BY COLE SHELTON
From 1982 to 2017 when Toronto Blue Jays fans turned on the radio to listen to games they heard a familiar voice in Hall-of-Famer Jerry Howarth. However, in February, with Howarth’s health in question he decided to retire from the broadcast.
“When people ask me how long I wanted to continue broadcasting I said there are two things – proficiency and health,” Howarth said in a recent phone interview. “Well, the proficiency was still good. A couple years ago I had prostate cancer surgery and they removed a tumour, and everything was good. But then it began to impact my 2017 season and my sleep patterns were not what they used to be. I wasn’t getting as much rest as I used to.
“At the end of 2017, I thought this last winter I would take time off and see if I couldn’t regroup and I would be very happy to broadcast another season. When the health didn’t come back the way I had hoped, on Feb. 13, I decided to step aside and I’m really happy I did. No regrets and I enjoyed my career thoroughly.”
Howarth wanted to continue on as a broadcast, he was fortunate enough to be the play-by-play voice of the Blue Jays for 36 seasons. The Hall-of-Famer saw a lot from the back-to-back World Series wins, he also saw some bad teams. For Howarth, it wasn’t about seeing the winning or the losing, something that he will always remember is just being there to call the games.
“I would say the every day of it,” added Howarth. “In baseball, the real challenge was being better than the broadcast the game before and you had a chance to do that for six full months. I enjoyed the 144 games in triple-A and the 162 games in the major leagues, and this is what I thrived on the most in routine and discipline.
“Doing it every day allowed me to try and improve my broadcast every day which was my goal throughout my entire my career.”
Throughout his career, Howarth was always the pinnacle of what radio broadcasters should strive to be.
The 2018 season was a strange one for the team and fans alike. Toronto struggled throughout the whole season and Howarth was no longer a fixture in the radio booth. Ultimately, he has no regrets about retiring, as he does go back to the Rogers Centre occasionally to talk to players and former colleagues, where Howarth makes himself available to anybody for advice or just to chat. It is that kind of spirit that has made Howarth one of the nicest people, and former Blue Jays CEO and president Paul Beeston agrees.
“If I had to characterize Jerry with one word, I would simply describe him as a gentleman. He embodied the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Beeston wrote in the foreword to Howarth’s new book, Hello, Friends! Stories from My Life and Blue Jays Baseball, which Howarth and Beeston shared early with the Sheridan Sun. “Rarely angry, 99 per cent of the time positive, always willing to treat anyone he met as a friend, or potentially a great friend, Jerry was unique.”
The 72-year-old has enjoyed his first year in retirement by spending time with his family and friends, but there is something else that has been a huge part in keeping Howarth sane during his retirement.
“I would say what has been a key part of my enjoyment in retirement is the first game of every series, I go into batting practice at the Rogers Centre and head on the field at 3:45 and I leave about 6:15. I get a chance to talk to John Gibbons, the coaches, all the players. The other teams broadcasting teams radio and TV who I have known for years, and just talk to them to let them know I am fine. Just that ability to socialize once every series has been tremendous, and I have really enjoyed that.”
“While Jerry had energy, personality, curiosity and attention to detail, Jerry was also ubiquitous. His friendships in the game are myriad,” Beeston also wrote. “They span the players, the manager, the coaches, the umpires, to the front office of all clubs, to fellow broadcasters and telecasters, and most importantly, the fans.”
Ultimately, Howarth has no regrets about retiring, something he preaches a lot. He is excited that his new book will be released next February. But why now, did Howarth decide on a book?
“Four years ago I turned down an offer to write a book, and three years ago I turned down another offer from a different person to write a book. Then Buck Martinez who had written three books convinced me to think about it. I didn’t want a ghostwriter so I was able to write the book myself. I was very fortunate that I had a couple of people help me edit the book and they were all my words,” Howarth said.
“The first 20,000 words were about my life growing up and the next 80,000 are about my Blue Jays career and stories from my career with the Blue Jays.”
Howarth is ecstatic about his book Hello, Friends! coming out very soon and can’t wait to start promoting the book and doing book signings. For now, the retirement continues and with his first full season not calling games nearly done, Howarth seems fine about that.
“Frankly, I don’t miss it at all because I was able to broadcast for 36 years, and five years before that so that is 41 years over 7,500 games.”