Flashback Friday: The Legendary Tom Cheek
|Courtesy of CP24|
Many say that radio is theatre of the mind; it’s all about painting a picture for the listener. It’s about transporting them to a place or time somewhere else in the universe. And there is no man who painted that picture more vividly than broadcasting great, Tom Cheek.
In honour of his induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend, for this week’s Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays – the legendary Tom Cheek.
As many fellow fans can attest to and as Bob Elliott mentioned, Tom Cheek was the voice of summer. He has the familiar voice that lulled many young fans to sleep at night, with the radio close by. Cheek was a faithful companion to Blue Jays fans, always there for over 27 straight years.
Tom began his broadcasting career in New York in 1962, and for the next decade or so, bounced around from a few radio stations and nearly became the voice of the Atlanta Hawks in 1968.
Tom made his way up the ranks, eventually earning a spot in the booth on the Montreal Expos radio broadcast team in 1974 until 1976. At the time, Tom and his wife Shirley lived in Burlington Vermont, and he made the 100 mile trek to Montreal for the Expos broadcasts.
Tom noted he even recorded his Expos broadcasts on a tape recorder, and would listen back to them on the ride home to Vermont and critique himself along the way.
When it was announced Toronto was awarded an expansion team for 1977, Tom Cheek stepped in as the new Blue Jays commentator along with Hall of Famer and 300 game winner, Early Wynn.
The two would call Blue Jays games for the next three years until Tom Cheek met his famous broadcast counterpart, Jerry Howarth. Howarth actually applied for the initial Blue Jays job in 1977, but the Blue Jays opted to go with the combination of Cheek and Wynn.
However, four years later, the Blue Jays called upon Jerry Howarth … and so the duo of “Tom and Jerry” was born, becoming the familiar voices of Blue Jays broadcasts for the next 23 years.
There’s a great video below of Tom Cheek speaking about his storied broadcasting career. It’s about 30 minutes long, but it’s definitely worth a watch as Tom speaks about his broadcasting history, all the way from his beginnings as a radio DJ, to his days with the Blue Jays.
There’s a couple of great quotes that really stood out from the video.
“The thing about this game is, you will never live long enough to see it all.
Learning to deal with failure is the success of a baseball player”.
Tom Cheek was there for an unprecedented 4306 consecutive games. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of baseball broadcasting Iron Man record, but Tom Cheek’s streak certainly has to rank up there. He was with the Blue Jays for Opening Day at Exhibition Stadium on April 7th 1977 all the way until June 3rd 2004.
Tom Cheek called every single milestone on the radio for the Toronto Blue Jays. From the very game in franchise history, to the Blue Jays first postseason berth in 1985, to their first World Series win in 1992, and of course, his signature “Touch ’em All Joe” call from the 1993 World Series.
The streak of 4306 consecutive games came to an end on June 4th 2004, as Tom Cheek attended the funeral of his father Tom, a World War II fighter pilot.
Sadly, Tom was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004 and passed away the following year in 2005. However, the legend of Tom Cheek lives on as this past summer, Cheek received two of the highest accolades for a baseball broadcaster.
It’s been a long time coming, but Tom Cheek will finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown along other Blue Jays greats like Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick.
Tom Cheek even has a musical tribute by Saskatoon rapper Rational called “A Swing and a Belt“, which you can listen to below. It features a sample of Cheek’s famous call in the hook, and is a fitting tribute to the late Blue Jays legend.
It’s an honour well deserved, and it’s only fitting that the greatest voice of the Blue Jays lives on in the home of the greatest baseball legends … in Cooperstown. Congratulations, Tom.