Tom Cheek
Thomas F. Cheek.png
BornJune 13, 1939
DiedOctober 9, 2005(2005-10-09) (aged 66)
NationalityAmerican
Alma materCambridge School of Broadcasting
OccupationToronto Blue Jays radio sportscaster
Spouse(s)Shirley Cheek
Children3
AwardsFord C. Frick Award (2013)

Baseball career
Member of the Canadian
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction2013

Thomas F. Cheek (June 13, 1939 – October 9, 2005) was an American sports commentator who is best remembered as the play-by-play radio announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB), from the team's establishment in 1977 until his retirement in 2004. During that time, he covered a 27-year streak of 4,306 consecutive games plus 41 post-season games—from the first Blue Jays game on April 7, 1977, until June 3, 2004. He was inducted to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2004.

Cheek's best-known call was perhaps his description of Joe Carter's dramatic title-clinching home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, when he said, "Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"[1] He is also author of the book Road to Glory, chronicling the first 16 years of Blue Jays baseball.

Cheek received the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award after being nominated as a finalist for the award every year since 2005.

Biography

Early life

Born and raised in the west side of Pensacola, Florida, Cheek, an avid sports fan, was given his first tape recorder at age 14, which inspired his interest in broadcasting.

His father, also named Tom Cheek, was a well known United States Naval Aviator in World War II and a recipient of the Navy Cross at the Battle of Midway.[2]

From 1957 to 1960, Tom Cheek (the son) served in the United States Air Force, where he spent a year in Morocco as a teletype operator with the Strategic Air Command[3] as an airman third class. During this time he was introduced to New York Yankees broadcaster Red Barber. Following his discharge in 1960, he attended the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston for two years.[4]

Early broadcasting years

Cheek began his radio broadcasting career in Plattsburgh, New York as a disc jockey on WEAV in 1962. He then moved to Burlington, Vermont where he worked for WDOT and was quickly promoted to corporate sales manager and sports director. He later moved from music to sports broadcasting when he moved to WJOY, where his on-air sports work included baseball, basketball, football and hockey for the University of Vermont.

In 1968, he was almost hired as the first broadcaster for the newly formed Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, but Skip Caray was chosen instead.[5]

The newly formed Montreal Expos were looking for an announcer to complement their primary play-by-play man, Dave Van Horne. Burlington, although traditionally a Boston Red Sox town, was warming up to the new expansion team as it was only 99 miles (159 km) from Montreal. When it was decided the Expos would use a guest announcer format, Cheek got his first broadcast experience in Major League Baseball, filling in there occasionally from 1974 to 1976.[6]

Toronto Blue Jays

Beginning in 1977, Cheek became the first full-time announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays alongside his first broadcast partner, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, who remained with him through the end of 1980. Wynn was replaced by Jerry Howarth in 1981.

For the next 23 years, "Tom and Jerry" were the radio voices of the Blue Jays, covering the team's rise through the 1980s and culminating with their back-to-back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. They were joined by color commentator Gary Matthews in 2000 and 2001.[7]

Cheek's Blue Jays broadcasts originated from Toronto's CKFH "The Fan" 1430, founded by another legendary Toronto sports broadcaster, Hockey Hall of Fame member Foster Hewitt. For a brief period, the broadcast was heard on 1050 CHUM; but following the Blue Jays' purchase by Rogers Communications, reverted to "The Fan", which had changed its call sign and frequency to CJCL 590 AM, also known as FAN 590.

Cheek called many memorable moments in Blue Jays history, including many firsts; the Blue Jays' division-clinching game in 1985, and both final plays of the 1992 and 1993 World Series—the latter of which spawned his famous "Touch 'em all, Joe!" quote, when Joe Carter clinched the World Series on a walk-off home run for only the second time in World Series history.

"The Streak"

Tom Cheek's name on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.
Tom Cheek's name on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.

Cheek announced every Blue Jays game from their inaugural game at Exhibition Stadium, in Toronto, on April 7, 1977, until June 3, 2004, when he took two games off following the death of his father—a streak of 4,306 consecutive regular season and 41 postseason games.[8] During the 2004 season, the Jays raised a banner to SkyDome's (now the Rogers Centre) "Level of Excellence" bearing Cheek's name and, in place of a jersey number, 4,306—his streak of straight regular-season broadcasts.[9]

Other broadcasting activities

Cheek was a member of the broadcast team for ABC Sports at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, and at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.[10]

Illness and death

Cheek was forced to take time off to undergo surgery on June 12, 2004 to remove a brain tumor.[11] Following the surgery, Cheek was able to call some Blue Jays home games while undergoing chemotherapy, but was replaced on the road by various guest announcers. For a time, it seemed he had recovered and would be able to resume calling Blue Jays games in 2005. However, the cancer returned and he required further treatment at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital.

