Tom Cheek and the Ford C. Frick Awardby Chris Lund
August 29, 2012
"Two balls and two strikes on him..."
The Ford C. Frick Award, by designation, "is presented to a broadcaster for 'major contributions to baseball'" annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Many of the greatest names to ever call a game are attached to the award. Mel Allen and Red Barber were the inaugural winners in 1978, the immortal Vin Scully was honored in 1982, Harry Caray in 1989, Harry Kalas in 2002, Dave Niehaus in 2008.
The list in its entirety can be found on the Baseball Hall of Fame website. Take a look and marvel at some of the most striking voices you've ever heard.
"Here's the pitch on the way..."
The benefit and drawback to having the Ford C. Frick award handed out once a year is one and the same. The list is kept exclusive to the legends we hold so high, but it also leaves many of an equal caliber off for an indeterminate amount of time. For each name on that list there are another 10 broadcasters who are equally worthy of the honor.
Some are living, some have passed. All are baseball legends.
"A swing and a belt! Left field! Way back!"
Tom Cheek got his start broadcasting major league games in 1974, working alongside Dave Van Horne as a fill-in play-by-play man for the Montreal Expos. After three seasons, Cheek got the call to become the new play-by-play man for Canada's second team, the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. He called the Blue Jays' inaugural game on April 7, 1977 as journeyman Doug Ault blasted the first home run in Blue Jays history and another later in the game en route to a 9-5 Jays victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Doug Ault's two home run game was the first of Cheek's career as Blue Jays play-by-play man, and the first of 4,306 games in a row he called for the team.
"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!"
While the streak is what cemented his legacy as one of the greatest broadcasters of all time, Cheek's most memorable moment—many would argue—is his call of Joe Carter's walk-off Series-clinching home run in the 1993 World Series .
Many commentators are guilty of saying too much, or perhaps too little, when history unfurls itself before them, but not Cheek. His call erased the gap from homes, cars, weddings—wherever someone could hear—to field level, capturing what every hysterical fan was consciously or subconsciously thinking at that moment.
He did it with concision and grace, the same manner he held for the 4,000-plus games he called—perfectly capturing the moment—in spite of the fact it was only the second moment of its kind in baseball history.
To capture history is the stuff of legends.
"Touch em' all Joe!"
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's official slogan is: "Preserving history. Honoring excellence. Connecting generations." You also recall from earlier that the Ford C. Frick Award is awarded to someone who makes "major contributions to baseball."
In the mind of the author, there is no person who has earned a greater claim to those mandates than the late Tom Cheek.
Cheek is entrenched in the history of the game. He is the first broadcaster in the history of a franchise, called back-to-back World Series titles for the first franchise outside the United States—the second of which was won on the second ever World Series-clinching walk-off home run—and called 4,306 consecutive games for that franchise. Find a person with that resume and you've found someone whose history ought to be preserved.
The excellence of Cheek as a broadcaster is difficult to put into words. Not only did he pull you into the heart of a game, he brought you into the team, the season, the baseball world. On the Toronto Blue Jays website, one fan describes Cheek as "the soundtrack of summer in Toronto," and this may epitomize his legacy more than any other accolade. Not only did he come into your home 162 times a year, you wanted him there so you could talk baseball for a few hours a day. You looked forward to his next visit.
Cheek called four decades worth of Blue Jays games, from 1977 to 2004 until his death in 2005. During that time he transcended generations—he was simply a voice for Blue Jays fans. From the first pitch he called to the last, grandparents became great-grandparents, parents became gcandparents, Children became parents and so on. He was the soundtrack as a franchise grew up with its community.
Today, many Jays fans know only Jerry Howarth of the famed "Tom and Jerry" pairing, but it is a rare Blue Jays game that goes by without the famed "Touch 'em all Joe!" call over the PA system, and in that moment Tom Cheek connects one generation—the one who knew him so well—to another—the one who know him only as that voice—seven years after his passing.
To leave that legacy is a major contribution to baseball.
"You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"
Tom Cheek was placed on the Toronto Blue Jays "Level of Excellence" on Aug. 29, 2004. It was a surprise to him. He had come to the game expecting to talk about his "ironman" streak before the first pitch was thrown when he realized there was a new name over the left field bullpen. The number 4306 is an odd one to honor in the game of baseball, but that will be there so long as the franchise exists, and it is a well deserved honor.
The Ford C. Frick award is another honor that Tom Cheek has absolutely earned, and this should come as no surprise. By putting him in the Hall, you preserve history, honor excellence and connect generations.
He was a man who made a major contribution to baseball.
Tom Cheek may have been laid to rest in Clearwater, Fla., but he deserves to live on in Cooperstown forever as the 2013 Ford C. Frick recipient.
References and Resources
To hear the famous Joe Carter call which yielded this transcription, click here.
Past Ford C. Frick winners can be found here.
Fan voting for the Ford C. Frick award takes place here. I encourage you to vote for Tom or whoever your favorite broadcaster was/is, though I certainly hope to have sold you on the merits of Mr. Cheek.
Chris is a writer-at-large and encourages you to talk baseball.
For further baseball discussion, you can follow him on twitter under @thechrislund or send him an e-mail at chris (dot) lund89 AT gmail (dot) com