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Sep8ThuToronto Blue Jays announcer Jerry Howarth lives out his beliefs in front of the sports world. September 8, 2016 by Jayne Thurber-Smith
You might not know Jerry Howarth to see him, but if you're a baseball fan, you'd recognize his voice in an instant.
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- Faith & Friends
As the radio play-by-play announcer on Sportsnet590, Jerry has been the voice of Toronto Blue Jays baseball for 35 years and counting. He was the winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's 2012 Jack Graney Award for his faithful contribution to the sport. The veteran broadcaster also conducts interviews with his favourite baseball guests past and present for his Five Minutes With Jerry podcast.
“Try That Other Team”
At the age of 70, Jerry shows no sign of slowing down. He considers his career in the broadcast booth a blessing and continues to enjoy it.
“As I thanked God at the end of my 30th season a few years back, I felt that whatever came after that was a bonus,” he says. “My contract is year to year—just the way I like it. My longevity depends on my health and my proficiency on the air. When I get to the point that I am making major mistakes, I'll know it—and that will be my last year.”
Raised in San Francisco, Jerry had been doing play-by-play for a few years with the Pacific Coast AAA league. In 1977, he heard the Seattle Mariners had been awarded a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise. He applied for a job with them.
“I interviewed with the Mariners but didn't get in,” he recalls. “I was feeling discouraged, but my wife, Mary, said, 'Try that other new team.' ”
She was referring to the Blue Jays, who also became an MLB team that same year.
Tom and Jerry
“I didn't even know where Toronto was, so I grabbed an atlas and looked it up,” Jerry laughs. “I was in Salt Lake City at the time and Toronto was far away in another country, so at first I said no. Mary persisted, and I sent a tape off with my resumé, but the two got separated upon arrival. One day, I received a letter from the Jays that said, 'We hope you're the Jerry Howarth who sent us the tape. We would love to know more about you.' ”
Though the Blue Jays had already chosen their two announcers, they told Jerry they liked his work and to keep in touch. A few years later, they invited him to broadcast a few games, and in 1982 he joined Tom Cheek full time as his play-by-play partner. Their Tom and Jerry show, always introduced with the iconic cat-and-mouse cartoon, covered the rise of the Blue Jays through the 1980s, and the duo were front-and-centre witnesses to the back-to-back World Series Championships in 1992 and '93. In 2003, they were honoured with the Sports Media Canada Award for Broadcasting.
Tragically, Tom was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2004 but continued to broadcast with Jerry until midway through the 2005 season. He died on October 9, 2005.
“Everyone loved Tom, and he was very good to me and everyone around him,” Jerry recalls. “He never missed a game until he got sick with cancer. He loved the Jays. It was sad to see someone who enjoyed doing what he did so much become unable to keep at it. We still stay in touch with Tom's wife, Shirley.”
In The Moment
Jerry has learned to lean on his faith as he faces life's curveballs. Shortly after locking into his lifetime career in Toronto, Jerry met pitcher Gary Lavelle, who professed his love for Jesus unpretentiously. Up to that point, Jerry was someone who went to church and believed in God, but God wasn't as real to him as He was to Gary.
“Jerry was a fine announcer and an outstanding person,” Gary remembers 20 years later. “He always had a sense of humour and was a very kind man.”
“I really enjoyed Gary's company when he was with the Jays,” comments Jerry. “He talked so comfortably about his love of God. I said to him, 'That's something I want to be able to do.' Gary told me to get a Bible and start by reading a chapter from the Book of Proverbs every day. That got me in the right direction.”
Later on, another pitcher, Don Gordon, invited Jerry to a Bible study. After attending a few times, Jerry became a Christian. From then on, his life wasn't about him or his career.
“Just before I get in front of the microphone, I try to find a small room where I can pray,” Jerry says. “I always say, 'Dear Lord, let me love, praise and serve you with this broadcast. Let me inform and entertain whoever we happen to reach, young and old, all across Canada. Let this be the best broadcast I can do for others.' I point to the sky, say, 'Thank You for everything,' then go out and do it.”
As he looks back fondly over his career, he attributes his success to praying every day for the best God could give him in every situation.
“I love the Bible verse in Romans 3:23 where we're told we all 'fall short,' ” he says. “We all have setbacks and failure, but that means we have the opportunity to keep trying. I never look backward or forward. I treasure every day.”
(Photos: Courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays)
For their on-air contributions to the team's success in 1992 and '93, broadcasters Jerry Howarth and Tom Cheek also received World Series rings from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Does Jerry wear both rings at once? Does he have them mounted? Are they in his sock drawer?
“I had the first ring fitted for my wife, Mary,” he replies, “and gave the second ring to my older son, Ben. That I do have two worked out perfectly for me. Now, no matter what happens, each of my boys, Ben and Joe, get a ring.”