They are the ramshackle group of insiders, trained experts, and industry professionals who beam into our homes on an almost nightly basis; regaling us with oodles of digestible news and bountiful analysis to keep an entire country’s addiction satiated and well-fed. We welcome their contributions because they are the designated storytellers, the pre-ordained visualizers, the glorious soothsayers of the baseball diamond – but what is it about them that compels us to keep watching and listening?
Using a traditional power rankings format to further illustrate the current crop of the Toronto Blue Jays crew, let’s take a closer look at how effectively they deliver America’s favourite pastime into the hearts and minds of an ever-growing and ravenous Canadian fan base:
1. Jerry Howarth (Radio Play-by-Play)
Player comparison: David Ortiz
Best known for: Being the elder statesman of the broadcasting crew, the 70-year old Howarth has been the voice of the Blue Jays since 1981 and was part of the radio duo which included Hall-of-Famer and beloved figure Tom Cheek.
What you didn’t know about him: Howarth was born in Pennsylvania and raised in California, becoming a Canadian citizen in 1994 and, along with Cheek, represented the peak of broadcast journalism around these parts – leaving an indelible mark on multiple generations of fans.
What fans really think of him: He’s truly insightful, utterly reliable, and doesn’t miss a thing. Once called out Jose Reyes during the summer of 2015 after his play and attitude began hurting the team. Watershed moment for fans who admire Jerry for his integrity and penchant for brutal honesty, and in the process watched him become quite possibly the coolest man in baseball – especially when sticking to his principles. Coined the home run phrase “there she goes…!” in such a way that it brings instant gratification in the most Pavlovian fashion imaginable.
2. Buck Martinez (Television Play-by-Play)
Player comparison: Crash Davis
Best known for: Being the Josh Thole equivalent to a baseball player and the Carlos Tosca equivalent to a manager, Buck is an absolute monster of a broadcaster when it comes to professionalism, unbridled enthusiasm and radiating anecdotal charm – which explains why he called the World Series this year. He’s endeared himself to the viewing audience by becoming a ubiquitous part of this franchise throughout changing ownership and re-branding efforts.
What you didn’t know about him: The 67-year Californian debuted in 1969 for the Kansas City Royals, was traded to the Jays in May of 1981, and is remembered as a solid defensive catcher. His career ended abruptly when he broke his leg on a 9-2-7-2 double play which effectively garnered him perennial respect long before social media plays of the week. Apparently his nickname is “The Grey Jay” – with no word on whether he’ll be appearing in Game of Thrones season 7.
What fans really think of him: He’s emotionally bombastic and clearly loves this team, which leads him into trouble when mistakenly assuming a shallow fly ball to right field has the potential for a home run, or that most millennials have a clue about his nostalgic stories referencing Mark Eichhorn, Doyle Alexander, and Bill Caudill.
3. Dan Shulman (Television Play-by-Play)
Player comparison: Ken Griffey Jr.
Best known for: Bringing forward the gold standard of calling games, analyzing moments, and taking professional sports experiences to whole new levels of arousal. Shulman was originally hired as the host of Prime Time Sports by the FAN 1430 which eventually morphed into the FAN 590. Worked for CTV and joined TSN in 1995 by doing hockey, baseball, basketball, and quite possibly every other western sport known to man. Joined ESPN in 2001 and signed on for 30 Blue Jays games in 2016.
What you didn’t know about him: Shulman called Bonds’ 754th home run live and also announced, on air, that Osama Bin Laden had been captured and killed in 2011. He also attended the University of Western Ontario for his degree in actuarial sciences and allegedly mapped out every Tim Horton’s location within a 30 mile radius.
What fans really think of him: He’s universally admired and highly respected in a broadcasting field that has an abundance of mediocre quantities and he’s the true exception – his baritone voice creates instant credibility and generates noteworthy charm for the most mundane of circumstances. One can’t help but wonder if the Shulman-Martinez-Tabler triumvirate felt a little too crowded during the season – and I’m not just saying that because Dan is roughly the size of Brock Lesnar.
4. Gregg Zaun (Analyst)
Player comparison: Don Cherry
Best known for: His journeyman career of playing for nine different teams over 16 seasons. Won the World Series in 1997 as a member of the Marlins against Cleveland while Paul Beeston was CEO of MLB. Gradually transitioned from a player offering valuable intermission insights into the most recognizable, and arguably trusted, member of the broadcast team.
