all goin ...
2leafsrulezTouch em all Tom, you'll really be missed!!!!! RIP ...
3dwraymentWe will all miss Tom. Not only his wonderful voice ...
41993leafsRest in Peace Mr. Cheek. Thanks for the memorie ...
5e.stricklandsad.......sad........sad......Its a sad day for th ...
6my_callI grew up a Jays fan, I live overseas now, and I h ...
7rob3000Not a better man ever called a ball game, you will ...
8monkeyman1968RIP Tom. I would love to see the Blue Jays offer ...
9hollywoodjoeyVery sad day for Canadian Baseball fans. It was a ...
10pauldm44Rest In Peace Tom. A class act from day one, ...
11driftwoodTom Cheek was the best broadcaster that the Jays e ...
12kentagent731"WoW", A truly sad day for the Toronto Blue Jays o ...
13zeemers101Terribly sad news. Cheek's baseball calls were sp ...
14donnybayrest in peace Tom, you have left a legacy to be pr ...
15Leafsrule101Sad day for this Jays fan. R.I.P Tom ...
16R30Thank you Mr. Cheek for all the memories, you were ...
17grizxRIP my friend... you deserve it ...
18kwilsondWow, this is a sad day for all Toronto Blue Jays f ...
19goodfella77YOU'VE TOUCHED US ALL TOM... YOU WILL NEVER BE FOR ...
20reduxnetBe at peace Tom Cheek: voice of the Toronto Blue J ...
21uscanuckA true legend, a true gentlemen, he will be missed ...
22DoubleTRIP Tom ...
23senroRIP Mr. Cheek. Probably the greatest canadian spo ...
24nightwarriorRIP. Thanks for the memories. ...
25shamusfynesR.I.P Cheek. What a class act. He will be missed ...
26purdyMy sympathies to his family and friends. We have ...
27blinky34I feel as though part of my childhood has gone wit ...
28munkdoggianwhat a classy, hard working guy. I grew up with To ...
29dafalardeauMr. Cheek, you will be dearly missed. I grew up t ...
30Jeritron_5000This is indeed very sad day for not only the Toro ...
31hartellclass act! great man and a hard loss to baseball i ...
32cesarebassoTom will be missed ...
3399abombRest Peacefully Tom; we'll miss you. ...
34matt78910a great announcer, an intregal part of blue jays h ...
35mjwolffWe'll miss you, Tom. You are the Toronto Blue Jays ...
36daalonzoA class act who will be missed. ...
37ThayneI grew up listening to Tom call games on the radio ...
38smartguy24Rest in peace Tom, your voice will most certainly ...
39revaudA severe loss for any baseball fan.Like losing a f ...
40kevin1971What can I say? One of the great ones, and certain ...
41bl32A sad loss. Much, much too soon, but there will al ...
42gojaysgo!Very shocked and saddened by this news...tho I don ...
43jeffparker1985Tom Cheek was the best thing that could have happe ...
44adamcochrane1Very, very sad news for baseball fans and especial ...
45nefcanuckWhen I heard the news about Tom Cheek this morning ...
46konceptzTom & Jerry forever... you will be missed. ...
47kurtzietouch em all tom nobody will ever fill your shoes. ...
48toronto_raptors_4R.I.P Mr. Cheeks ...
49immortal_mcSad, sad loss for baseball and the Blue Jays. My ...
50dustin115A great man who will be missed by all of us who gr ...
51itscolduphereTom Cheek is one of those special wonders who, mor ...
52major_leafThe voice of the Jays. Thanks for all the great g ...
53RodoggTom Cheek, such a great man in this world will alw ...
54stamps4everMy deepest condolences to Mr. Cheek's family. I h ...
55zapzacThe Blue Jays will never "sound" the same. Condol ...
56bjyanksI have always been a New York Yankee fan but I enj ...
57dionisio43It is a very sad day for Canadians. Tom was a cla ...
58mjm1973What a sad sad day. We are all going to miss you ...
59ahollingsworthIt has been said that our birth and death are the ...
60nklein69THe Blue Jays will never sound the same. A very sa ...
61nastybruinRest In Peace Mr. Cheek. You will be missed. ...
62tml1973Irreplaceable indeed. Never will the call of a Blu ...
63PintlifterIt is going to be an empty feeling knowing I will ...
64proc9091God Bless You Tom. Most of my fondest Blue Jays m ...
65tylersdadRest in peace Mr. Cheek, you will be forever misse ...
66thelostsoulTouch em all Tommy. You have left the booth but yo ...
67peiboltThanks for the memories, Tom! ...
68aday254The Games Over. The End. Good-Luck and Good- ...
69Whaleman_98That is so sad. This guy was the best announcer I' ...
