By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
He should still be here.
Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of John Cerutti today, on what would be his 61st birthday.
He should be providing analysis on tonight’s Toronto Blue Jays telecast.
The former Blue Jays left-hander was a fit, active, athletic 44-year-old husband, father and broadcaster when he died suddenly of a heart arrhythmia in his hotel room at SkyDome on October 3, 2004.
His passing, which came on the last day of the Blue Jays’ season, was sad and shocking. I was heartbroken, but I was just a fan working in the financial industry who had met him a few times, so I can only imagine the depth of the devastation felt by his wife Claudia and his three children Daniel, Nicole and Janine.
My longest visit with John Cerutti came when he was a guest at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame golf tournament in 1999. I helped organize his transportation from the SkyDome to St. Marys, Ont. I had been told he was a wonderful, friendly and inquisitive guy and he didn’t disappoint. When I talked to him at the tournament, he asked about my life and career and he mingled seamlessly with the tournament participants.
And boy, could he golf.
He might be the best golfer ever to have participated in the Hall tourney.
By the end of the day, I felt like I made a new friend.
I’m in the sports writing business now, so I wouldn’t dream of asking a player for an autograph. That’s a major no-no. But back then, I was merely a fan, working in the financial industry, so I had Cerutti sign this 1988 Topps card for me.
Today this card is one of seven cards my dad had framed for me in a display that hangs in a hallway outside my office. My dad chose cards that he felt were especially meaningful to me. He was right about the Cerutti card.
At the time of his death, Cerutti was finding his stride as a broadcaster. He had started with CBC in 1997 and had become a rising star on Rogers Sportsnet telecasts.
And just how beloved was Cerutti around the SkyDome?
After he passed away, members of the Toronto chapter of baseball writers voted him the winner of the club’s “Good Guy” award and then promptly renamed the award after him.
Of course, prior to excelling as a broadcaster, Cerutti was a left-handed pitcher for the Blue Jays for parts of six seasons. Selected in the first round of the 1981 MLB draft, the 6-foot-2 southpaw would make his MLB debut with the Blue Jays on September 1, 1985 in the heat of the pennant race with the club en route to securing its first American League East title.
Over the next three seasons, he was employed as a reliever and spot starter, before becoming a fixture in the club’s rotation in 1989, going 11-11 with a 3.07 ERA in 205 1/3 innings in 33 appearances, including 31 starts.
He’d make 23 more starts for the Blue Jays in 1990 before signing with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent and making his final 38 big league appearances in 1991.
In all, in 229 major league games, Cerutti finished with a 49-43 record and a 3.94 ERA.
But those statistics can be easily looked up. Here are five things you might not know about the beloved former Blue Jays left-hander and broadcaster:
-Cerutti’s mother, Marlene, was born and raised in St. Catharines, Ont., before she met her husband, Dan, and moved to Albany, N.Y. In other words, if the World Baseball Classic had been played while Cerutti was still pitching, he could’ve suited up for Canada.
-Toronto was not Cerutti’s first pro stop in Canada. After he was selected in the 1981 draft, he was assigned to the Rookie Ball Pioneer League Medicine Hat Blue Jays, where he proceeded to lead the circuit with 107 innings pitched and tie for the lead with 14 starts. He also won eight games (second most in the league) and posted a 3.03 ERA (ninth in the league) and was named to the Pioneer League’s All-Star Team.
-It was Cerutti who gave Tom Henke the nickname “The Terminator.” “John and I went to the movies. I think The Terminator came out in 1985 when I was in Syracuse. And our families were gone and we were always looking for something to do when we’re not at the ballpark,” Henke recalled at his press conference prior to his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. “So we went and watched that, and I was having a great year in Syracuse and . . . Cerutti started calling me The Terminator. He was like, ‘You’re like The Terminator. Man, you’re just mowing through people.’ And then Rick Leach started calling me it and then those guys got called up to Toronto at the end of the year and they brought the nickname up with them and then everybody in the clubhouse started calling me it. Then the media got ahold of it. And like I said awhile ago, I think I’ve been called worse. So ‘The Terminator’ is not too bad.”
-Growing up in Albany, N.Y., Cerutti was a New York Yankees fan and as a left-handed pitcher, his idol was Bombers’ ace southpaw Ron Guidry. So it was a thrill for Cerutti when he started for the Blue Jays against Guidry and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 9, 1987. Cerutti would outpitch his idol, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings, while Guidry permitted four runs in four innings before being lifted. The Blue Jays eventually won 7-2.
-On June 7, 1989, Cerutti made history when he became the first Blue Jays pitcher to record a win at SkyDome when he tossed a complete game in the Blue Jays’ 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Cerutti scattered 11 hits in the nine innings (You can watch him record the final out in the video link below.) With that performance, Cerutti also became the first winning pitcher of a major league game that was played both indoors and outdoors. The game started with the SkyDome roof open, but it was closed in the fifth inning when rain began to fall.