Thomas F. Cheek (June 13, 1939 – October 9, 2005) was an American sports commentator who is best remembered today as the original "Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays". Cheek was 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, Cheek had a 27-year streak of 4,306 consecutive games plus 41 post-season games called, from the first Blue Jays game on April 7, 1977 until June 3, 2004. Cheek was inducted to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2004.
Cheek, talking in a ceremony honoring his 4,306 consecutive baseball games on August 29, 2004.
|Born||June 13, 1939|
Pensacola, Florida, U.S.
|Died||October 9, 2005 (aged 66)|
Oldsmar, Florida, U.S.
|Alma mater||Cambridge School of Broadcasting|
|Occupation||Toronto Blue Jays radio sportscaster|
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!" He is also author of the book Road to Glory, which chronicled the first 16 years of Blue Jays baseball.
Cheek was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award after being nominated as a finalist for the award every year since 2005.
Born and raised in the west side of Pensacola, Florida, Cheek, an avid sports fan, was introduced to his first tape recorder at the age of 14, which would lay the foundations for his future in broadcasting. From 1957 to 1960, he served in the United States Air Force where he was introduced to the Yankees broadcaster Red Barber. Following his discharge from the armed forces in 1960, Cheek attended the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston for two years. His father, also named Tom Cheek, was a well known United States Navy flyer in World War II and a recipient of the Navy Cross at the Battle of Midway.
Early broadcasting yearsEdit
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.
At the same time, the newly formed Montreal Expos were looking for a second announcer to complement their primary play-by-play man, Dave Van Horne. Burlington, being only 99 miles (159 km) from Montreal, although traditionally a Boston Red Sox town, was warming up to the new expansion team. It was later decided that the Expos would go with a guest announcer format, and this is where Cheek would get his first broadcast experience of Major League Baseball, where he filled in occasionally from 1974 to 1976.
Toronto Blue JaysEdit
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, this combination of "Tom and Jerry" would be the radio voices of the Blue Jays. Their partnership covered the rise of the Blue Jays through the 1980s, culminating with back to back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. The team was joined by color commentator Gary Matthews in 2000 and 2001. Cheek, along with Howarth, were perhaps the most respected Toronto sports broadcasters of the era.
Cheek's Blue Jays broadcasts originated from Toronto's CKFH "The Fan" 1430, a station that was founded by another legendary Toronto sports broadcaster, Hockey Hall of Fame member Foster Hewitt. For a brief period, his broadcast was heard on 1050 CHUM, but following the purchase of the Blue Jays by Rogers Communications, reverted to "The Fan", which had changed its callsign and frequency to CJCL 590 AM, also known as the FAN 590.
Cheek called many memorable moments in Toronto Blue Jays franchise history, including many firsts; the Blue Jays' division-clinching game in 1985 and both the 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, only the second time this ever happened in World Series history.
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 games and 41 postseason games. During the 2004 season, the Jays raised a banner to SkyDome's (now the Rogers Centre) "Level of Excellence" bearing his name and, in place of a jersey number, 4,306 – his streak of straight regular-season broadcasts.
Other broadcasting activitiesEdit
Illness and deathEdit
Cheek was forced to take further time off to undergo surgery on June 12, 2004 to remove a brain tumor. Following the surgery, Cheek was able to call some Blue Jays home games while undergoing chemotherapy, but he was replaced on the road by various guest announcers. For a time, it seemed Cheek had recovered and would be able to resume calling Blue Jays games in 2005. However, the cancer then returned and he required further treatment at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital.
Cheek did sit 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, played in Tampa Bay.
His younger son, Jeff, was a pitcher in the Blue Jays organization from 1992-1994.
Awards and honorsEdit
Cheek was inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2004 with the number "4306" next to his name, signifying his streak. Canada's Sports Hall of Fame established the "Tom Cheek Media Leadership Award" shortly before his death, for "playing a key role in promoting Canadian sports", with Cheek being named 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 sleeve, in tribute to Cheek.
For nine straight years (2005–2013), Cheek was named among the ten finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The award is presented each year during the Hall of Fame's induction weekend to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball." Cheek was selected as the 2013 recipient of the award on December 5, 2012.
- On October 2, 1991, Cheek described the Blue Jays' win of the AL East this way:
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!
- On October 23, 1993, Cheek called the Jays' back-to-back World Series championship with his famous call:
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!
- Tom Cheek, 66; Announcer Called Blue Jay Games for 271/2 Seasons Los Angeles Times. October 11, 2005
- Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pp.7–30 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
- Millson, Larry (October 10, 2005). "Jays' voice falls silent". theglobeandmail.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pp.31–33 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
- Cheek, Tom. Road to Glory, Warwick Publishing, 1993. pp.34–37 ISBN 1-895629-16-0
- Fordin, Spencer (October 9, 2005). "Broadcaster Cheek passes away". MLB.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Tom Cheek a finalist for Hall of Fame". cbc.ca. December 5, 2006. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Tom Cheek, Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dies". americansportscastersonline.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- Franzoni, Kyle. "Tom Cheek Awarded 2013 Ford C. Frick Honor". jaysjournal.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- Rutsey, Mike. "Everybody misses Tom". slam.canoe.ca. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Cheek returns to broadcast booth". cbc.ca. March 7, 2005. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Shirley Cheek's acceptance speech". torontosun.com. July 27, 2013. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Tom Cheek (1939-2005)". sportsecyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Tom Cheek a finalist for Hall of Fame". cbc.ca. December 5, 2006. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Tom Cheek named Frick award finalist". cbc.ca. December 6, 2005. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "Fans get Cheek, Doucet on Cooperstown ballot". cbc.ca. October 1, 2010. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- Bastain, Jordan (December 4, 2007). "Cheek one of 10 finalists for Frick Award". MLB.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- "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.
- "2013 Ford C. Frick Award Winner Tom Cheek". Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
- Smith, Curt. Voices of the Game. Fireside Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-671-73848-8
- Elliott, Bob (July 26, 2013). "Jerry Howarth's World-class move for Tom Cheek". torontosun.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.