A Swing and a Belt and Shirley Cheek's Speech for Tom
To honour legendary Blue Jays radio broadcaster Tom Cheek's Ford C. Frick Award, Saskatoon rapper Matt Brotzel aka RationaL released "A Swing and a Belt". If you grew up with Tom Cheek calling Jays games, you'll probably dig it too.
Tom Cheek was honoured with the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting at the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. Here's the speech Tom's wife Shirley delivered.
Thank you Jane Forbes Clark, Jeff Idelson and members of the Hall of Fame. On behalf of our family I’d like to express sincere thanks to the members of the Frick committee for voting Tom this wonderful honor.
Also thanks to Brad Horn, Whitney Selover and Becky Ashe for looking after my family and guests so well this weekend.
Congratulations to Paul Hagen of Philadelphia for winning the Spink award. Also tomorrow’s inductees and honorees.
Since December 1, Tom has been honored by the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and now, the pinnacle of awards, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum here in Cooperstown.
“Hello Toronto Blue Jays fans!…”
Those of you who have travelled here today to be a part of this ceremony. It means a lot to all the Cheek family that you are with us to celebrate Tom receiving this prestigious award. Thank you so much for coming!
I would like to introduce my family; Tom and I were truly blessed by having three wonderful children, Tom, Lisa and Jeff. All three have made us proud. All are here to see their father honored, along with their wives and husband … Lisa, Amanda and Karl. The Cheek blood lines run deep: we have seven wonderful grandchildren Megan, Thomas and Matthew, plus Erik and Branden, Jackson and Jennings.
Tom’s sister Linda and her husband John are with us today , unfortunately her twin … Elizabeth and her husband David could not be with us today but we are all thinking of them.
Also my sister Ethel … and 25 nieces, nephews and cousins and many close friends.
Tom grew up in Pensacola, Florida and he never forgot his roots. I came across some notes he had made to begin a second book. These are Tom’s words, “a defining moment from whence my awareness and love for the game sprang would have to go back more than 60 years to the dusty roads and crackling heat of the Florida Pan Handle. You would have had to know Will Lindsay, my grandfather, who took me to see my first professional game at Legion Field in Pensacola, Florida, my home town”! Tom would tell everyone that Pensacola Beach was the whitest beach next to White Sands, New Mexico. Tom loved surf fishing and looked forward to vacations in Pensacola as often as possible.
He served in the United States Air Force in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where we met. Our journey together was incredible. A month after we were married in 1959, Tom was sent to Ben Guerir, Morocco to a SAC Air Force Base where he completed his tour of duty. While there, he played on a basketball team and met Leo Padelino, who is with us today!!
After his discharge, living in Champlain, N.Y., one mile from the Quebec Border, Interstate 87 connecting Montreal to New York City was under construction. Tom needed a job and a paycheck. He was hired. He often told this story about his foreman leaving him in charge to make sure the cement poured for the overpass was the right mix … example XYZ combo and not YZX … Tom was never quite sure that it was the right mix but … 50 plus years later I’m happy to report that overpass is still “STANDING”!!!!
Next venture took him to Saranac Lake, N.Y. as a night supervisor where construction had begun on a missile site. The first thing Tom did when the foreman unrolled a blueprint was to make sure the signature was on the bottom right hand corner indicating the diagram was right side up … talk about “bluffing your way into a job“!!!! The best day of Tom’s life was when the government declared the missiles “obsolete!” Clearly construction was not Tom’s forte!
Driving home to Champlain he’d hear a commercial about pursuing a career in radio broadcasting. The message spoke to Tom. He followed his dream and enrolled into the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston.
His first radio job was in Plattsburgh, N.Y. … then a jump across the lake to Burlington, Vt. Tom began as a DJ working every shift. He grabbed a rate card and sold “air” and eventually covered sports. He was the voice of St. Michael’s College basketball and covered football and hockey for The University of Vermont.
Hard to believe … but yes, he even had a Sunday afternoon bowling show … on radio! If Tom were here he would want to say “thanks to Frank Balch and George Cameron,” two men who believed in him and supported him thru his years in Vermont radio.
As sports director at WVMT Radio, one of the network stations carrying the Montreal Expos, Tom was asked to guest announce on Wednesday night games while Dave Van Horne moved over to TV. This turned into a three-year stint and began a life long friendship with Dave.
It also led Tom to Len Bramson who had obtained the radio rights for the Toronto Blue Jays. Tom was always grateful for Len’s support and belief in him, Len would be very proud of Tom today. As a native of Hemmingford, Quebec this had special meaning to me. The Expos were the foundation for Tom’s baseball broadcasting career.
