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Jerry Howarth has been broadcasting Blue Jays baseball for over two decades, forming one of the longest-lived partnerships in baseball broadcasting history with Tom Cheek. To several generations of Blue Jays fans they are known simply as "Tom and Jerry".

In Volume 1 of our Ask Jerry series, Mr. Howarth did not shy away from expressing opinions on the current state of the Blue Jays. I caught up with him a few weeks ago and was eager to find out what he thought of some of the newcomers to the team. I presented a selection of readers' questions from our Ask Jerry, Volume 2 thread and threw in a few of my own. Some questions were not addressed this time around; we'll try to get to them for Volume 3.

Please note: since the interview took place, Jason Frasor has lost the closer role and Vinnie Chulk has struggled mightily.

Young Jays

BB: What are your impressions of Alex Rios and what Jays rookies of the past would you compare him to?

Alex is a good athlete: tall, quick and he's got a strong, accurate arm. Like a lot of rookies he has to play more to get better. He reminds me of Ron Shepherd (physically), but has a lot of ability like Jesse Barfield, with his skills in right-field. Of course he plays the same position as those two did.

Alex is a very gifted player and he has a good attitude. He's worked hard. I like to see hitters go the other way and do it with power. (In his case) the homeruns will come when he gets pitched inside. And that's the last part of a complete package - he's shown he's a 5-tool player. He has as much quickness as any young Blue Jay I've ever seen.

BB: Have you had a chance to speak to Alex?

(I speak to him) all the time. I met him a couple of years ago in spring training. I liked him coming up through the minor leagues - he was pretty gracious at that time. He was the MVP of the Eastern League last year. And here I think he's doing very well as a rookie with his overall decorum and how he handles himself with the media. He doesn't say a lot; he just goes out and plays. He's unflappable and has tremendous poise for a 23-year-old - the mistakes don't bother him. He knows he's going to make mistakes, but he doesn't repeat them and that's the key for any good player.

BB: The first few weeks he made a few misplays in the outfield and that seems to have stopped.

What happens is these young kids come up from the minor leagues where they're playing in 10 or 12 thousand-seat stadiums with just one small deck. And then they come to the major leagues and you have 3, 4 sometimes 5 decks. And in this case, with the roof open you have the glare from the fans wearing white shirts. I got a kick out of Alex (he's got a good sense of humour) when he said "I wish the Blue Jays fans would all wear black shirts like we wear them." So that tells me he's adapting to his new environment. You have to be patient with all players, especially when they come into a major league ballpark which they are unfamiliar with.

BB: Tell us a bit about two new Blue Jay relief pitchers - Vinnie Chulk and Jason Frasor.

A breath of fresh air. They're two great kids with a lot of enthusiasm and ability. And for rookies to come up in those roles, supplanting the veterans that were here, it's remarkable to see their poise and their ability to withstand adversity and come back even stronger from it. They're not always going to be successful, but those two have been successful more often than not than two rookie pitchers in those roles I've seen in a long time.

BB: I've been impressed with Frasor's ability to work out of trouble. He often has to work with men on base, but seems to come out of it most of the time.

That's the key for any pitcher: you have to be able to pitch with men on base and out of the stretch. You have to concentrate on two fronts: speed at first base or runners in general on the base paths, and yet still concentrate on throwing a first pitch strike to get ahead and throwing any of your pitches for strikes at any time. I think Gregg Zaun has contributed greatly to their success even though Kevin Cash in the time he's been in there has caught them well too.

What went wrong

BB: Josh Phelps struggled this year and a lot of us were surprised by that. Do you have any ideas about was going on with Josh this year?

Surprisingly, Josh had come off surgery for his right knee, which would have made him even stronger: a hitter is only as good as his legs will be strong and supportive and allow him to drive a baseball.

