Remembering John Cerutti on his 61st birthday

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.

14 thoughts on “Remembering John Cerutti on his 61st birthday

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  1. Boy oh boy, Kevin, you sure have hit some heart throb guys this week, Jim Fanning the other day, and now today, another true baseball gentleman, John Cerutti. I knew John pretty well, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to golf with him, although I am going to close this comment with a miraculous, TRUE golf story that involved John. He and I worked as … how will I label this … silent consultants for Blake Corosky, and up-and-coming agent at the time who had left IMG to attempt to make some of the money for himself that he was making for IMG! John and I served Blake in different roles, which I won’t get into specifics about, but roles that I respected Blake for including in his org chart. John gave Blake excellent insight and guidance, and was always a pleasure to meet with. What an outstanding person to spend time with, in every way!

    I remember how thrilled I was when the Blue Jays actually invited me to have a seat on their charter flight to Albany for John’s funeral, although I respectfully declined. As kind a gesture as it was, I just didn’t feel like I should be sitting with players and coaches and brass on such an occasion. Albany is about an 8-hour drive from St. Marys. I remember having to pump out some work for the Canadian Ball Hall before I took off, so I was much too tired to drive. But I had no other way at that point, and luckily, the Buffalo border was quicker than usual, and I caught a Cards win over the Dodgers in the ’04 NLDS on 1000 AM that helped me get over to Albany on the evening of October 6th.

    Here are two memories I recall from experiencing John Cerutti’s visitation and memorial service.

    Firstly, there were not any baseball items or memorabilia or photos set up. Now, that doesn’t mean that the family was angry at the Blue Jays or MLB. John’s wife Claudia, and his children, Daniel, Nicole, and Janine all love baseball, and they loved watching their dad play, and even though they missed him when he was travelling, they supported him strongly. But they wanted to celebrate the life of John the husband and John the father, because even though John loved baseball, even though he was a first-round draft pick, and even though he had an impressive career in the big leagues, John was a hundred times more in love with his own family than he was with baseball. In other words, to simply label John as a great baseball player with many accomplishments and awards, would be a tremendous understatement of a man who had many more dimensions that some who didn’t know him might realize. John could have walked away from baseball any day, but he never would have walked away from his family, nor his responsibilities and love as a husband and father.

    Secondly, many grads/classmates of John were present, and I loved standing nearby and hearing their recall of so many great moments, funny anecdotes, and great years that they shared. One of them told a story of something that happened at the Amherst College Alumni Golf Tournament, and had never happened before or after, at least on the record. Gold Digest ran an article about a Par 4 dogleg whereby the green was reachable if you were a heavy hitter, but was hidden from the tee area by thick trees. John was one of the foursome on the tee. The first driver smacked one down the middle, and the second also hit it straight and it crossed the fairway past the first ball. The third and fourth drivers both aimed over the corner, hoping to drive their balls over the trees and land on or near the green. They were both happy with their shots, but had no idea from the tee where exactly their respective balls came to rest. I apologize for not remembering which golfer was John, but the bottom line is that first driver hit his second shot about four feet from the pin, giving himself a good chance for birdie. The second hitter landed his second shot at the back of the green. The third player’s drive was on the green, about 15 feet from the pin, and the fourth hitter could not find his ball. They looked and looked, until one of them looked in the hole, and there it was, a hole-in-one on a Par 4, a double eagle! The second hitter putted to within a foot of the pin, and tapped in his ball for a par 4. The third hitter sunk his 15-footer for an eagle 2. It was at this point that they all realized, that, if the first hitter could sink his four-footer, the four scores on the hole would have been a one, a two, a three, and a four. The putter became nervous, even though he had a relatively easy shot, that is, if the circumstances weren’t what they were. He backed off the ball, and reset himself. His knees knocked, but he holed the put for his birdie 3! Golf Digest documented the event, and it has never happened on a golf course again! Who’d-a-thunk that the most amazing story of the day at the funeral for John Cerutti was NOT about baseball!

    I was so tired the next morning, knowing I had another eight-hour drive ahead of me. I regretted acting noble and passing on the Blue Jays invitation. But I timed my departure on October 7th, 2004, to have my friend Dan Shulman join me for most of the ride home. He wasn’t in the car with me physically, but he was doing the play-by-play for the Twins-Yankees game in Minny on AM 1000. I dropped him a note after pouring into my front door, thanking Dan for getting me home safely! He is the best, in so many countless ways. And so was John Cerutti.

    1. Thanks Tom for adding your golf story to Kevin’s life story of John. Both really interesting.

  2. I love all the great comments about John. I was lucky enough to play with John and room with him in Kinston NC. We had many great moments. He was one of the most intelligent people I have been around.

  3. Thank you for all the beautiful comments and stories about my brother John. I miss him everyday. Dave Cerutti

  4. I was best friends with John’s son Daniel growing up in middle/high school. I remember Mr. Cerutti attending our school baseball practices and driving us home. He always made the time to help us out and answered any question we had. He would make us Fluffer Nutter sandwiches and play pool with us. On one occasion, he went above and beyond and set me up to be a bat boy for the Jays when they were in town to face my Devil Rays. He even introduced me to Carlos Delgado when touring the locker room. He is surely missed…

    Thank you so much for writing this story!

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