Photo Credit: Sportsnet

Jerry Howarth Announces His Retirement

In a stunning bit of news on Tuesday morning, Jerry Howarth, who has narrated 36 seasons of Toronto Blue Jays baseball on the radio, announced that he’s retiring from the broadcast booth. Summer will never sound the same.

“I had every intention of continuing my career into the 2018 season but my health and stamina and continuing voice issues dictated otherwise,” Howarth explained in a release from Sportsnet.

“In 2012, Howarth was honoured by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame with the Jack Graney Award for lifetime contributions to baseball in Canada,” the release goes on to explain. “He was also awarded the Sports Media Canada award for achievement in broadcasting both in 2003, with then broadcast partner Tom Cheek, and again individually in 2016.”

From 1981 to 2004, Jerry called games with the late Tom Cheek, now a member of the Hall of Fame as the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award, taking over as the lead voice on Blue Jays radio broadcasts after Cheek’s own retirement due to illness. At least one of the pair has been calling Jays games since the team’s inception in 1977. It’s difficult to imagine what it’s going to be like listening to games without that incredible link to the past, and that familiar, unmistakable voice.

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Radio is really the perfect medium for baseball. The languid pace, the ever-present atmosphere of the stadium in the background, the crackling radio in a suburban kitchen, on a cottage dock, in a car driving down a dark backwoods road. There’s something much more communal to it — much more spiritual — than there is to passively being blasted by TV images. We’re forced to be active in our minds, to visualize the action, taking our cues from the booming Voice of God coming through our speakers — or, sometimes, a honeyed, almost nasally voice, with a folksy charm, measuring out emotion in precise dollops.

I don’t want to get too maudlin, or show my age too much here, but damn. From listening to the stretch drive and playoffs of 1993 in Mr. White’s classroom, to falling back in love with the game listening to radio broadcasts when I was broke, out of university, and had no TV, to shilling hard in the early days of Drunk Jays Fans for the SportSync radio (which allowed fans to delay their radio broadcast signal to sync it with the TV broadcast), Jerry has been an enormous part of my own baseball fandom — and I know that an incredible number of Jays fans can say that too. He’s been part of the backdrop of so many of our lives, and the value of that really can’t be overstated. Even if, in recent years, his takes and drum-beatings have, for my taste, occasionally veered toward off-putting, problematic, or cringeworthy. (Though his refusal to use the nicknames of the Cleveland and Atlanta franchises was pretty effing awesome.)

The tributes to Jerry are now pouring in, as they should be. Stephen Brunt has an outstanding piece up at Sportsnet — it’s almost like he knew this was coming! — and there has been some other great Jerry content out there as well:

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Thanks, Jerry. And congratulations on an incredible career.

      • Barry

        I agree. I know a lot of people dislike him, but I think most of that dislike stems from his Jays Talk gig and Twitter. In the booth, doing play-by-play, I think Wilner is quite good.

        Some have suggested Shulman, but I imagine Shulman would only do limited games — probably home games — and I don’t think the TV side would want to part with him.

      • Nice Guy Eddie

        I don’t think waiting in the wings the longest necessarily makes you the best choice. I would much rather someone else than Wilner. He lacks the inflection, the anecdotes and the pleasant hum that makes a good baseball announcer. He increases volume to change tone, there is nothing melodic about his voice, and he has no friendly stories to tell. He is also way too self-focused, thinking that his ideas, rather than others’ are what people want to hear. We can do better.

      • AD

        Ughh, not a fan of him calling games. Hope they go with someone better. On the plus side if wilner gets it, thet might mean he wont do jays talk anymore which isnt a bad thing.

    • ErnieWhitt

      I totally think Wilner is up for it. He has far better chemistry with Joe than Jerry ever had. They actually have intelligent conversations on the broadcast. I will miss Jerry but his relevance to the game had started to slip badly and it’s probably not the time to criticise but I think this could improve things. Congrats to Jerry on a wonderful career.

  • The Humungus

    I really want him to do the home opener. Baseball season doesn’t start until I hear Jerry say “Hello friends”.

    Excuse me, I have dust in my eyes.

  • Barry

    Growing up in the 70s and 80s, radio was the lifeblood of a diehard baseball fan. Games were only televised once or twice a week for most of that time. By the time Jerry joined the radio team, my love of baseball radio was secure, and Tom and Jerry’s voices were the soundtrack of every spring and summer.

    If you grew up in that era and listened to all the games, just think about how many hours you listened to those two voices. There are some family members whose voices I’m less familiar with than Tom and Jerry’s.

    It’s been a long time since we lost Tom, and while I haven’t always been Jerry’s biggest fan (our opinions differ on several things), I’ve loved that his part of the duo was still going.

