Greg Mercer, Record staff
KITCHENER - In 36 years of calling Toronto Blue Jays games, Jerry Howarth’s favourite call may have been the one he didn’t make at all.
Late in the evening on Oct. 24, 1992, he was in the radio booth with broadcast partner Tom Cheek at Atlanta’s Fulton
County Stadium when the Jays won their first World Series. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Howarth handed the microphone over to his friend and watched history unfold.
"He was the one who rightfully called ‘Timlin to Carter, the Blue Jays win the World Series!’ I couldn’t have been happier, " he said.
For Howarth, it’s never been about him. Even today when fans ask him to do one of his signature calls - such as And there she goes! or And the Blue Jays are in flight! - he politely declines.
"I’m reluctant to do that because it draws too much attention to me, " he said.
"I’m happy to talk to them, sign any autographs, take photos with them. But those calls were what they were on the radio, and not off the mic."
Howarth, who retired after the 2017 Major League Baseball season as the radio voice of the Blue Jays, will be in Kitchener April 9 at TheMuseum to talk about his career and new book, "Hello Friends."
He retired after surgery for prostate cancer, finding he didn’t have the energy to call games the way he used to. But don’t feel sorry for him. Life outside of baseball is good, he said.
"I have no regrets. I enjoyed my career, but now I’m focused on other things, " he said. "I always told people I would retire for two reasons. One, proficiency, and the other, health. Well, the health intervened."
Retirement has allowed Howarth to look back on his career, writing his "one and done" memoir and even enjoying a few baseball games as a fan. Last season, he could still be seen around the batting cages before the opening game of every Toronto home series.
Howarth, who came to Toronto in 1982, spent five years calling games in the minor leagues before moving north to cover the expansion MLB team in Toronto. For a sports-obsessed kid from California, it’s been a dream job to be associated with so many Canadians’ memories of the best Blue Jays moments, he said.
"It’s very humbling, " he said. "When I came up here, I didn’t know what to expect. I just tried to make each broadcast better than the day before."
He had a front-row seat to some of the greatest, and lowest, times in franchise history. When John McDonald hit an unlikely home run - on Father’s Day, on his first game back after his father’s death in 2010 - Howarth was up in the booth, describing the scene with tears in his eyes.
"That was one of my favourite and most cherished calls, " he said. "But every broadcast meant something to somebody, regardless of the win-loss record. I just enjoyed being the go-between for what was happening on the field and out in the audience across Canada."
Howarth learned early on to do his research, interviewing players and coaches before games, or else risk running out of stuff to say over the course of nine innings. Because there are so many games over the course of a long season, you have to work hard to avoid repetition, he said.
Broadcasters who don’t come prepared can often resort to criticism too easily, Howarth said.
"It can lead to some negativity, because you don’t have anything else to say, " he said.
"What that taught me was to add variety to the broadcast, and make it the best possible broadcast you can because you have so many people depending on you. You’re the person to relay what’s going on."
Today, the only games Howarth prepares for are duplicate bridge games - and he doesn’t get to talk in those, he jokes.
Over time, Howarth developed his signature style, weaving storytelling into his broadcasts and staying away from heavy reliance on stats or unnecessary criticism.
He saw his job as an artist, painting a picture with words. When he was calling games in Tacoma, Washington in 1975, he met a blind baseball fan who reinforced for him how important it was for a radio broadcaster to describe the scene.
"For me, every broadcast was a blank, white canvas and I tried to paint it to the best of my ability, ’ he said. "It’s never been about me. My job was to inform and entertain the audience."