Cerutti gone far too young

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

He was a gentleman scholar from Amherst College.

He had an almost regal cerebral bearing in a game often played by those whose idea of heavy reading is gazing at the back of two baseball cards.

John Cerutti, the former Blue Jays lefty and current broadcaster for Rogers Sportsnet, didn't attend yesterday's usual 11 a.m. production meeting.

Hours later, Cerutti was discovered in his SkyDome Hotel room with vital signs absent. Cerutti was dead at the unfair age of 44.

"John is the most organized person I've ever met," said Jays clubhouse manager Jeff Ross, a good friend of Cerutti. "No way he would have forgotten the game time or thought we were on TSN."

Calls to Cerutti's cell phone and hotel room went unanswered. Finally, police officers and emergency medical personnel removed the door and found Cerutti in his bed. Foul play is not suspected.

In the play-hard-on-the-field and live-harder-off-the-field baseball world, some are two-fisted drinkers and some drink a lot unless they are starting the next day. Cerutti was a comparable wallflower.

"I never met a finer man in or out of baseball," said former Jays manager Buck Martinez, who drove Cerutti's wife Claudia to a Florida airport last night for a flight to Boston to meet her daughter.

Rob Faulds did the broadcast solo with Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi and radio broadcaster Tom Cheek filling in for a few innings.

"It's very shocking to lose someone in the prime of his life," said former Jays GM Gord Ash from St. Louis. "I stopped by to see Tom Cheek a couple of weeks ago and had a nice visit with John.

"He had an appreciation for the game both as a player and broadcaster."

Cerutti, who pitched for the Jays from 1985-'90, spent Saturday golfing with his family and then on his day off showed at the SkyDome. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, whether it was on air or standing in the press box.

"We both had children, but we were at different stages of parenting, so we had some good discussions," said Rick Briggs-Jude, the vice-president of programming at Sportsnet. "What came through was how proud he was of all his children (Nicole, Janine and Daniel)."

A scratch golfer, Cerutti lived on the East Lake Woodlands golf complex in Oldsmar, Fla., a few miles from Dunedin.

"I saw John last week in Tampa," said Tim Wilken, former Jays scouting director. "He was a good competitor. We played on a basketball team together, he beat most in golf. He was a great athlete and very family oriented."

The Jays flip-flopped Cerutti between the bullpen and the rotation. In 1990, he threw more than 200 innings in going 11-11. Whether he went seven innings or 1 2/3 innings, he was always there to answer questions. He would hang out with Tom Henke.

LAID BACK

Cerutti's laid-back off-field demeanor was a question mark for the Jays before the 1981 June draft.

One day, Amherst first baseman Larry DeRespino told him a strange story about "an Italian-looking guy in a Jays jacket" calling him aside to ask him questions.

The man asked DeRespino what Cerutti would do to him if DeRespino did something bad to Cerutti ... like steal his girlfriend or insult his mother.

DeRespino's reply: "He'd probably punch me in the face."

Right baseball answer. The guy in the Jays jacket was scout Al LaMacchia.

The Jays drafted Cerutti to begin a 14-year relationship, one which ended far too early.

Sign the Book of Condolences for John Cerutti.


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