70fallguySo many evenings @ work listening to Tom call the ...
71joshewaR.I.P. Tom, you united us all with your grace and ...
72timfrenchA class act all the way. Tom was somewhat famous i ...
73Hlias_JenniferA Sad day the sports world he will be missed very ...
74cnywhat a great broadcaster cheek was he will be miss ...
75stughattsWith a heavy heart today, I say Rest in Peace Tom ...
76hiI remember turning the sound off on my tv set so I ...
77cprtrainThanks Tom. ...
78stiltonGuys like Cheek make putting up with idiots like R ...
79RookswellFor all of the important moments that matter in th ...
80ericdunnettA part of my childhood, we will miss your style, c ...
81zappa72I can't count how often I thrilled listening to To ...
8273dodoThank you Tom for your wonderful calls. I think ha ...
83grant2williams11An era has truley come to an end. I don't know ho ...
84dakubsSitting outside on my deck listening to the Blue j ...
85martiniBaseball fans will certainly miss ya... He was m ...
8677bruinboy22Words can't describe how sad of a day this is for ...
87jjohnson10A truly amazing person and announcer, Mr.Cheek has ...
88squirtmonsterI remeber growing up as a kid and listening to Tom ...
89tovikingfanCheek was one of the great ones, right up there wi ...
90johnreid222I don't normally like to post on these things but ...
91slickshoes45I have all lost a close, personal friend; even tho ...
92acapnGrowing up in Buffalo NY as a Jays fan, Tom & ...
93murrarmPost Humously entered in to the Hall of Fame. Tom ...
94swedishsterlsTom Cheek was and always will be the voice of the ...
95JesseP2613farewell to a class act that brought simplicity to ...
96mulciber316You never know what you've got til it's gone... an ...
97forzaazzurriI remember listening to TOM before the Jays were o ...
98habs_96God's speed Tom, you were the voice of the franchi ...
99trubluCondolences to the entire Cheek family and to the ...
100mourtosaTwo words. Thanks Tom. ...
101billyisgone14Tom showed everyone that if you do your job withou ...
102cudawudaYou will be forever ours! We love you and miss you ...
103tmleafsfan93Goodbye Tom. Thank you for all the memories and f ...
104hbk90210I always thought that warm baritone voice of Tom's ...
105eggs24R.I.P Tom you will be missed. Condolences to his w ...
106heinz571/2Thank you Tom. I miss you. ...
107peterpan13I met Tom Cheek as a 17 year old and he was nothin ...
108bananas232325That's just really really sad, and I'm hurting bec ...
109tcartrThis news hit me like it was a member of my family ...
110ngakaiEventhough I'm not a baseball fan...Tom Cheek's vo ...
111T702I started listening to Tom back in 1977 and always ...
112cowboycanuckThanks for the memories Tom. Our thoughts and pray ...
113dak1This past season, was not the same without Tom bei ...
114polargrapeThank you, Tom. ...
115moh$inThe best canadian sports broadcaster of all time. ...
116fatherguidoTom Cheek set the standard by which all baseball a ...
117greenclan67Appropriate that we are thinking of Tom on this, t ...
118keppyI even remember hearing Tom Cheek do some Expos ga ...
119dad_to_dja true gentleman, your voice will be missed, rest ...
120Liquid_CrushMany fond memories listening to Tom and Jerry over ...
121colinhalliganI can remember growing up as a kid in Northern Ont ...
122blujay1It's a sad day in Major League Baseball. Tom Chee ...
123sportscrazyA great man who will be missed by all in the baseb ...
124benhipI remember turning tom and jerry on and listening ...
125Bubbles123One half of the greatest ever play-by-play crew. M ...
126dac2004touch em' all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home ...
127jimwtoddTruly a great loss for baseball and Canada. Rest ...
1281992and2002I hope someone from TSN prints each and every one ...
129aciardullithe jays should wear a "C" on their jersey next ye ...
130pkistuffTom was the voice I heard when I was a little boy ...
131Hattrick_999Tom Cheek was a Canadian Icon, the Foster Hewitt o ...
132boots321God Bless you Tom. You are the class of Baseball.. ...
133Quietone22When I read the news yesterday, I cried. Tom Cheek ...
134pigskin_peartThe Blue Jay games will never be the same, thank y ...
135brockleighRest In Peace, Tom. You're a legend. I knew Tom ...
136saints_fanI'll never forget hiding under my bed covers secre ...
137khazzardInstallation into the Hall of Fame is inevitable, ...
138gfaimanI grew up listening to Tom and Jerry calling the J ...
139dycoTouch 'em all Tom...thanks for the memories. God b ...
140david6RIP CHEEK ...
141barstool_profClass...such an easy word to say, yet so difficult ...
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