Canada’s moment in Cooperstown
Jerry Howarth is a Toronto institution, having been a member of the Blue Jays radio team for three decades. During that time, his press box seat enabled him to witness firsthand the accomplishments of two of this year’s inductees – general manager Pat Gillick and second baseman Robert Alomar – as they enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I came to the Blue Jays in 1982, my first full season, and I met Pat and we had a lot in common,” said Howarth, an invited guest of Gillick’s to this year’s Induction Weekend, after attending, appropriately enough, a presentation by author Curt Smith on his new book, A Talk in the Park: Nine Decades of Baseball Tales from the Broadcast Booth, that was held before a full house inside the Bullpen Theater on Friday afternoon. “We’re both from California, we both love baseball, and he was very good to me as I started to enjoy Blue Jays broadcasts. He was encouraging.
“But I could tell that he was someone special, too, who listened, communicated well, and had a bevy of scouts that were so loyal to him. Then I began to see the Blue Jays grow. I saw his patience and steadfastness. And sure enough he took that team – orchestrated it from the very beginning – and won those two World Series in 1992 and ’93.”
As for Alomar, Howarth says he and Willie Mays are the two best players he’s seen in his life.
“I grew up in San Francisco and I watched Willie Mays every day. We all wanted to be like Willie,” Howarth said. “And then we acquired Roberto in 1991, and he was with the Blue Jays through 1995. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen with Willie. By putting those two together I’m talking about all the aspects of the game – the proverbial five-tool player. But more than that, he had instincts, he could beat you in a game with a home run, a bunt, a stolen base, a fielding play, it didn’t matter. A wonderful passion and desire to make himself ever better.
“And Roberto stood out with the Blue Jays. They would not have won those World Series without him, but having said that, Pat together great teams. But Roberto stood out. And there’s no substitute for defense and Roberto provided the best defense that I’ve ever seen.”
Having recently spent time with both Gillick and Alomar, can Howarth predict the emotional state of the pair as they stand before thousands on Sunday afternoon?
“Pat will be balling like a baby up there because I’ve seen him cry at John Olerud getting a base hit. I can’t wait to hear his speech. I’m sure there will be a lot of Kleenex up there,” Howarth said with a laugh. “And Roberto, too. Roberto is from a baseball family and I think he appreciates his career and what he’s done.
“And remember, too, both of them, especially Roberto, they’re doing this for a country, Canada, and they feel that. They know the presence that they have in an entire nation. So that makes it very extraordinary for them.”
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.