An honest memoir about life, family, and baseball from the longtime, legendary Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcaster
For 36 years, Jerry Howarth ushered in eternal hope each spring and thrived in the drive of each fall as the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1982, the lifelong avid sports fan joined Tom Cheek as full-time play-by-play radio announcer for the Blue Jays, and for the next 23 years, “Tom and Jerry” were the voices of the franchise. Jerry became part of the fabric of a nation and a team, covering historic moments like the rise of the Blue Jays through the 1980s that culminated in back-to-back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. His Hall of Fame–worthy broadcasting career has been nothing short of legendary. When Jerry retired in February 2018, the tributes poured in and made one thing perfectly clear: Toronto baseball would never be the same.
Howarth brings together thoughts on life, family, work, and baseball. Featuring stories about everyone from Dave Stieb, Jack Morris, Duane Ward, Roberto Alomar, and Joe Carter to John Gibbons, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and the late Roy Halladay, Hello, Friends! is a must-read for sports fans everywhere.
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About the Author
Born in York, Pennsylvania, and raised in San Francisco, California, Jerry Howarth became a Canadian citizen in 1994. He currently lives in Toronto with his wife, Mary.
Read an Excerpt
Thrill of a Lifetime
I was born in York, Pennsylvania, on March 12, 1946. A month later, my parents moved to San Francisco so my dad could start a new job working in refrigeration and air-cooling systems. He was an excellent mechanical engineer and would be starting a new company with one of his close friends. My older son, Ben, graduated from Purdue in 2000, with a degree in electrical engineering. Skilled engineers, my dad and Ben both excelled in math and science. Somehow, those genes skipped right past me. All I do is watch baseball games.
Within a year and a half, my sister, Anita, was born. Shortly after, we moved to Santa Rosa, 60 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, to escape the expensive downtown San Francisco area. By the first grade, sports were already starting to become a part of my life. One day, during recess at St. Rose's Catholic School, we were playing with a soccer ball that sailed over the fence into the shrubs. Everyone thought that ended our game. Except me. I climbed over the fence to get that ball, not even considering the consequences. Suddenly, I was in the principal's office surrounded by smiling nuns, including Sister Kevin, who gently reminded me that it was probably not a good idea to climb fences to retrieve soccer balls. Better to wait and ask someone to get it for you. They loved me, and I could feel that.
In the fifth grade, sports would again leave its imprint on my life. In the midst of a hard-played game of football on the playground, a pass came my way. I jumped to catch it at the same time as my classmate, Rod Thorn. That was the last thing I remember. I came down hard and hit the blacktop face first. I was lying there, knocked out, with my four front teeth nearly knocked out, too. My mother quickly arrived on the scene and rushed me straight to our dentist, Dr. Nordstrom. He used what looked like bubble gum to push my front teeth back into the roof of my mouth and said to come back in a week.
The next week, after removing the gum-like substance, he put ice cubes on my teeth and asked me if I could feel anything. I said no. He said to come back in another week and if I didn't feel anything at that time, he would have to remove my four front teeth and put in a plate of false teeth. The following week, he repeated the test. When I winced and jumped a little bit, he smiled at my mom. My teeth could be saved. Little did I know I would become a broadcaster, where bouncing your tongue off the roof of your mouth rather than a plate is so much better for your artic-u-la-tion.
After the fifth grade, we remained in Santa Rosa but moved out to the country to an area called Rincon Valley. I would ride my bike to school, a mile each way. Right beside the school was a fire station. I was enamoured with the big red fire trucks and would stop by to see them. The firemen were very gracious and always welcomed me. On weekends they taught me how to play chess, checkers, and shuffleboard. That was where I first learned to compete.
We moved from Santa Rosa to Novato when I was in the middle of the sixth grade. This allowed Dad to cut his commute to San Francisco from an hour to thirty minutes. It was also in these middle school years that I began playing a lot of baseball and basketball. I even tried to referee a basketball game on the playground as an eighth grader, but at the end of it I vowed never again. I couldn't please anyone. My friends were all staring me down and complaining. Because of that brief experience, I have a much greater appreciation for umpires and their hard task calling games.
On radio, I let home plate umpires call the 300 balls and strikes per game, without being judgmental on certain borderline pitches. Plus, TV angles from centre field can be very misleading, even with the updated "strike zone" boxes on the screen. I have said many times on the air: "Umpires are required to start from a state of perfection and then they are asked to improve." I have also noted, perhaps somewhat controversially, that I have never seen the Blue Jays lose a game because of an umpire's call. There are too many other innings and missed opportunities that lead to defeats.