What you didn’t know about him: Was implicated in the Mitchell Report which led him to 64 days of silence before an official clarification which featured a misunderstood sports bet with a former teammate.
What fans really think of him: Admired for his candid perspectives and tough love approach to delicate situations, Gregg is a well-respected former player who has flourished into a credible resource for the network and fans alike. Unlike many TV personalities who are often given internal memos and some form of front office “media guidance”, one gets the impression that it’s Zaun’s way or the highway when it comes to post-mortem game analysis and we wouldn’t want it any other way. He doesn’t pull punches but isn’t a brawler – and that makes him a personality worth watching over and over again.
5. Mike Wilner (Post-Game Radio Show Host)
Player comparison: Nick Swisher
Best known for: Hosting the Blue Jays post-game radio show for what seems like the last 50 years and calling mid-innings play-by-play action.
What you didn’t know about him: Wilner was suspended for a weekend during a publicized spat with Cito Gaston over his use of the bullpen during a game in 2010. Although some argued that he deserved the “benching” by calling out the skipper, Mike earned himself legions of fans by having the stones to actually do his job as a journalist in questioning the infinite wisdom of a supposed local managerial legend. Toronto’s daily newspapers were clearly on his side as the Toronto Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America cried foul and accused Rogers Communication of media censorship.
What fans really think of him:
Best described as having a love/hate relationship, most fans
appreciate Wilner’s tremendous baseball knowledge and razor-sharp insights as a true aficionado of the team. However, he’s also notorious for patronizing callers on his show and refuting their alternative ideas with a healthy slice of indignant contrarianism – the kind of belligerent posture which leaves one less inclined to debate him and more likely to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
6. Pat Tabler (Television Colour Analyst)
Player comparison: Julio Franco
Best known for: Providing commentary as Buck’s right-hand man on Sportsnet. He’s been a fixture on broadcasts since 1993 and replaced the dearly departed and never forgotten John Cerutti in 2005.
What you didn’t know about him: Played for Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York, and Toronto in a career best remembered for his surreal average with the bases loaded – 43 for 88 (.489) lifetime for those scoring at home. Retired the year after he won the World Championship with the Jays in 1992. Pat is a huge fan of the band Jethro Tull which means he can relate to anyone over the age of 60 with relative ease.
What fans really think of him: Tabler’s early work with the Jays took the concept of vanilla and brought it to a whole new meaning of perceived journalistic variety. After all, who doesn’t like a slice of French vanilla ice cream with a side of low-fat vanilla truffle mixed with vanilla mousse layered with chunks of vanilla chips? Many viewers appreciate his steady presence as a vital component in their spectating experience but often wonder if he’s got another gear hidden away.
7. Jamie Campbell (Host)
Player comparison: Michael Saunders
Best known for: Hosting Blue Jays Central after surviving an era rife with mediocre play-by-play contributions from 2005 to 2009. Has found a niche as a host who can appeal to the younger demographic. Built a considerable twitter following after years of throwing dollar store brooms in random directions on live television whenever Toronto sweeps an opponent.
What you didn’t know about him: Prides himself on living and breathing the game while having been involved in some landmark moments – catching the David Ortiz home run during the 2004 MLB All-Star game, observing Devon White’s astonishing grab during game 3 of the 1992 World Series, and witnessing Delgado smash four home runs in a game back in 2003.
What fans really think of him: A much maligned figure during the pre-Martinez play-by-play era, Campbell has gradually become an indelible part of the Toronto baseball landscape in much the way your sofa has become an indelible part of your home.
8. Joe Siddall (Play-by-Play & Analysis)
Player comparison: Junior Felix
Best known for: His former playing career which consisted of 142 at-bats and a cup of coffee with Montreal, Florida, and Detroit.
What you didn’t know about him: Siddall overcame tremendous adversity in his life and found a home with the Jays after Jack Morris left the broadcasting team. Now fully entrenched as Howarth’s partner.
What fans really think of him: Joe’s delivery is an acquired taste – he’s a fact-oriented sidekick to Howarth’s opera but tends to overindulge in his vernacular when left to his own devices. Most listeners appreciate getting the details but not losing the “feel” associated with the visualization of action, and that’s where Siddall needs to take a breath and allow his audience to digest his abundant oratory.