    For me, he’s a huge part of the Blue Jays, and things aren’t going to be quite the same without him.

    I hope he has a long, happy, and healthy retirement, and pays a few visits to the booth every now and then … and call an inning or two. It’s tough to think that we’ll never hear “Yes sir, it’s time for Blue Jays baseball,” “There she goes,” or “hooking, hooking, foul” again.

  • Knuckleballs

    Wow. And the she goes!!!!!!

    I am going to miss him greatly. Talk of his retirement was rumbling las November and when he said he was good to go I thought this was put to bed, sadly it was no ment to be

    All the Jerry

  • A Guy

    A buddy of mine affectionately calls Jerry the Liberace of baseball announcers, for his voice, nothing else, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He will be missed but time marches on for all of us.

  • McNamee’s Beer Can

    What a shock. I remember when Gas was cheap, I would drive around backroads in North Dakota just to listen to Jerry and Tom, and root for the Jays. It will, indeed, sound different listening to games on the radio.

  • Steve-O

    Quite a career. It will be quite weird not to hear his voice this summer.

    And by the way, if your response to the news of Jerry Howarth’s retirement is to come on here and shit on Mike Wilner, I’d recommend you re-examine your life. Perhaps by taking a long walk off a short pier.

    Like him or hate him, he’s earned his shot. (And if it’s the latter, it’s almost certainly because either you think he’s a “Rogers shill” – EYE ROLL – or at some point, either on Twitter or Jays Talk, he correctly pointed out that your dumb take was dumb. Spare me.)

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      How has he “earned his shot”? By not leaving for another announcing job? Where? I don’t think Wilner is a “Rogers shill” and I think those who complain about “Rogers shills” are by and large stupid people. But I also don’t think Wilner is a good announcer. Simple as that.

      There’s actually a petition up at change.org asking the Blue Jays to not replace Jerry with Wilner. If you search ‘wilner’ on twitter right now, and look at the ‘latest’ tab, it has to be depressing for Wilner. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, it has to be disappointing, but there are a lot of people beside the anti-Rogers moron crew that don’t think Wilner ‘earned’ a job that he’s not talented enough for, just by hanging around.

      • Barry

        I think Wilner is solid at play-by-play. I think he’s far better at that than his other gigs. So, perhaps it’s a matter of opinion.

        Who would you suggest for the job? Let’s assume that Shulman is unavailable, because if he does anything, it will likely be more TV games, and besides, he’s too easy a wish-list item.

        So … who would you pick, from the known names in Canadian baseball broadcasting?

        • Nice Guy Eddie

          I don’t know the names in ‘Canadian baseball broadcasting’ Barry, but I don’t think it has to be restricted that way. There’s not much baseball broadcasting at all in Canada, there is only one full season team, the Blue Jays. Both Jerry and Tom came from the US, and I wouldn’t restrict it that way at all. Sounds awfully parochial. This isn’t Utah – we’re not afraid of ‘outsiders’ – at least most of us aren’t. I say it goes to the best person there is.

          • Barry

            Tom and Jerry were hired in 1977 and 1981 when the broadcast setup was very different and the Jays were owned by a brewery. The Rogers MO has never been to audition people from far and wide. It’s far more likely to be someone who currently works in sports broadcasting in Canada. Maybe not even a regular baseball person — a Rob Faulds journeyman type. I don’t think 40-year-old hiring practices apply to the current setup.

            What I’m really asking you is to divert yourself from an apparent “shit all over Wilner” approach to this subject, which seems to be all you’re intent on doing, and, instead, providing something of substance. If you think there are better people for the job, come up with something better than “Oh, I don’t know, I bet there’s someone hanging out in middle-America who will do the job.” I guarantee that anyone new will be someone we’ve already heard of. So … who?

            I mean, I’m not dead set on Wilner. I don’t actually care all that much. I’d be perfectly happy with Wilner, but I probably would be okay with someone else, too. Just throw some names at me.

          • Nice Guy Eddie

            Barry I don’t think it makes the slightest difference whether the Blue Jays are owned by a brewery or a telcom. When Jerry started, he was a minor league announcer in the US that someone had heard of. I bet there are others today, in much the same way, who are ready to take a step and who have a rep among the people who know.

          • Barry

            As much as you want to wish Rogers to operate differently than they do, they don’t, but if it saves you from actually having to think about things, then knock yourself out. Clearly, it’s important to you to track down every mention of Wilner and make a “no no not Wilner post.”