It was also in the sixth grade that I went to Kezar Stadium in downtown San Francisco to watch my first 49ers games. My parents were season-ticket holders on the 35 yard line about 30 rows up. Perfect seats for a youngster to see the game. At the end of the 1957 season, the 49ers had a playoff game at Kezar against the Detroit Lions. I was 11 years old. Dad got me a ticket on the goal line in the very front row. Sounded pretty good until I realized I couldn't see the other half of the field because the players were standing in the way.
The 49ers led 27 –7 early in the second half, with the winner to play the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game the following week. Final Score: Lions 31, 49ers 27. It broke my heart. A few days later, I wrote a five-page essay on that game as part of an in-class assignment that allowed us to pick any topic. When the bell rang for recess, all my classmates went out to play. But not me. I wish I still had that essay because I know in my heart of hearts that my love for sports and writing and eventually broadcasting began with those five pages.
Meeting Willie McCovey
Middle school then led to four wonderful years at Novato High School, which happened to be just 500 yards up the street from where I lived. Sports continued to consume my time. I was the backup quarterback on the junior varsity football team for a season; and a guard on the freshman basketball team before moving full-time to baseball. Baseball was dominant. I played with my high school team all four years, then semi-pro baseball in the summer and on a winter ball team in nearby Fairfax. This was with and against some of the best athletes in the area. I put in the work to try to get better at playing third base and centre field, batting leadoff, and stealing bases, as well as improving my overall conditioning.
One of my most memorable experiences occurred when I was 16 years old, standing on the first tee at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club where my father was a member. I grew up on the golf course, caddying for Dad. I played in my first junior tournament when I was 10, finishing second and winning a little five-inch trophy. Now, six years later, I had no idea what surprise Dad had in store for me. During the week, he had mentioned that on Sunday there would be a celebrity golf tournament. He wanted me to caddy for a celebrity he had specifically chosen for his foursome, but he wouldn't tell me who it was.
On Sunday, I was on the first tee waiting to see who would show up. "Jerry, I want you to meet the man you are going to caddy for today. You know who he is. This is Willie McCovey." I was stunned and so happy at the same time. My father knew just how special McCovey was to me. First, he was a star with Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants. And, second, as luck would have it, Dad and I were there on July 30, 1959, for McCovey's major league debut as he had just been called up from the Giants Triple-A team in Phoenix, Arizona.
That day at Seals Stadium, playing first base, Willie became just the eighth player in history to go 4 for 4 in his major league debut, on his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year. Willie had two triples and two singles, lining baseballs off the left, centre, and right-field walls. He did all of that against future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Years later, I shared this story with another future Hall of Famer, Joe Morgan, who is from the East Bay. Joe grew up in and around Oakland. "Jerry, my dad took me to that game, too!" When Interleague play began in 1997, I met and befriended Phillies third-base coach and fellow Californian John Vukovich. I mentioned to John that both Joe Morgan and I had seen Willie McCovey's first game with our dads. "My father took me to that game!" What are the odds that three fathers would bring their sons to a historic game like that and years later all three sons would make it to the major leagues? That's why I love baseball: you never know what you're going to see when you go out to a game.
So there I stood on the first tee with one of my heroes. Dad would later laugh and say that Willie and I were in the woods all day talking baseball, trying to track down his many long drives that sliced and hooked miles away from the fairways. Willie was a gentle giant — no pun intended. He talked softly about his collection of 5,000 jazz albums — yes 5,000 — that he listened to at his home in Mobile, Alabama. It was his way to relax and enjoy his quiet time away from baseball.
Willie was six-foot-four, 210 pounds, and the first major league All-Star I had ever spent time with. At the start of the tournament, Willie wore a bulky blue sweater until the fog finally lifted around the fourth hole. Willie took off his sweater, revealing a tight-fitting blue shirt. I remember staring at his huge, muscular arms. I had seen Willie from the stands but never this close, and it was a moment that has stayed with me throughout my career. I began to realize at a very young age how and why so many major league players are stars in this game. They are so gifted physically. You cannot appreciate that from the stands. If they combine hard work with year-round dedication, they become the very best at what they do.
A Much-Needed Wake-Up Call
In high school, I was spending way too much time on sports and not enough time on my classwork. Every year on my report card there would be one A in physical education and a couple of Bs. The rest of my grades were Cs. I even got a D in algebra. Honestly, I didn't think too much about it. At the end of my third year of high school, I was at my girlfriend's house one day when her report card arrived in the mail. Her dad asked, "Kris, how did you do?" Her answer: "I have all As and one B."
