I was a timid, fresh-faced, recent college grad when I first met former Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcaster Tom Cheek.
In 1997, I helped two selfless St. Marys residents, Terry McEwan and Christine Douglas, with some of the logistics of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s celebrity fundraising golf tournament.
Cheek was the emcee of the golf banquet that year and one of my duties was to provide him with short bios of each celebrity so he could introduce them.
Just 23 at the time, I was relatively new to a communications job, so I had to work in London during the day when the actual golf tournament was taking place, but I drove to St. Marys for the evening banquet.
I had dropped the bios off at Cheek’s hotel the previous night and I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to him before he started his hosting duties.
Cheek was a tall, intimidating presence and his commanding baritone echoed across the tent that seated the more than 200 golfers that evening. At one point, I looked over Cheek’s shoulder and could see that he had highlighted some key blurbs about each celebrity on the pages I had provided.
As an emcee, he was witty, charming and professional, making every celebrity sound better than what I had written about them.
Then my first gaffe.
Former Canadian Olympic skier Karen Stemmle was one of the celebrities. Despite reviewing the bios countless times before I had printed them off for Cheek, I had somehow messed up.
“Well, the information I have here says that Karen is Brian Stemmle’s brother,” said Cheek, pausing for full effect.
The crowd began to chuckle.
“But I know that’s not the case,” Cheek added.
The attendees further erupted into laughter. I wanted to run and hide somewhere.
But things would get worse.
Cheek later started to introduce Gerry Desjardins, a former goalie who played 11 years in the NHL, who had his career cut short by an eye injury. Keep in mind this was 1997, so there wasn’t a lot of information on the internet at this time. But for some reason, I decided to editorialize a little in Desjardins’ bio.
“Gerry Desjardins was a good NHL goalie, but with a few breaks, he could’ve been a great one,” Cheek read from my bio.
The Jays’ broadcasting icon once again paused for effect. He pointed out Desjardins in the crowd and the golfers sitting with him at his table began to chuckle. Desjardins started to laugh and soon most in attendance followed.
After the giggling died down, Cheek said, “Geez, who writes this stuff anyway?”
And of course, everyone who knew I’d written the bios looked over at me – including my own parents who happened to be in attendance. I’m sure I blushed profusely. I know I wanted to crawl into a hole.
Thankfully, Cheek finished the rest of the celebrity introductions without pointing out any further errors in my bios.
I had heard that Cheek was a wonderful man, but could be a bit gruff. So with trepidation and convincing from several people that knew I had worked on the bios, I approached Cheek after the banquet.
“Mr. Cheek, I’m Kevin Glew. Just so you know, I’m the one who wrote the bios. Sorry about those mistakes,” I said.
Cheek glared at me at first, then broke into a smile and started laughing.
He put his arm around me for a moment and said in his deep, melodic voice, “Kevin, don’t worry about it. I was just having some fun with you.”
He thanked me for the bios and talked to me for a few minutes about the tournament and the museum. I appreciated that he took some time to make me feel better about myself.
Over the years, I would meet Cheek a few other times in Dunedin at spring training and at a fundraising dinner in London, Ontario, but I didn’t bring up the St. Marys incident again.
On Wednesday, I was thrilled to hear that he’ll finally receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award. The Hall presents this honour annually for excellence in broadcasting.
After starting his big league broadcasting career with the Montreal Expos, Cheek was hired by the expansion Blue Jays in 1976. He proceeded to broadcast the franchise’s first 4,306 regular season games and 41 postseason contests.
His call of “Touch’em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life,” after Joe Carter’s World Series-winning homer in 1993 still gives most Canadian baseball fans goosebumps.
Cheek missed his first Blue Jays broadcast on June 3, 2004 to attend his father’s funeral. Just 10 days later, he underwent surgery for a brain tumor. He fought valiantly against his cancer, but ultimately passed away on October 9, 2005.
Now, more than 15 years since my memorable mistakes at that Hall of Fame golf banquet, I hope I’ve improved as a writer. I can say with certainty that my bio of Cheek would not include the sentence, “Tom Cheek was a good broadcaster, but with a few breaks, he could’ve been a great one.”
No, Tom Cheek is officially a Hall of Fame broadcaster — something we Canadian baseball fans have known for more than 20 years.