            But I would suggest to you that while it might be fun to play with “Here’s what I would do” notions, I’m afraid you’re not in line for a job at Rogers that would allow you to do what you would do, and that if we took a journey to the Real World, we would find a wall, and on that wall would be some writing, and I’m pretty sure that writing would tell us what we both know what is actually going to be done to replace Jerry. Sure, there’s an outside chance that Shulman does it, but beyond that, it’s a pretty fair bet that the guy who’s been groomed for the job for several years is going to get that job.

      • Steve-O

        If you don’t tjhink he’s a “Rogers shill” and he hasn’t hurt your fee-fees online, then this wasn’t directed at you, was it?

        As far as how he earned his shot, it should be fairly obvious – he has done innings here and there for Jerry for a while now, and has even subbed for him when he was ill or couldn’t do the game. He’s been waiting in the wings and paying his dues, and by all rights he should get a chance.

        And finally… holy shit people are being dicks online and someone created a charge.org petition???!! THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING #fyrewilbur

  • Oz Rob

    Ahhhhhh, all good things must pass. Baseball radio voices are so tied up in sentiment, youth and somehow let you forget that you’re ageing. Thanks for the memories Jerry!

  • Rob Ray

    Oh God, please no. Not Wilner. Anyone but Wilner. Every time I listen to Wilner I feel like I’m being punished for a sin I didn’t commit. Shulman could at least do home games.

    • Barry

      If Shulman is doing home games, it will be on TV, I predict.

      I can see this TV setup happening:

      Home games:
      PBP: Shulman
      Colour: Buck
      Pregame/Update: Campbell, Tabbie, Barker

      Road Games:
      PBP: Buck
      Colour: Tabbie
      Pregame/Updates: Campbell and Barker

      That would be a “we get Shulman for all our home games and don’t have to fire anybody other than Zaun” setup. (Barker in there because someone has to be the studio analyst when Tabbie is in the booth.)

    • Mission22

      Another candidate: Rob Faulds. Enjoyed his time doing games 15 years ago. “What do you think about that???” was a good HR call. Also, Elliott Price has a great voice who could slide into the role seamlessly. Did Expos games for years back in Montreal. Very talented broadcaster, love him on the morning show.

      • Barry

        I don’t think they’d go back to Faulds for anything. He wasn’t a terribly popular commentator when he had the TV job, and that’s why they replaced him with Jamie Campbell.

        Speaking of Campbell, though, it’s possible that if he was willing, they could move him to radio with Wilner and Siddell, and make Hazel Mae the host of Blue Jays Central and the updates. Her current role is one they had to find for her after cancelling the Sportsnet Central show she hosted, and I feel like they’ve probably been looking for a bigger role for her ever since.

        I don’t know if Campbell would want to do that, though. I’ve heard him talk about how much he prefers the studio job, since he has a family and could do without the travelling. On the other hand, they just fired the co-host that he’s described as his “best friend,” so he might be looking for a change.

  • Matty

    I’ve listened to Jerry for as long as I can remember and he and Buck to me, are the sound of summer.

    But as a fan Ive been ready for Wilner for a couple of years now.

  • The Humungus

    Just going to throw this out there, now that I’ve had the day to process.

    Replacement for Jerry: Ben Wagner

    I would hope anyone who’s caught it when the FAN airs Bisons games or when Ben subbed in for Jerry a few times last year would agree. He’s outstanding, and he had instant chemisty with both Siddall and Wilner.

  • Player to Be Named Later

    The sound of Jerry’s voice calling the first Spring Training game has always marked a kind of holiday in my annual calendar. Like the tulips popping up through the snow, the first sounds of his voice calling a game are my favorite harbinger of spring. It means we’ve made it through a long cold winter, and now only warm good things lie ahead for us. I’m almost always running errands or doing chores. I’ll put on the radio and for the first time in months hear “Hello Friends,” and I’ll think “Oh thank Christ. Finally!!!!” I’ll drink in every word and remain in a great mood the whole day. I will surely miss him.

  • Oz Rob

    I actually like Wilner’s Jays Talk and he put a lot of effort into his old blog Miked Up, but I just can’t warm to him on the radio. I just can’t listen to him and turn it off. I hope they get someone else.

    • FanOfBaseball

      Wilner’s play-by-play calls are actually quite good…maybe because he’s had a long apprenticeship with some pretty good broadcasters. Comparing his play-by-play style to Siddall’s (the colourless colour guy) or Ben Wagner from Buffalo (who Jerry seemed to like, but seemed pretty mechanical), it’s clear that Wilner is the right choice. And I agree that those who loathe Wilner might be getting that from Jays Talk, a thankless job, where Wilner has adopted a personality where he has to challenge people who say negative silly things. As PBP guy, he can sit back and be above the fray, which will be better for everyone.