And with Phelps healthier this year than when he hit 20 homeruns last year, I was surprised at what a poor start he got off to. One of the things that a tall hitter like Josh has to watch for is making sure he doesn't get too long a swing. Josh had had that problem before, he cut it back last year, but it got longer again this season. His inability to foul off a 2-strike pitch against a tough right-handed pitcher hurt him dearly as far as it led to more strikeouts and fewer walks. He wasn't driving the ball to right and right-centre as we've seen Alex Rios do. As a result, his numbers were down, production-wise as well as on-base percentage. It was a disappointment for Josh to not do that well against right-handed pitchers.

BB: The statistics indicate Josh has been hitting a lot more ground balls. His GB/FB ratio went up considerably over last year. Did you notice that and was it a part of his struggles?

I did. I thought one thing Josh tried to do maybe was to adhere to the Blue Jays' approach or philosophy. I thought he tried to steer too many balls up the middle and to right-field. And by doing that he took away his strength, which is power and pulling the ball into the right-field seats. If you're hitting the ball into the seats 20 or 30 times and driving in 80 runs, the strikeouts will take care of themselves. You've seen other young hitters do that in the AL who've exceeded Josh's numbers, so maybe in his new environment with Cleveland he'll get back to doing that. He did that very successfully against lefthanders, but when pitched well by right-handers he was not able to drive that ball into the seats because they kept pitching him away.

Gold Gloves at Second

BB: How would you compare the defensive abilities of Roberto Alomar in his prime and Orlando Hudson today?

Roberto was without peer; Orlando is growing into making Roberto Alomar-like plays.

But it has been a greater accomplishment for Orlando this year to make that quantum leap forward with his range, arm and athleticism. Remember this - Roberto was hitting .320, .330 when he went out to play second base; Orlando's been hitting .250 and still going out to play a stellar second base. That tells me a lot about his positive makeup.


BB: Who was the most underappreciated player in Jays history?

I thought the one player who was unappreciated the most was Duane Ward. For me, in '92 and '93, other than Roberto Alomar, he was the most valuable player on both those teams. The first year, he was setting up Tom Henke by getting tough outs in the 8th inning with very little statistical reward to show for it. The next year he was the closer and helped the Blue Jays win their second World Series. He was on the mound in the rain for that fourth game in Philadelphia that the Blue Jays won 15 to 14. Of all the Blue Jays throughout the years, he's probably the one who got the least credit for doing the most.

Guests in the Booth

BB: You've had a chance to work with some of the broadcasters around the major leagues while Tom was recovering. What are your most memorable impressions from that experience?

First of all, we're all saddened by Tom's illness. But we're happy he's come back to do all the home games and head up the broadcast.

Having said that, going on the road, I think the one thing I've enjoyed the most are the general managers we've had on the broadcast. I go back to Omar Minaya, a National League general manager that I'd never met or talked to before. We've had Brian Sabean of the Giants and Kevin Towers with San Diego on. And recently Brian Cashman, who I've known for years, was on our broadcast. He was eloquent and gracious with his time.

Then there are some of the other broadcasters - Jon Miller of the Giants and ESPN, as well as Jerry Coleman. These are all great friends of mine that I've never really heard on the radio; they've been an integral part of what we're trying to do filling in for Tom.

The Future of Baseball in Toronto

BB: Some pessimists think that with declining attendance, the Jays are a team at risk of contraction. What?s your view?

I don't think so. If you compare them to Montreal - Montreal doesn't have a stadium; the Blue Jays have a stadium. It's a good enough stadium that it drew 4 million fans two years in a row when they were winning. What the Blue Jays have to do is continue to stick with a plan, have their draft picks come up a la Dave Bush, and contribute to a nucleus of players who will play hard and win. That's the bottom line.

The Blue Jays are in a very difficult division, but if they can approach 90+ wins on a consistent basis that will give them the opportunity to get into the playoffs. By getting into the playoffs one or two years in a row, you've seen the carry over and the fans will come back, though maybe not to the 4 million level of the past.

In '92 and '93, when the Jays won it all, they had baseball's highest payroll at 48 million a year. Now with the Yankees at 184 million a year in payroll and the Blue Jays at 50 million, those days will never occur again, where the Blue Jays or any other team for that matter will exceed the Yankees' payroll. But still, within their parameters, the Blue Jays can be much better. They can consistently get to the playoffs like an Oakland or Minnesota. And I think that's where the Blue Jays are headed.

