Jays From the Couch Radio presents an interview with legendary Toronto Blue Jays Radio voice, Jerry Howarth!
Jerry Howarth is a legend. The Toronto Blue Jays announcer, known across Canada by millions of fans as the voice of the Blue Jays, is a national treasure. The outpouring of love that followed the announcement that Howarth would be undergoing surgery for prostate cancer was immediate and heartfelt. Well wishes for a speedy recovery and a good outcome came from across the nation and beyond. The deep seeded hope that he would be back announcing Canada’s team by spring training, as he said he planned, was in the hearts and minds of all who have had his distinctive voice in their homes for the past 35 years.
I wrote about my feelings about the prostate cancer diagnosis, and just what Jerry Howarth means to Blue Jays fans back in November. The feelings I penned, though my own, were mirrored by so many around the country and across the continent.
In Dunedin, Florida, as the Blue Jays began preparing for their spring training home opener, I had the honour of speaking with Jerry Howarth for Jays From the Couch, to see how he’s feeling, and to get his thoughts on the Blue Jays, baseball and the introduction of the 14 letter name.
JFtC: I know a lot of the fans are wondering how you are doing because we were all so worried about you when the news came about the cancer diagnosis.
JH: Well thank you. I had my surgery on November 22nd at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, so I’m about three months and a week post surgery and actually doing very well. About two months ago I decided I would start to walk about 35 minutes a day and try to do that six or seven days a week. That helped my strength, getting that back. Sleeping has been a little bit of an issue, I’ve been getting up every two or three hours, but I’m better in that category. I just had the first broadcast on February 25th, on Saturday, and now I’m looking forward to getting better and better regarding across the board work and enjoy what I do.
JFtC: You’re going to keep up with the same schedule? No changes?
JH: No, no changes. That way I feel pretty good. I just felt a little bit tired and fatigued coming into spring training, but when you come here the weather automatically gives you a high and you feel very good about getting warm and a little more flexible in your joints and everything. You don’t have to deal with that cold weather. Overall I was very fortunate that in Movember my doctor, the surgeon Dr. Rob Nam asked me if I would go public with him. We did a great interview with Pauline Chan at CTV News and I was happy to bring awareness to men overall – check your PSA, and then if it starts to get passed two and three you’re still ok but have the antenna go up regarding what could be an issue as it was for me with the tumor in my prostate gland.
JFtC: I think with the millions of fans that have grown up with you, it’s a very important message for them and I’m glad you were able to make that public for them.
JH: Well I was, and I was happy to do it, and I’ve always believed you try to do the right thing, and I was blessed with a forum here to do that. I couldn’t believe last year was 35 years and so I know that a lot of people were concerned about me and I really felt good about that. If you just affect x number of lives, and I tell kids too, tell your dads and your uncles and your grandfathers, check that PSA, the blood test. Then you’ve done something, you use your platform in a way where it benefitted everybody.
JFtC: Now that you are back with the Blue Jays, what would be your favourite call so far?
JH: In my career? I would have to say it’s really a call that had two benefits to it. One, it was the 11th inning in Atlanta, Game Six of the World Series and it was my inning, in extra innings with Tom Cheek and Dave Winfield with two down doubled off Charlie Leibrandt down the left field line, two runs scored to make it 4-2. When we went to the bottom of the inning, I said to myself “Tom deserves to make this call”. He didn’t know what I was going to say next, so when we came off the commercial break I said “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve had the pleasure of calling Dave Winfield’s two-run double, now here’s my partner Tom Cheek to take you the rest of the way”. He called the bottom of the 11th inning, called the World Series winner, the bunt up along first by Nixon, Timlin to Carter, Blue Jays win the World Series. That’s my favourite call.
JFtC: That’s incredible, it was an incredible time. I’m looking forward to having it again.
JH: It was an incredible time and even Wayne Gretzky that year who was playing for the Kings and was hurt, he was in the clubhouse afterwards. I did not realize that until I saw him because we had known each other, and he said “Jerry I just wanted to be here to help celebrate Canada’s first World Series”, and he was there for that. When you talk about a country and a World Series Championship, and remember Cito too, one of my best friends and first African American manager ever to win a World Series and then he won another one the next year. I’ve been blessed with moments like that in my career that have really made it special.
JFtC: Is there ever a time when you’re making a call and then they reverse the call on the field and you get upset?
JH: No, I’m not that way Catherine, actually I’ve been blessed that way. The game has its own story. While I’m the Blue Jays announcer and everybody knows that, I like to highlight the game, and I always take and defer to the umpires calls. Even in replay, if they make the wrong call, it shows on the replays, but it’s a human game and they’re human too. I’ve been fortunate to know umpires over my entire career, going back to my five years in Triple A baseball, and to do them a service is to go with the call that they make, and I’ve never been one to get upset. I’m not a rooter, I’m not a homer. Many times I’ll say to the fans on the radio “Blue Jays here in this 2-1 game, they didn’t lose it, Cleveland won it, and there’s a difference. So because of that I’ve been fortunate to have a disposition, for me anyway, that has stood the test of time regarding a love of the game, a passion for the game, and people know too with my calls that he’s a Blue Jays announcer.
