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Tom Cheek named 2013 Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence

COOPERSTOWN, NY – Tom Cheek, who called the first 4,306 regular-season and 41 postseason games in Toronto Blue Jays history and helped ignite a love affair between a Canadian city and America’s National Pastime, has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Cheek, who passed away on Oct. 9, 2005, will be honored as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 July 26-29 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Cheek becomes the second Frick Award winner whose career came primarily with a Canadian team, following Dave Van Horne’s selection as the Frick Award winner in 2011. Van Horne spent parts of four decades broadcasting Montreal Expos games.

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“Tom Cheek was the voice of summer for generations of baseball fans in Canada and beyond,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “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 honor.”

Born June 13, 1939 – one day after the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors in Cooperstown – in Pensacola, Fla., Cheek was raised in a Navy family and joined the armed forces himself in 1957, serving in the Air Force until discharged in 1960. Cheek’s father, also named Tom, was a World War II hero who served as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Midway in 1942.

After continuing his education at SUNY Plattsburgh and the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston, Cheek worked as a disc jockey in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and as sports director for a group of three stations in Burlington, Vt., calling University of Vermont sports for several years.

In 1974, Cheek began work as a backup announcer to Van Horne on Expos broadcasts. Then in 1976 at the age of 37, 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 rich baritone voice and his passionate-yet-lighthearted approach to his job dazzled fans eager to embrace Toronto’s new role as an American League outpost.

His call of Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1993 Fall Classic – “Touch ’em all Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.” – quickly became embedded in the sports conscious of Blue Jays fans around the globe.

Cheek called every regular season and postseason Blue Jays game from the franchise’s birth on 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. But 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 tumor, but some of the tumor was unreachable.

A little more than a year later, Cheek passed away on Oct. 9, 2005.

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 honored with the first award.

Cheek will be honored at the Hall of Fame’s Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 27 in Cooperstown, along with 2013 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Paul Hagen.

Umpire Hank O’Day, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th Century catcher/third baseman Deacon White, who were elected on Monday by the Pre-Integration Era Committee, will be inducted as part of Hall of Fame Ceremonies on July 28, along with any electees who emerge from 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America election, to be announced Jan. 9.

Cheek was chosen from a list of 10 finalists selected in October, featuring three fan selections from an online vote and seven broadcasters chosen by a research committee from the Cooperstown-based museum. The final ballot contained a mix of pioneers and current-day broadcasters: Ken Coleman, Jacques Doucet, John Gordon, Bill King, Graham McNamee, Eric Nadel, Eduardo Ortega, Mike Shannon, Dewayne Staats and Cheek. Doucet, Gordon, Nadel, Ortega, Shannon and Staats were the living candidates. In September and October, a total of 34,283 votes were cast in the Museum’s online fan poll for inclusion on the final 10-name ballot, with Cheek, King and Doucet as the top three fan poll selections.

The 21-member electorate, comprised of the 16 living Frick Award recipients and five broadcast historians/columnists, includes Frick honorees Marty Brennaman, Jerry Coleman, Gene Elston, Joe Garagiola, Jaime Jarrin, Milo Hamilton, Tony Kubek, Denny Matthews, 2012 Frick Award winner Tim McCarver, Jon Miller, Felo Ramirez, Vin Scully, Lon Simmons, Bob Uecker, Dave Van Horne and Bob Wolff, and historians/columnists Bob Costas (NBC), Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News), Stan Isaacs (formerly of NY Newsday), Ted Patterson (historian) and Curt Smith (historian).

The Ford C. Frick Award is voted upon annually and is named in memory of the sportswriter, radio broadcaster, National League president and Baseball commissioner.  The complete list of recipients includes:

FORD C. FRICK AWARD RECIPIENTS

1978

Mel Allen

1990

By Saam

2003

Bob Uecker

 

Red Barber

1991

Joe Garagiola

2004

Lon Simmons

1979

Bob Elson

1992

Milo Hamilton

2005

Jerry Coleman

1980

Russ Hodges

1993

Chuck Thompson

2006

Gene Elston

1981

Ernie Harwell

1994

Bob Murphy

2007

Denny Matthews

1982

Vin Scully

1995

Bob Wolff

2008

Dave Niehaus

1983

Jack Brickhouse

1996

Herb Carneal

2009

Tony Kubek

1984

Curt Gowdy

1997

Jimmy Dudley

2010

Jon Miller

1985

Buck Canel

1998

Jaime Jarrin

2011

Dave Van Horne

1986

Bob Prince

1999

Arch McDonald

2012

Tim McCarver

1987

Jack Buck

2000

Marty Brennaman

2013

Tom Cheek

1988

Lindsey Nelson

2001

Felo Ramirez

 

 

1989

Harry Caray

2002

Harry Kalas

 

 

 

Voters were asked to base their selections on the following criteria: longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans. To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous major league broadcast service with a ball club, network, or a combination of the two.

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