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July 29, 2013

Hall honors those who covered all the bases

By Greg Klein
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Tom Cheek marked one of the most famous home runs in World Series history with the words, "Touch 'em all Joe. You'll never hit a bigger home run in your whole life."

Almost 20 years later, the family of the former Toronto Blue Jays announcer visited Doubleday Field to witness the "pinnacle" of his career as Cheek received the Ford C. Frick Award on Saturday during the National Baseball Hall of Fame's third annual Awards Presentation.

"After seven years, the fans across Canada have not forgotten Tom," Shirley Cheek said of her late husband, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004 and died the following year. "I have heard from fans from British Columbia to Newfoundland. From the oldest Cheek, me, to the youngest, I can say: We’ve never had a bigger day in our lives and you have touched us all."

Cheek's career as the voice of Blue Jays radio broadcasts ran from 1977 — their inaugural season — until 2004 and included 4,306 regular-season games and 41 in the postseason. His biggest call came Oct. 23, 1993, when Joe Carter's three-run homer against the Philadelphia Phillies clinched the 1993 World Series championship for Toronto in Game 6.

"Some called him the iron man because of his streak," said Shirley Cheek, who accepted the Frick award while their three children and seven grandchildren watched.

The Cheeks were among a crowd of roughly 700 fans who turned out for the Awards Presentation, which also drew 30 Hall of Famers to recognize the careers of Cheek and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Paul Hagen.

Hagen, who works for mlb.com, spent nearly 25 of his 40 years as a newspaper writer with the Philadelphia Daily News. Hagen covered the Phillies from 1987 to 2002 and spent another nine years at the News as the paper’s baseball writer. He covered the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers earlier in his career.

"The Phillies have been so good the first few years of this century that it is easy to forget how bad they were at the end of last century," Bill Shaikin, a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America's board of directors, said while introducing Hagen. "Philadelphia fans are passionate. They wanted to know why their team was so bad. In Paul, they had the perfect person to tell them why. He broke it down for you before anyone on television ever thought to say, 'Let’s break it down for you.' "

Hagen said he was uncomfortable in the spotlight.

"The first rule in journalism is not to make yourself part of the story," he said. "Uncomfortable as it may be, for a few minutes today, I guess I am part of the story."

Hagen got choked up while thanking his parents — who brought him to the Hall of Fame when he was 10 — and again as he thanked his wife and children.

"It is difficult for your family. Even when you are home, you are not home because there’s usually a game that night," he said. "Thank you for sticking with me during my adventures and misadventures. I literally couldn't have done it without you."

Hagen also saluted his fellow beatwriters, who offer daily coverage in the face of fewer staff members and lower pay at newspapers.

"There’s not a lot of glory being a beatwriter," he said. "Even if you write the best article in the world, you have to go out the next day and do it all over again."

The ceremony also paid tribute to Thomas Tull and Dr. Frank Jobe. Tull produced the Jackie Robinson movie "42" and Jobe is the Dodgers physician who invented ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, better known as Tommy John surgery.

John, who pitched for 13 years after Jobe reattached his UCL, compared the doctor to two legends of baseball.

"Marvin Miller, Jackie Robinson and Frank Jobe have done so much to change the game of baseball," John said.

Jobe credited John, though.

"We did a little surgery for him, but he did all the hard work," Jobe said. "He pitched 13 more years without missing a single start and won 164 more games. Now that’s sports medicine."

Tull, the president of Legendary Pictures, said producing a movie about Robinson was the highlight of his career.

"I have had the privilege to make films about Batman and Superman and all these superheroes," he said. "I'll tell you, the greatest superhero movie I will ever make is about Jackie Robinson."

Tull later asked Robinson's window, Rachel, 91, to stand for an ovation from the crowd and went on to say that she and her husband changed America as well as baseball. He also credited the Hall, Joe Morgan and Hank Aaron for helping him with accurate facts for the movie.

"The day I brought Hank Aaron to the set, even Harrison Ford was nervous," he said.

Binghamton native Tull said he cherishes coming back home and visiting Cooperstown.

"Life gets complicated," he said. "It is especially complicated in Los Angeles, where I live now. Cooperstown is never complicated. Every time I come here, it makes me breathe a little deeper and stand a little straighter. It is a privilege to come here every time."