In 1981, a seasoned 35 year-old minor league play by play announcer joined the Toronto Blue Jays to become part of their radio team with veteran Tom Cheek, and outgoing Hall of Famer Early Wynn.
Howarth became the voice of the franchise after the untimely passing of Cheek in 2005, and became a vital part of the Toronto media landscape. Health issues forced him to hang up his microphone last week, and while there’s been no news of a search for his replacement, one is likely taking place with the start of the regular season six weeks away.
The Blue Jays are likely considering several candidates, including Mike Wilner, who has gradually taken over some of Howarth’s duties, as well as hosted the contentious Jays Talk call-in show after Jays games. Elliott Price, who filled in on Expos broadcasts and is a long-time Canadian radio voice, has also been mentioned.
This corner would like to add a name who would make an excellent addition to the Blue Jays radio team: Lansing Lugnuts’ broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler. There are many parallels between Goldberg-Strassler and Howarth. Jesse is the same age that Jerry was when he came to Toronto. Both have impressive minor league resumes – Howarth had seven years of experience as a Pacific Coast League announcer, while Goldberg-Strassler has been Lansing’s play by play voice since 2009, with stops in AA and Indy ball before that. Both are thorough and professional in their preparation and delivery – having been to a number of minor league parks, no one puts together a pre-game media package like Jesse. Both are knowledgeable about the game on and off the field, and transmit that understanding of it in a clear, succinct way. And both have calm, even personalities, which comes across during the game, with voices rising with the excitement of the game, but coming back down and serving as moderating influences after the action has reached its peak.
Having listened to Jesse for half a dozen seasons, I’ve found that he brings other strengths to his broadcasts. He’s a great interviewer, easily building a rapport with the prospects he speaks to, and giving those of us who follow them from hundreds of miles away an understanding of where they came from, and what their make-up is like. One of my favourites is this interview Jesse did with Southpaw Angel Perdomo in 2016. Perdomo had a beginner’s grasp of English, and he probably had to summon a great deal of courage for him to agree to an interview. Jesse handled him with aplomb, helping Perdomo with some of his answers, and handling the interview generally with great sensitivity. Poised and articulate, Jesse fills the air with just the right amount of conversation, whether he’s doing the game by himself or with a broadcast partner. An accomplished author, Jesse has written a Baseball Thesaurus, a tome of baseball terms and their origins that makes for enjoyable reading for anyone who follows the game.
Goldberg-Strassler brings the same affability to his weekly look around the Blue Jays system, Around the Nest, where he talks to the radio voices of the other Toronto minor league affiliates on a weekly basis during the season. Again, for someone covering the system from afar, he delivers a number of valuable nuggets of information in the half hour podcast.
Jesse is an avid student of the history of the game. He’s served as Curator of the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame since 2014, and is widely known throughout baseball for his annual re-creation of a Lugnuts game. Goldberg-Strassler takes listeners back to the early days of baseball radio (where announcers often “called” games in a studio hundreds of miles away from the game by following a ticker-tape summary of it) by using a baseball, ball glove, broken bats, and canned crowd noises to simulate an actual game that’s taking place (Jesse broadcasts from the team front office, while play by play details are relayed to him by computer).
Having been the Lugnuts’ voice since 2009, Goldberg-Strassler knows the workings of the Toronto minor league system very well. That would put him in good stead as a major league broadcaster, as he would already have a very good knowledge of most players called up to the major leagues by the Blue Jays. He would easily be able to share that knowledge with his listeners.
Jerry Howarth is a legend in this country, and deservedly so. His voice became part of the fabric of most Canadians’ summertime, be it at the beach, on a campsite, on the deck with a cold beverage, mowing the lawn with a set of headphones on, or behind the wheel on a long drive through a Canadian summer night. His shoes will indeed be large ones to fill. Just five hours down the 401, across the border, is a worthy successor in Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.