"Jerry, how did you do?" That one simple question helped turn my life around. I was embarrassed and mumbled: "Oh, my report card hasn't come in the mail yet, Mr. Schoof, so I don't know." When I left her house later that day, I vowed that I would never be ashamed of myself like that again because of my own lack of effort.
In my last year of high school, I worked as hard as I possibly could, and I earned all As and one B in the first semester. In my last semester, I had all As, proving that I could do anything in life if I truly applied myself. I needed that embarrassing wake-up call. I hadn't given much consideration to furthering my education after high school. I was content to look for a job, make a few bucks and then go from there. If I hadn't made that quantum leap forward academically at that precise moment in time, there is no telling where life might have taken me.CHAPTER 2
Developing an Interior Life
In June 1964, I graduated from high school. As young students at the time, we began hearing about the Vietnam conflict that could lead to war. We had no idea where Vietnam was, nor did we care. That is, until my father reminded me that there was a military draft. The army could send me directly to Vietnam from high school. But if I continued my education and went to college, I would receive a Class II deferment from the draft. I finally had the grades to do that, which made my decision so much easier.
Going to the University of Santa Clara was one of the best things that happened to me in my young life. I had heard about a Jesuit education and how good it could be. My freshman year, September 1964, I moved into Walsh Hall. There I met the Jesuit priest living in that dorm, Father John Shanks, S.J. (Society of Jesus), who lived on the first floor. Every dormitory had a resident priest. Fortunately for me, Father Shanks was also the head of Sodality, which was a Christian group on campus I knew nothing about.
My parents were in the middle of a divorce when I was a few months removed from high school. My mom and dad were a mismatch from the beginning. It was one of those World War II marriages you so often heard about: you met someone and six weeks later you got married. Some of those marriages worked, but many more did not. My parents' clearly did not. Suffice it to say, I grew up around conflict and fighting and anger and alcohol. Our worst family times were during the holidays when everyone ended up fighting with each other by the end of the night. I would lie awake in bed at night, listening to the uproar in the house and telling myself that I would avoid conflict at all costs for the rest of my life. That I would not drink. That I would learn to walk away.
After meeting Father Shanks that first week, I told him about my parents. He invited me along with many other freshmen students to a silent retreat, which the Jesuits were famous for. At first, I was hesitant about going on the retreat; I told Father I would not be attending. When he asked me why, I told him it was Thanksgiving, and I wanted to be home. He knew I didn't mean that and firmly asked me to reconsider. Fr. Shanks knew this was what a Santa Clara education was really all about, especially for young students like me trying to find a new beginning and shed the past. So I said yes. The silence made you listen. That quiet time in turn allowed you to reflect and meditate. It was a necessary part of helping me to grow as a person, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
During that retreat, Fr. Shanks would speak to all of us. Then we would go outside on our own to meditate and think about what he had to say. Later we could ask him questions in a group setting. The retreat included a general confession on Saturday night, where one by one we would wait in the hallway and then go into a room where Father sat in the far corner with his back to us. He would hear our confession. Then he would make a few comments, and we would leave the room for the next person in line.
When it was my turn, I went into the room and knelt down. I proceeded to ask for forgiveness in a few general areas. Father knew me by the sound of my voice. He asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say. That's when I suddenly let it all out about the built-up hatred I had for my mother. How I felt she contributed to the lack of love and happiness in our family. I was crying like a baby. Father gently said to me: "Try not to look at your mother as you think she should be. Look at her as she is. Then love that person to the best of your ability." It was a moment of truth that I have kept in my heart ever since. I said thank you and walked out of that room with my head down, still crying as I quietly walked past everyone in line. When I left the building I went right to the beach. I looked up into the sky and thanked God for that moment. My mom and I have had a cordial relationship ever since.
With that, I returned to Santa Clara as a new person, trying to "know thyself," as Father used to say. The goal was to develop an interior life that would sustain and ground me through whatever ups and downs the future might bring. I graduated from Santa Clara in 1968, with a bachelor of science in commerce, majoring in economics and minoring in philosophy. But my real degree was an awareness of who I was spiritually. In my freshman year, Fr. Shanks told me that I had just one of my four burners going on the top of a stove. Over the next four years, it was my intent to fire up those other three burners because I knew I had it in me. He wanted me to work hard every day so when I put my head on the pillow at night, I could say, "Thank you, Lord, for this day and for letting me love, praise and serve you with it."