The Hall of Fame makes room for a great Jay

BB: Recently, a significant player in Blue Jays history was inducted into the Hall. He spoke highly of the Blue Jays and the World Series team he played on. What was your reaction to Paul Molitor's induction?

Well deserved. Had he not been hurt he probably would have added to his tremendous numbers. He was a team leader, a winner. He was thorough in his preparation. Other than not being durable he worked extremely hard to play as long as he did and be a significant contributor to every team he was on.

He was well-spoken, but in his own way he showed that as a DH you could contribute. I think he ended up playing more games as a DH than as an infielder and outfielder when he came up with Milwaukee. So there is your first Hall of Fame player who really benefited from that rule. Paul Molitor is a Hall of Fame player and person for me.

BB: Do you think the Hall of Fame excludes many deserving players? Or conversely, has it become diluted?

(Chuckling) I don't think it's become diluted. I would look at the past and wonder myself why Bert Blyleven is not in the Hall of Fame. I think Andre Dawson deserves to be there. Those are two that come to my mind right away. For me, Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer. He dominated - he won more games in the '80s than any other pitcher. He won 4 World Series and had that memorable 7th game 10-inning 1-0 win over Atlanta in Minnesota. Those three deserve to be in there. It's become more difficult to get in because of the inflation of the numbers in the game. If you dominated for 10, 11, 12 years with what used to be Hall of Fame numbers, now it's not enough. The writers almost feel you need to do that and then another 5, 6, 7 years. I think it's tough to get into the Hall and there are deserved people who should be in there.

BB: There might be some bias against middle infielders. I think of players like Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker who aren't necessarily Hall of Famers but who received little support in the voting.

Middle infielders, at one time, were voted in by the Veterans Committee. I can think of Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizutto. Would they be Hall of Famers today? Probably not, because today the game demands so much offence. I do think that middle infielders as a group are not in there as significantly as some of the others who have put together more homeruns and RBIs.

BB: Do you think the voters are focusing on sheer numbers, rather than assessing the quality of the player?

As an example of that, I was embarrassed for the writers when Joe Carter did not receive enough ballots to go on to the next year of the ballot. I don't think that was right. It's debatable whether Joe is a Hall of Famer. I would put him in the category of close Hall of Famer because of the 100 RBI a year for 11 of 12 years. One year he missed - he had 98. He was a significant part of 2 World Series, so he was a winner. He had a signature homerun off Mitch Williams. Joe deserved better there. Even if he'd been on the ballot 3 or 4 years, accumulated his share of votes, and then was taken off, I could understand that. But I can not understand him not getting enough votes - 5% - to qualify for the next year.

BB: Lou Whitaker also suffered the same fate. That was a travesty.

There're a couple of middle infielders right there - Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker - who had Hall of Fame careers, better than 20 years with one team. Because of their Hall of Fame productivity and everything else attendant to what those two meant to their team, I think they've been overlooked.

Jerry Howarth Q & A (Volume 2) | 4 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Friday, September 10 2004 @ 05:03 PM EDT (#35956) #
Great interview, Robert.

BB: Lou Whitaker also suffered the same fate. That was a travesty.

_blizz - Friday, September 10 2004 @ 05:06 PM EDT (#35957) #
Hey, first post here, been reading for a while now though. I guess this shows the optimism of someone that is very close to the Jays and how they should be able to bounce back next year.
Thomas - Friday, September 10 2004 @ 06:11 PM EDT (#35958) #
Great work Robert.

I would look at the past and wonder myself why Bert Blyleven is not in the Hall of Fame.

I couldn't agree more. Whitaker, as well.
Pistol - Friday, September 10 2004 @ 08:49 PM EDT (#35959) #
His inability to foul off a 2-strike pitch against a tough right-handed pitcher hurt him dearly as far as it led to more strikeouts and fewer walks.

That's interesting. You don't hear (or at least I don't) something like that too often.
Jerry Howarth Q & A (Volume 2) | 4 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.