March 12, 2012
Elliott updates a long lost friend
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
CLEARWATER, FLA. - Hello, Thomas.
When your wife, Shirley Cheek, had a memorial service in February of 2006 at Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park, she invited your friends and Blue Jays fans to come, sit on the grey-blue granite bench, which serves as a headstone, for a talk.
So, I drove along Sunset Point Road on Thursday for my fourth time back, for a talk and thought I’d jot you a couple of lines.
Before going, I called Saint Shirley to tell her my plans. It took time to track her down.
Shirley tripped over an uneven sidewalk while walking to the game on Tuesday with her pal, Elsie Moore from Burlington, and Mary Howarth, another saint ... to put up with your ex-partner, Jerry, longer than you did.
Of course, you knew that.
Shirley is at Mease Hospital with a broken left foot and a fractured right pelvis — “not a good combination,” she said jokingly — but she’ll be moving to Westchester Gardens on Friday, which is good as it’s closer to home.
Shirley was upbeat. Didn’t know she broke her other pelvis years ago so she is familiar with the rehab which lies ahead.
In front of the bench was a vase of red geraniums and placed amongst the flowers was what looked like a new Rawlings signed by a commissioner Bud Selig, with one smudge. I’m guessing it’s a foul ball a Jays fan caught this spring.
The noise of the fountain in the middle of the lake behind the bench reminded me of listening to you on the radio and people cheering.
In 2006, your children Lisa, Tom Jr., and Jeff were there and, when your granddaughter Megan read a verse, I leaned forward to hear.
Later, your pal Cito Gaston teased how I was getting hard of hearing (and he’s right) and he said the reason he noticed was because he leaned forward, too.
Thomas, I am leaning more and more forward these days.
Remember those manager’s pre-game briefings in the dugout? Now, I boot Jerry out of the seat next to John Farrell telling him it’s the hard-of-hearing section.
I suppose you’ve heard — especially if your cloud upstairs is anywhere near my mother’s — who the Baseball Writers Association of America voted the 2012 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.
Our secretary-treasurer, Jack O’Connell, phoned me before our 8 a.m., meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6 in Dallas at the winter meetings.
And I was so hoping you’d win Ford C. Frick the next day, so then Saint Shirley and I would share the stage at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July.
TV broadcaster Tim McCarver won and is a deserving choice after more than 30 years working for the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies telecasts, as well as game of the week and post-season telecasts for NBC, CBS and FOX.
You are deserving, too. Both you and Jerry. And your time will come.
You and Jerry were the voices of the Blue Jays from coast to coast. You worked 4,306 consecutive regular-season games, the Cal Ripken of the booth. Jerry has worked 4,879.
I was one of two baseball voices at one of three Toronto papers, plus the Hamilton Spectator, when I was hired to cover the Jays in 1987. Back then, our sales area was the Oakville-Oshawa corridor.
This was before people could crank up Google and this World Wide Web thing had caught on ... My prediction Thomas: It’s here to stay.
On the other hand, you told people from Surrey, B.C., to Goose Bay: “Touch ’em all Joe, you’ll never hit a more important homer in your life.”
The day I won that award, it was if everyone I’d ever met decided to e-mail, phone, text or send me a Facebook message.
That was nice, but one guy e-mailed, saying that my winning would hurt your chances the next day.
There were 455 writers voting for the Spink and 20 people, including 15 former winners, decide the Frick winner.
The good thing about your committee is that your old friends and partners such as Dave Van Horne (the 2011 winner) when you started broadcasting with the Montreal Expos, and Tony Kubek (2009) who did the Jays games all those years, have won. Plus your contemporaries such as Jon Miller (2010), who we used to see doing the Baltimore Orioles games, plus Denny Matthews (2007), who did the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers radio man Bob Uecker (2003).
We shared a lot of charter flights and conversations when the book you were reading was boring or your back was aching.
Over the years, I knew how to interpret your “my word” comment in the top of the third, when you’d come into the main box for your nightly bag of popcorn.
It could be in reference to the four walks issued by the Jays starter, back-to-back errors, a Devon White catch or a Robbie Alomar defensive gem.
Gradually, I learned not to ask how your golf game had been when smoke was coming out of your ears. And, on quiet nights at the Rogers Centre, hours after the final pitch and before the cat has been put out, I can still hear you singing Shrimp Boats are Coming.
As to catch up on old news:
* Cito has a big-time portfolio, something in upper management which incudes scouting. But I think the only scouting Cito is doing is the rough on 14 at East Lake Woodlands, looking for lost balls. Not his, but trainer Tommy Craig’s. Cito’s wife Linda was visiting Shirley when I called the hospital.
* Jerry has not slowed down, going 98 miles an hour and still insists on having the windows open even when it is chilly.
* Your golf partner, Buck Martinez, is starting his third year in the TV booth as one of the best play-by-play men around.
* Allan Ashby is outstanding as Jerry’s partner and Mike Wilner is working as hard as ever, but then you predicted both.
* Jeff Ross, your old golf partner, still runs the Jays clubhouse, but I don’t think he has the senior tour in his future any more.
* Howard Starkman is still at the Rogers Centre, working on secret, special projects.
* George Holm, the Jays former ticket manager, was at Cooperstown last July and is half a missing person, having lost so much weight going to country music concerts.
* Bruce Brenner, your former engineer, e-mails once in a while.
People have asked me if I’m upset that I didn’t win a year ago, so I’d be part of the ceremonies with Pat Gillick, Bert Blyleven, Alomar and Van Horne.
Not at all. Getting the award is ... getting the award.
When the time comes to get your award, be it this December or the year after, I hope you have the same attitude when Shirley steps to the podium. Have heard her speak, she’s a lot better than I am.
That's about all, Thomas.