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Late Blue Jays broadcaster Cheek named Frick Award winner

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The Canadian Press
12/5/2012 4:02:46 PM
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Tom Cheek, the original and long-time voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, has been awarded the 2013 Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cheek, who died in 2005, called the first 4,306 regular-season and 41 post-season games in Blue Jays history, beginning with Toronto's inaugural season in 1977.

His widow Shirley Cheek thanked all the friends and family members who had worked so hard to get people to vote for him. Cheek has been one of the 10 finalists for the Frick award every year starting in 2005.

She said she was sitting in her doctor's office when the call came from hall of fame president Jeff Idelson. Her doctor was the first to find out that their campaign had finally succeeded.

As for what her late husband would have said, she related a little speech she just gave to the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, who inducted him into their hall of fame and said at the time he should be in Cooperstown.

"I said to them, first of all, if this was Tom, he would get before you and say 'There are so many people more deserving than I.'

"The same thing with Cooperstown, if he ever gets in. . . I said, 'I for one feel that Tom deserves to be there'."

His call of Joe Carter's championship-winning home run in the 1993 World Series -- "Touch 'em all Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life." -- highlighted a career that saw Cheek chronicle the Jays' rise from struggling expansion team to back-to-back world champions.

"Maybe because I've heard it so many times, that really is my favourite call," said Shirley Cheek.

"Tom was just an off-the-cuff guy . . . It was how it happened."

He will be honoured as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 July 26-29 in Cooperstown. Cheek becomes the second Frick Award winner whose career came primarily with a Canadian team, following former Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne's selection in 2011.

"Tom Cheek was the voice of summer for generations of baseball fans in Canada and beyond," Idelson said in a statement.

"He helped a nation understand the elements of the game and swoon for the summer excitement that the expansion franchise brought a hockey-crazed nation starting in the late 1970s. He then authored the vocal narrative of a team that evolved into one of the most consistent clubs of the 1980s and 1990s.

"We are thrilled to celebrate Tom's legacy with baseball broadcasting's highest honour."

His widow said he lived his dream.

"He always wanted to be a broadcaster, from the time he was seven years old," she said.

Born June 13, 1939, in Pensacola, Fla., Cheek began work as a backup announcer to Van Horne on Expos broadcasts.

In 1976 he landed the job as the radio voice of the expansion Blue Jays. Paired first with Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn and later with Jerry Howarth starting in 1981, Cheek's baritone voice became a hallmark of summer in Toronto.

Cheek called every regular season and post-season Blue Jays game from April 7, 1977 through June 2, 2004. The next day, Cheek took the first of two days off to attend the funeral of his father.

Upon his return, Cheek sensed he was not right physically when he was unable to retain information he had read only minutes earlier.

On June 13, 2004 -- his 65th birthday -- Cheek underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour, but some of the tumour was unreachable.

Cheek died a little more than a year later.

Cheek was inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2005. That same year, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame established the Tom Cheek Media Leadership Award, with Cheek being honoured with the first award.

"Since the inception of the Blue Jays he played a vital role in promoting Baseball in Canada in an extraordinary and enduring way," Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston said in a statement. "Tom Cheek was the constant. He was a model of consistency, professionalism and excellence. He was the voice of summer, professional but passionate with a tone we could trust and embrace.

"Tom Cheek has provided the soundtrack for many of the important moments in this team's history, with his choice of words and intonation always perfectly suited for the occasion."

Tom Cheek (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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