Cheek sat in with the new commentator, Canadian-born former minor league baseball infielder/outfielder Warren Sawkiw, and Howarth, to call an inning of the Blue Jays' 2005 opening game in Tampa Bay.[12]

He died at age 66 in Oldsmar, Florida, and was interred in the Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park in Clearwater, Florida.[13]

Personal life

Cheek married his wife, Shirley, of Hemmingford, Quebec, in 1959. They had three children—Jeff, Lisa, and Tom—and seven grandchildren at the time of his death.[14] Jeff was a pitcher in the Blue Jays organization from 1992 to 1994.[15][16]

Awards and honors

Cheek was inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2004 with the number "4306" next to his name, signifying his broadcasting streak. Shortly before his death, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame established the Tom Cheek Media Leadership Award for "playing a key role in promoting Canadian sports"; Cheek himself was the recipient of the first award. During the 2006 season, the Blue Jays wore a white circular sewn-on patch with the letters TC, and a radio microphone in black, beside the letters on their uniform sleeves in tribute to Cheek.[17]

For nine straight years (20052013),[18][19][20] Cheek was among the ten finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an award presented each year, during the Hall's induction weekend, to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball".[21] He received the 2013 award on December 5, 2012.[22][23]

Memorable calls

Roberto Alomar has stolen his fifty-third base. A fly ball will win it now. Joe Carter at the plate. The winning run—the American League championship—ninety feet away. The pitch—a swing—and a base hit! And the Blue Jays are the champs! The Blue Jays are the champs of the American League East![24]

Timlin to the belt... Pitch on the way... And there's a bunted ball, first base side, Timlin, to Carter, and the Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays are World Series Champions![25]

Joe has had his moments. Trying to lay off that ball, low to the outside part of the plate, he just went after one. Two balls and two strikes on him. Here's the pitch on the way, a swing and a belt! Left field, way back, BLUE JAYS WIN IT! The Blue Jays are World Series Champions, as Joe Carter hits a three-run home run in the ninth inning and the Blue Jays, have repeated as World Series Champions! Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life![22]

Bibliography

References

  1. ^ Tom Cheek, 66; Announcer Called Blue Jay Games for 271/2 Seasons Los Angeles Times. October 11, 2005
  2. ^ Millson, Larry (October 10, 2005). "Jays' voice falls silent". theglobeandmail.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  3. ^ Elliot, Bob. "Shirley Cheek to accept award for husband and Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek", Toronto Sun website, July 26, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pages 7–30 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
  5. ^ Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pages 31–33 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
  6. ^ Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pages 34–37 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
  7. ^ Fordin, Spencer (October 9, 2005). "Broadcaster Cheek passes away". MLB.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  8. ^ "Tom Cheek a finalist for Hall of Fame". cbc.ca. December 5, 2006. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "Tom Cheek, Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dies". americansportscastersonline.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  10. ^ Franzoni, Kyle. "Tom Cheek Awarded 2013 Ford C. Frick Honor". jaysjournal.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  11. ^ Rutsey, Mike. "Everybody misses Tom". slam.canoe.ca. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  12. ^ "Cheek returns to broadcast booth". cbc.ca. March 7, 2005. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  13. ^ Sportsnet
  14. ^ "Shirley Cheek's acceptance speech". torontosun.com. July 27, 2013. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  15. ^ "Jeff Cheek Minor Leagues Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  16. ^ "Dual citizen Cottam drafted by the Red Sox". canadianbaseballnetwork.com. 2018. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  17. ^ "Tom Cheek (1939-2005)". sportsecyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  18. ^ "Tom Cheek a finalist for Hall of Fame". cbc.ca. December 5, 2006. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  19. ^ "Tom Cheek named Frick award finalist". cbc.ca. December 6, 2005. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  20. ^ "Fans get Cheek, Doucet on Cooperstown ballot". cbc.ca. October 1, 2010. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  21. ^ Bastain, Jordan (December 4, 2007). "Cheek one of 10 finalists for Frick Award". MLB.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  22. ^ a b "Tom Cheek Named 2013 Ford C. Frick Award Winner for Broadcasting Excellence" (Press release). National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. December 5, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  23. ^ "2013 Ford C. Frick Award Winner Tom Cheek". Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  24. ^ Smith, Curt. Voices of the Game. Fireside Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-671-73848-8
  25. ^ Elliott, Bob (July 26, 2013). "Jerry Howarth's World-class move for Tom Cheek". torontosun.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.