The Blue Jays had a true gem in legendary broadcaster Jerry Howarth, a man who left an impact on the game in more ways than one.
When I think about Blue Jays baseball, one of the first sounds that pops into my mind is Jerry Howarth’s voice.
The legendary broadcaster spent more than 36 years in the booth for the Blue Jays, and truly became synonymous with the team. His kindness was well documented, and he is about as respected as it comes for folks who were involved in baseball from his generation. He was fantastic at his job, but more importantly, he’s a great human being, and you’ll have a very hard time finding anyone who will say anything bad about him.
I got thinking about Howarth with some of the news that’s been taking place in the major sports world this week. In particular, what caught my eye was that the Washington Redskins are being asked to change their name, and this time there is real pressure from their major sponsors, so much so that there doesn’t seem to be any other resolution.
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Why does this make me think of Howarth? Well, that’s because he had a pretty simple policy throughout his broadcasting career when it came to other controversial team names in Major League Baseball, and he was a little ahead of his time.
The story goes that Howarth received a letter from an Aboriginal fan after the Blue Jays played the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series. Howarth said it was, “one of the best fan letters I’ve ever received”, as it respectfully explained why things like the “Tomahawk Chop” in Atlanta was offensive, and why names like the Braves, (Cleveland) Indians, and the NFL’s (Washington) Redskins were inappropriate.
While Howarth couldn’t do much to get those names and traditions changed, he decided to do what he could, and stopped using those terms. He even wrote the man back, thanking him for the perspective.
Throughout the rest of his career, the now 74-year-old simply referred to the competition as “Atlanta”, or “Cleveland” rather than using the team nicknames. While you may have your own feelings about the issue, I hope that we can all recognize the class that Howarth displayed with the gesture. In the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t much, but it was an important acknowledgement at a time when you could argue that many others who could have received that letter might not have given it a second thought. It’s also a tradition that’s being kept alive by others like Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet.
It’s just another reason why we should appreciate the legacy that Howarth left the Blue Jays organization with his career. Some of those team names may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but Howarth took the time to care enough about a group of fans to make a change in the way that he did his job, and his caring attitude is just one of the many reasons he’ll always be fondly remembered by baseball fans.