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 the stadium 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 second of a two-part look into the man whose voice has helped make Blue Jays baseball a summer institution all across Canada. To read part one, click here.
While Jerry now makes his living as a behind-the-microphone personality, like many young boys growing up, it was likely a career between the lines that he might have aspired to chase.
“I played baseball from little league right on through high school where I also played for a winter league team in the San Francisco Bay Area and a semi-pro team in the summer in Novato where I grew up,” he says. “Then I went to Santa Clara and played just two games for the freshmen team before I was cut and that ended my baseball playing career which I was so happy to have to later let me see the game a little bit differently as a broadcaster.”
Jerry may not have gone on to great stardom as a baseball player, but he can lay claim to one impressive feat.
“My best baseball story was at Santa Clara when in the only game I played in, I tripled to right center field going one for two that day and was cut the next day thus finishing my college career a .500 hitter!!” he says. “My best friend on that team, Bob Spence, who would sign with the White Sox after that hit .480 for the season but my name was above his leading the team in hitting and to this day I never let him forget that!”
If he had made it to the show, Jerry says fans would be treated to the stylings of Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan when he walked up to the plate.
While Jerry’s college baseball career was short-lived, his career in the radio booth has been anything but. Everyone knows of the daily rigours and preparations – both in-season and offseason – that are involved in maintaining status as a top-level baseball player, but what does the routine of a baseball broadcaster look like?
Of course, the work doesn’t simply start when the microphone goes live, so I was curious to ask Jerry what a typical game day would look like for him.
“For me, a typical day is to get up around 7:45 a.m. and spend thirty minutes doing stretching and core exercises for my back…then I go and get my first Starbucks…then sit at my laptop and prepare for that night’s game for an hour or two…then eat a substantial breakfast or lunch one of my two meals that day…then I take a 23 minute nap. ha…it can vary but usually 23 minutes on the button and this goes back to my Santa Clara days,” he says. “Then at 2 p.m. , I drive to the game stopping to get my second Starbucks…and then after I arrive at the ball park, I do a little paper work and then visit with the players and coaches and managers for both teams from 3:30 p.m. to roughly 6 p.m…then I eat and write down the lineups and at 7 p.m. we go on the air.”
After the game Jerry says he heads home or to the road hotel, takes a last look at scores and information on his laptop and then reads himself to sleep around midnight.
“And I do this for six months each day … ha… boring!”
Of course, most baseball fans would disagree with Jerry’s – perhaps tongue-in-cheek – assertion that his job is boring. Many people might think he has a dream job, as he gets to travel around North America, visiting different Major League Baseball stadiums. He’s seen and experienced it all, from parks filled with history like Old Yankee Stadium and Fenway, to newer facilities like Target Field. What park stands out as his favourite?
“Safeco Field in Seattle because it is a retractable dome stadium but is an outdoor facility with grass and dirt and is only closed when it is raining for a game…and it has a plenty of fresh air coming in with a spectacular view of the city over the left field bleachers with about five storeys of open spaces to play with so the fans have to wear jackets often times but they love it and so do I,” he says. “And it’s my favourite city, too, with beautiful Pike’s Market down by the water and the happy, smiling people who walk down in that area and mill around and shop or just enjoy the moment …my kind of people and satisfaction…the water, the air, the people…all the best for me.”
While it is baseball that ended up being his career’s work, he also takes great pride and passion in the game of basketball. Jerry has experience and history as a broadcaster for that sport, as well as experience as an assistant general manager in the short-lived Western Basketball Association. Nowadays, Jerry coaches basketball at a high school in Etobicoke, Ont. and he says both sports, baseball and basketball, still give him much joy.
“I like both baseball and basketball equally…one is with a professional side to it and my career path while the other deals with young men who I get to mentor and emphasize academics and team work. But in both cases, I am around young men who I can encourage and mentor or just be with to enjoy their company and see them grow as people and be with them through good times and those not-so-good times which we all have on occasion,” he says. “They help me grow and stay happy and I need that from them.”
Many would be surprised to find out that Jerry acts as a mentor to not only the high school kids he coaches in basketball, but also in a sense to the baseball players he comes across on a daily basis – the grown men, many of whom are millionaires, but who are all part of the Toronto Blue Jays family. Jerry doesn’t hide the fact that he’s forged close ties with many players over the years, and it’s that bond that has led him to speak out in the past when upon returning to the city with new teams, former Blue Jays are unjustifiably given a less-than-warm reception.
“The fans don’t know the players, like Lyle Overbay, or Vernon Wells or Roberto Alomar or whomever and so they boo. I am okay with that up to a point but when it continues and I do not feel it is right I will comment in a firm but fair manner and then let it go without going back to it over and over again,” he says. “But that is part of being a fan and I am okay with that because they do not have the good fortune I do to know what is there well beyond the surface…but that is why they are fans and that is so good for the game to have them…it wouldn’t be the same without them good, bad or indifferent.”
Without the fans there wouldn’t be professional baseball and without the great broadcasters, we wouldn’t have some of the most undeniably poignant sporting moments of our time. Of course, Tom Cheek, who left us far too soon, was one such all-time great broadcaster who left his mark on the game. His call in the 1993 World Series during Joe Carter’s Game 6 series-clinching homerun – “Touch ’em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” – is undoubtedly the greatest and most well-known call in the franchise’s history.
Tom and Jerry were a one-two punch like no other in professional baseball for many years before his death in 2005 and Mr. Cheek’s loyal supporters and fans are still trying to get him honoured with the Ford C. Frick award for lifetime broadcast excellence.
“It would be very gratifying for me and the entire country of Canada to see my late partner, Tom Cheek, receive the Ford Frick Award and he will very soon,” Jerry says. “He is in very special and elite company and the past winners over the last six years since his death have shown this…all of them icons like Tom. And with Dave Van Horne just honored this summer as the Expos announcer, Tom is getting closer and closer and it will happen soon.”
While Jerry is hoping his late partner can be honoured, he takes a modest stance when asked how he’d react to one day being considered for the award.
“Personally, if I were simply nominated someday by the selection committee and was on their list of the top ten names for just that one year, that would be plenty of recognition for me,” he says “I would cherish that one very satisfying year always as it would have a lasting effect on me without ever winning the award.”
While it remains to be seen what ultimate awards and accolades will come of Jerry Howarth’s career, Blue Jays fans can take solace in the fact that the franchise has such a great broadcaster behind the mic and we can all hope to continue to enjoy his calls – from “There she goes!” to “Call it two, a double play!” – for many years to come.