Seven years later, in the summer of 1975, I was in my second year broadcasting for the Triple-A Tacoma Twins. We went into Arizona to play the Phoenix Giants. At the time, Fr. Shanks was teaching in Phoenix at Brophy High School. We had lunch together and celebrated the start of my new career. He knew how much I appreciated him as a mentor and father figure. A year later Father was killed in a small plane crash on a mountaintop in Arizona. He came into my life and went so fast. Along with my father, he was easily the most influential person in my life. He inspired me to be the person I am today.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hello, Friends!"
Copyright © 2019 Jerry Howarth.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Thrill of a Lifetime
Chapter 2: Developing an Interior Life
Chapter 3: Two Life-changing Moments
Chapter 4: Handling Disappointment
Chapter 5: Starting My Broadcasting Career
Chapter 6: a Glimpse into the Future
Chapter 7: Time to Pinch Myself
Chapter 8: the Major Leagues
Chapter 9: Doing What I Love to Do
Chapter 10: Offseason to Remember
Chapter 11: Veterans and Rookies Alike
Chapter 12: Key Moment
Chapter 13: Watch out, American League
Chapter 14: Changing of the Guard
Chapter 15: Continuing to Refine
Chapter 16: Special Year for All
Chapter 17: Reaching the Promised Land
Chapter 18: How Sweet It Is (Again)
Chapter 19: Finishing the Decade
Chapter 20: Trying to Kick Start the Engine
Chapter 21: Moving in the Right Direction
Chapter 22: Memorable Moments
Chapter 23: Breaking the Postseason Barrier
Chapter 24: Quite a Ride
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A well-known comedian/actor whose love of baseball is legendary included his impressions of some Yankees legends in one of his books. The guy loved Mickey Mantle, despite his flaws. He did not like Joe Dimaggio, because of his. Perhaps this was because he knew the former well enough to see past the negatives and could focus on his good points. The latter, his only encounters were negative ones. Jerry Howarth's new book, “Hello, Friends!” takes the approach that the aforementioned author took with Mr. Mantle – EVERYONE(*) must have some redeeming qualities. A brusque alcoholic? “Well, I hear he's getting treatment for his addiction and his anger management issues.” A manager lying about his military service history? “He's apologized and doesn't do that any more.” etc. etc. Mr. Howarth ALSO intermingles his own life story in between the tales of his encounters with the personalities of baseball and the games he has witnessed. Occasionally, the transition comes off a little awkward, but most of the time, working along a timeline, it makes perfect sense as to how / why the author switches his subject between “baseball” and “Howarth family life”. A decent read. The book may have been a bit more interesting had the author not constantly had to find the good in everyone he ever met – BUT, I have to admit, if I were involved in baseball, I wouldn't be sharing my stories with someone who was simply going to use them to skewer me in some tell-all book!! RATING: 3 1/2 Stars, rounded up to 4 Stars where partial stars are not permitted. (*) Congratulations, Mike Mussina. Unlike Will Rogers who famously “never met a man he didn't like,” YOU were the only person mentioned in this entire book for which the author didn't have a good word. Perhaps because you never played for the Blue Jays?
When a broadcaster does the games for one team for a long time, that person will have a vast collection of stories to share. That is the case for Jerry Howarth, who was a radio broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1982 to 2017. He shares many of those stories and some about himself as well in this memoir. As one might imagine, a person who has had the same job for 36 years will have a wide variety of stories to tell. Of course, he shares his recollections on famous moments in Blue Jays history, such as Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series and the famous bat flip by Jose Bautista in the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. However, what makes the book a little different from other collections of stories like this are all the personal connections Howarth had with so many Blue Jays players and personnel over the years. Some of these stories will be sad, such as the death of Howarth’s long time broadcast partner, Tom Cheek. His telling of the last half inning Cheek called for the Blue Jays will make the toughest of readers generate at least a sniffle. But many, many more of them are uplifting and tell about the successes and positive accomplishments of the subject, especially if it was a player. Howarth rarely has a bad thing to say about anyone in this book. The most interesting part of the book turned out to be the beginning as he tells his tale of how he sent tapes of college games he broadcast and his jobs in sports outside of broadcasting. He worked for a few years for the Utah Jazz before starting his broadcasting career doing the games of the AAA Tacoma Twins. While this read much like any other memoir, it was good material and advice for readers who may wish to pursue this profession. The rest of the book with its storytelling is much like any other collection of stories, fictional as well as non-fictional – some good, some not so good (either very short or just telling the reader “Hey, I talked once to so-and-so). Overall, this book is one that Blue Jays fans will certainly enjoy and fans of other teams may like as well. If nothing else, Howarth can say he has shared a treasure trove of stories that many generations of Blue Jays fans will pass along from generation to generation. I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.