Tom’s first assignment for the Blue Jays began in January 1977. He, along with manager Roy Hartsfield travelled all over Ontario and Up-State New York talking about a baseball team that really didn’t take form until spring training. This became an annual event, and referred to as the Caravan. Tom would emcee introducing and interviewing players and coaches and telling stories. He loved meeting the local people, from big cities to small farming towns exchanging stories and learning the history of the area. He was the constant over the years for the ball club and the link to the fans.
After Tom’s consecutive game streak ended he received several letters congratulating him on his achievement. Many people would refer to Tom as the “Ironman” on his consecutive game streak …. so it was nice to receive one such letter from the true ironman … Cal Ripken Jr.
Another came from George Steinbrenner … he put it this way … “27 years, 4,306 games is a very long time to announce baseball. Let me put it another way – if you announced only one game a week at your current high; it would take you 83 years to get to 4,306. Now that’s impressive”!
What truly amazes me, impresses me and shows once again what a powerful medium radio is, is the fact that after seven years fans across Canada have not forgotten Tom. I’ve heard from Blue Jays fans from British Columbia to Newfoundland expressing support and congratulations. Each year Jay’s fans voted and voted for Tom. From the bottom of my heart … thank you!
I’d like to extend my thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays and extended family, especially Paul Beeston, Howie Starkman, Pat Gillick, Gord Ash, Jeff Ross, Doctor Ron Taylor and Ken Carson.
Time does not allow me to name all who have supported Tom. You all know who you are from the clubhouse up to the front office … many of you took his money playing golf…. I think everyone has a “Tom Cheek golfing story.”
You listened to him complain about not getting a king size bed or a hotel room high enough to block the traffic noise, or to much light in the room … thumb tacks were a must in Tom’s travel kit … tacking the curtains to the wall to block that sliver of light … and yes, many of you still mention to me how you miss Tom singing on his way from the clubhouse up to the radio booth.
Yes, he even serenaded me with his rendition of Elvis!
There were 10 managers and numerous coaches during Tom’s 27 years broadcasting baseball. Two coaches who are present today are Galen Cisco and John Sullivan. One manager that certainly stands out is Cito Gaston with back to back World Series Championships!
Thanks Cito … Galen and John for being here today.
In 1981 Jerry Howarth joined Tom in the radio booth and remained his partner until spring training 2005. Thanks Jerry!
Thanks also to Mike Wilner, the third man in the booth and his tireless effort getting the word out to vote. Over the years without the men and women behind the scenes there would not be a broadcast.
A special thank you Paul, Tom, Gerald, Nelson, the two Sue’s, Dale, Frances, plus Vicki … who never gave up the good fight lobbying for Tom, and all who worked hard to make the broadcasts run smoothly, and of course engineer Bruce Brenner.
Tom was proud of a lot of things he accomplished … one he was most pleased about was mentoring a former Jays catcher who gave the booth a try after he retired. He’s now the television voice of the Blue Jays. Thanks to Tom’s dear friend and golfing partner, Buck Martinez, for a lifetime of support.
Thanks to all who worked on TV, there are too many to mention but you all know who you are … also the newspaper writers who have always been so kind to Tom. Thank you!!!!!
A few weeks after Tom passed away I came across a notebook that he had jotted down memories. One of the pages were his reflections on baseball. These were Tom’s words:
Reflections on Baseball
BASEBALL is: Hot dogs and peanuts – scoring a close game on a warm afternoon, sipping on a cold beer.
BASEBALL is: “Down in front”, the 7th inning stretch, say hey, and the President throwing out the first pitch.
BASEBALL is: “Joltin’ Joe”, “Big Train”, “The Splendid Splinter” and “When the fat lady sings.”
BASEBALL is: the greatest game in the World and it belongs to YOU and ME!
Many fans contacted me when Tom passed away, with emails and cards; they began by saying “Tom, was the voice of summer.” One fan wrote this: “It has been said that our birth and our death are two things that we cannot control – only the interval in between. “WOW”, what an interval this class act enjoyed!”
Another wrote “Tom, touched a city, a province and a country bringing people together with a game!” They would also tell me that his most famous sentence was “Touch ‘em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” Yes, Tom you have come a long way from that dirt street in Pensacola to realizing your dream and today being recognized and honored by your peers.
To our grandchildren, Megan, Thomas, Matthew, Erik, Branden, Jackson and Jennings … you don’t remember much about “Pop Pop” but he loved you unconditionally … this is your legacy!
Now to paraphrase … ”thank you all for coming, from the oldest Cheek (that’s me) … to the youngest we’ve never had a bigger day in our collective lives. You have touched us all!”
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