Editor’s note: My mom’s cousin happens to be good friends and colleagues with none other than the radio voice of the Blue Jays, Jerry Howarth. During a recent trip to Toronto, my mom got the opportunity to head into the press box, meet Jerry and the crew and be shown around. She came back with nothing but glowing reports about the experience and along with showing her around and letting her sit in his seats in the stadium, Jerry also got her John McDonald jersey signed. My mom happened to mention that her son writes a Blue Jays blog, Jerry said he would be interested in reading it and after exchanging a couple e-mails, Jerry agreed to answer some questions for us here at Infield Fly. The following is the first of a two-part look into the life of the man whose voice has helped make Blue Jays baseball a summer institution all across Canada.
Nothing says summer to me like listening to a ballgame on the radio and there’s no sport that lends itself quite as well to such a broadcast.
I have vivid memories of the time when I was a young baseball fan who was not yet old enough to stay up to watch the ends of baseball games on TV. No kid likes to be told to go to bed, but the blow would be softened immensely on game days, as I knew I could tune in to Tom and Jerry describing the action, as I would desperately try to lay awake long enough in my bed to see if my beloved Jays would prevail.
In more recent years, I recall having either elation or frustration while out on the road, when finding out a specific radio station either was or was not carrying the Blue Jays’ game.
I have no trouble admitting that baseball on the radio has undoubtedly helped grow some of the unbridled passion I feel for not only the Blue Jays, but the sport itself.
All that being said, as a journalist in my day job and a Blue Jays’ fanatic in my free time, I was elated to find out that as well as being a tremendous radio presence, Jerry Howarth is also a tremendous human being. He’s the type of guy that is easy to look up to as a journalist and I would definitely count as one of my idols, even more so after coming to find out he’s not only a top-notch radio talent, but a first-class person.
Jerry’s story in broadcasting begins when he was 25 years old, when he was working as the athletic department fundraiser for his alma mater, the University of Santa Clara. Believe it or not, at the time, Jerry didn’t have what it takes to make it as a broadcaster.
“I wanted to heighten my profile as a young fundraiser and asked to be part of the radio which I had never done and the alum who did the games by himself told me I wasn’t ready for this because of my voice and he was probably right at that time…ha…so he said no,” Jerry says.
Not to be deterred, Jerry continued on a determined path to improve at something he was quickly developing a passion for.
“I then bought a tape recorder to see if I could broadcast our football and basketball games into the recorder and that is what I did for two years,” he says. “I listened and critiqued myself and they were SO BAD I chose to make this my life’s work to see if I couldn’t make steady improvement. So I taped games for two years while raising money for the athletic department and then I decided it was time to try it on the radio.”
Jerry says he never did try recording baseball games while he practised and it wasn’t until 1974 that he was able to try his hand at the sport his name has become synonymous with. He had moved to Tacoma from Santa Clara when he was told there was an opening to call football and basketball games for the University of Puget Sound, while working as that school’s athletic department fundraiser. That opportunity led him to professional baseball broadcasts, as he called the action for the AAA Tacoma Twins (currently Tacoma Rainiers) of the Pacific Coast League.
He did that for two full years before moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, to be the AAA Salt Lake Gulls radio broadcaster and assistant general manager.
“I did that for three more years from 1976 through 1978 giving me five full years of broadcasting experience and mostly in baseball,” he says. “And it was the baseball I enjoyed the most and then I tried to land a major league job back in 1981, which I was fortunate to get in Toronto thirty years ago.”
From there, you could say, the rest is history. Jerry has become well-known and well-regarded as the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays. While players, managers, ownership groups, home fields and even jerseys have changed over the years, Jerry has remained a constant for the past three decades.
He’s had the opportunity to call two World Series championships in Toronto and has had the pleasure to see countless great players ply their craft.
“My all-time two favourite players to watch were Willie Mays when I was growing up seeing him play every day for years and then watching Roberto Alomar play second base for the Blue Jays…both are in the Hall of Fame so I was very lucky to have seen them both,” he says. “The two best players I have ever seen.”
As for the people and personalities outside the lines, Jerry is quick to credit one man who helped him achieve success in his professional career, as well as two allies who are well-known to Blue Jays fans.
“My personal heroes off the field would be the late, Ernie Harwell, who just died a year ago at 92. Ernie was the long-time Detroit Tigers announcer and he took me under his wing from day one in 1982 and we remained best of friends until he died…a wonderful Christian man,” he says. “Then there is John Gibbons our former manager. He along with our third base coach, Brian Butterfield, are my two best friends in baseball. And then after that, I am blessed to have so many other very good friends who when I see them we renew our friendships as brothers. And because I do not own a cell phone or anything else for that matter except for this laptop I am on now, that means a lot when I do see them as if we were never apart. I am blessed.”
On the radio, Jerry has never been known as a “homer” announcer, which is usually a non-flattering term to describe an announcer who is too partial and unbalanced in his reporting of the game. That being said, for someone who has pretty much lived and breathed Blue Jays baseball since shortly after the team came into existence, isn’t it hard to not want to root-root-root for the home team? Does the old adage of ‘there’s no cheering in the press box’ truly come into play here, or does Jerry consider himself a Blue Jays fan?
“I am a fan of baseball and I like to think my broadcasts reflect that. I love the game and I love calling the games and there is a reason you win and a reason you lose. I am a big-picture kind of person and like balance in my work,” he says “But having said that, I want the Blue Jays to do well from President Paul Beeston, who is a very loyal and trusted friend for me, to young GM Alex Anthopoulos who is outstanding in his new role, to our new manager who I like a lot, John Farrell, to the players who I like to encourage and praise while at the same time messing with them, too, in a teasing way which they love, too, as they give it right back to me which I want. But the bottom line is we have each other’s back on and off the microphone and that is the way it should be for a team’s announcer.
“Plus, there are always reasons well beyond the surface that accounts for a lot of what happens on the field that I am privy to that others are not and so I can be a lot more patient and understanding as to why things are happening good and bad and I like that kind of respect with the people in the Blue Jays organization. But the fans know where my heart is when they hear my entire body of work over thirty years and I like that the most.”
Stay tuned for part two of The Man Behind the Mic, where Jerry discusses his own baseball career, a typical day of work, fickle Toronto fans, the late Tom Cheek and his love of basketball.