JFtC: What do you think about how much they are automating the game these days?
JH: I think right now the instant replays are good to get it right. I’d like to see it shortened up a little bit, but as a service to the game, and especially in game situations that are called where the game is on the line, you deserve as a team, as a manager, as an organization, to get the call right. Overall regarding some of the things that are happening regarding the pace of the game, I’m not a big believer in that the pace is all that slow. When you draw 3.4 million fans and the game averages three hours and two or three minutes, that’s pretty good pace because people enjoy what they see. Major League Baseball I can see would like to quicken it a little bit, but I don’t think regarding right now the players see it as any more than a very beneficial game, bringing in 10 billion dollars a year, that’s pretty good with the pace that they have.
JFtC: I don’t think they should change the pace of the game. Any long time fans and fans of the actual game of baseball don’t want it to end at nine innings let alone shorten the game.
JH: Well that’s true. One thing they have done, I think I’m a believer in too, the play at the plate, they’ve eliminated targeting the catcher, catchers were getting hurt, many of them seriously. So that’s been eliminated and I think that’s a positive. Same at second base, they’re trying to eliminate infielders getting knees torn up, ending careers. So from those two standpoints I’m a big believer they did the right thing. You try things, if they work, great, if not, they don’t work but overall I think right now the game is in a very good state, I don’t think it needs a lot of changing regarding the strike zone, or the overall time of the game.
JFtC: Is there any time when the players have comments about your radio calls? Do you get any feedback from them at all?
JH: No, well I think what happens is when you make calls, you try to be as objective as you can. There’s always going to be a player or two who will say well you said this or you said that. What I try to do, and those things do come up, I try when I make all my calls regarding players and their performance, I call it as if that player is sitting right next to me, and so I don’t have an issue with a player coming up to me because I’ve already talked to that player in my mind. Rather than just beat down on them and sometimes when you read social media comments that are nasty, they’re personal, I’m not into that category. However, what I do say I feel is backed up by fact or substance. I’ve got that player right next to me, so when the player comes up we have a good discussion about that and I’m okay with it.
JFtC: We have a player on the Blue Jays who has 14 letters in his last name, who is the hardest one that you’ve had to say?
JH: Well just a couple of days ago we had Matt Tuiasosopo,. Now I’m glad he doesn’t play second base and Saltalamacchia play short because those would be tough double play calls, but you’re right, Jared Saltalamacchia, 14 letters, that’s a first in Major League history. Tuiasosopo probably is a little more difficult to pronounce. Saltalamacchia I can call it and if all else fails, Salty’s a pretty good nickname for him, but that’s part of the game too. Red Schoendienst who was in my era, move over because Saltalamacchia’s in town regarding all the letters across your back, that horseshoe over your number.
JFtC: What do you think the Jays are going to do this season?
JH: I like their opportunity to go back to the playoffs again. You have a window of opportunity, and the Blue Jays waited 22 years for that first appearance in the playoffs in ’15. Then there was a nice carryover last year, each time getting to within a game or two of the World Series. This year it’s going to be probably a little more difficult but having said that, without Edwin Encarnacion his presence in the lineup, everything else is in place regarding the starting pitching, if they can stay healthy, to make another run at winning 90 games and that’s usually what it takes. Even last year 89 wins got them into the playoffs, that wonderful wildcard game against Baltimore. So this year I think that window will continue. How long it stays open you don’t know because players get older, and there are so many good veterans on this team but they’re getting up in years too – Martin, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista. We’ll have to wait and see but I like again, this year their chances of going back to the playoffs.
JFtC: Is there any of the younger Jays that are coming up through the system that you’re keeping your eye on?
JH: I just met one today before this interview, Conner Greene. Right-handed pitcher, outstanding young man. I’m from California, Northern California, he’s from Southern California and I kidded him about that. He’s from Santa Monica. Here’s someone who worked out this winter with Aaron Sanchez, and when you have Aaron as your role model, that’s a pretty good role model to have. So I like him a lot. Sean Reid-Foley is another one coming up. Good pitcher, opportunities and then of course, everybody in trades wanted Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who is still only 17. That’s why the Blue Jays didn’t make a lot of trades because they’re not going to give him up. So those are some of the young marquee players coming up, there are many others too, as they rebuild the system after two years ago they had to go into that system 11 times to bring in David Price and others, which I though was a very good move overall. Look what the window produced.
JFtC: I agree. Would you take our readers out with a call to the game today?
JH: If I saw you Catherine walking down the street I’d say ” and there she goes”
JFtC: Thank you so much for talking to us at JFtC
JH: You are welcome, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Jerry Howath, JFtC was deeeelighted to have you with us, and thrilled that the voice of the Blue Jays is back in living rooms across the country for another great baseball season.
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.