…wish I never had to write a post with the title mentioned above, but alas it has come to be. Unfortunately Alan Ashby is leaving Toronto. It has truly been a pleasure and a joy to listen to Blue Jays broadcasts on the radio for the past 6 years. Jerry and Alan formed a tandem that would be hard to surpass in their banter and sociability. I for one withdrew from any TV watching (not wanting to pay for cable aside) and relished the chance to listen to these two personalities each and every game.
Ashby was terrific with his candour and camaraderie with Jerry and other guests on radio. He offered his opinions every time when asked during interviews and was refreshingly critical of the Jays when he saw something that was amiss. Quite simply, he was not just a ‘Rogers’ man. Jerry on the other hand has always been cheery and positive. He speaks with sincerity during his interviews giving his opinion with a careful selection of words like the time he spoke on Sportsnet590 when asked for his thoughts about Farrell leaving; he basically said that he’s “lost respect for John because he was under contract with the Blue Jays, and he broke his contract”, which to me was the kind of honesty I was hoping for and Jerry delivered. Jerry Howarth is just a good person through and through (to steal one of his lines) as he also lives in Toronto year-round and by all accounts, he loves it here in Canada.
I recall one anecdote from a spring training game 2 years ago regarding Freddie Freeman just before he made the MLB squad in Atlanta. Both Jerry and Alan were laughing at how many times they could say the name Freddie Freeman (maybe it was just the way it sounds) and then the public address announcer mentions the name Freddie Freeman again, and they lose it laughing! I thought it was funny when they mentioned that moment again this past spring when the Jays were playing the Braves. It was simply hilarious the banter these two had and how they would play off each other when calling a baseball game.
Now who are the candidates to take Alan’s place?
1) Gregg Zaun – quite opinionated like a certain other hockey personality (e.g. Don Cherry) with his colourful suits et al, which is good, but sometimes he can be rather harsh on the organization like he was over the Farrell and Escobar eye-black thing.
And then he looks all hypocritical when he says this on Twitter:
“Believe it or not, I’d love to see baseball fans in Toronto take the high road when it comes to the Escobar situation. He’s sorry 4 mistake.”
When Zaun has filled in on the radio in the past, there’s often long silences in between his opinions which results in some rather long moments of dead-air. So he’s not my first choice.
2) Jamie Campbell – he’s kind of like a monotonous drone when he speaks although he’s gotten a bit better with Zaun by his side, but I couldn’t stand him when he used to do TV for the team. As what must be the bitter nightmare for any broadcaster, he would put his listeners to sleep, myself included. So not Jamie.
3) Dirk Hayhurst – currently co-host with Sam Cosentino on Sportsnet’s Baseball Central, Dirk is well liked amongst the Blue Jays faithful from having become famous with his Garfoose character (and his prior writings for Baseball America) when he played for the team in 2009, and subsequently has written three baseball books (the last of which should be coming out soon and will feature his time with the Blue Jays). Dirk above all is a former player, very knowledgeable, a humble person, has great repartee & wordplay and has solid insights to share. He would be my first choice.
4) Mike Wilner – this would be tremulous decision. So many fans have the full hate-on for Wilner, there might be an uproar if he gets this job. Personally, I get the ‘education’ role Mike takes on for JaysTalk, and sure, he can get prickly towards fans, but sometimes rightly so. Yes, he can be impolite and downright rude to some people, but still I bet anyone would get that way when he gets calls day after day by unknowledgeable trolls asking questions about God knows what (i.e. What’s the status on McGowan?; When will Snider get called back up? Why hasn’t Romero been sent down yet?).
He is a ‘Rogers’ guy and fervently backs up the team while refraining from criticism of the Jays, however I feel he like he’s mostly trying to share with fans what the manager or players may have actually been thinking given a certain situation. This education is fine by me. Too often fans project ideas that they believe or think they’ve heard somewhere and Wilner sees it as his role to remind fans of the ‘facts’ and what has actually been communicated to the fan base. If uneducated fans are put-off from being told that they’re wrong, then too bad for them. I can’t fault Wilner for that.
Here I am defending him, but mostly I’m cautious of Wilner taking Ashby’s place simply because of his monotonous, whiny tone and voice. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the decent job he did when he had to fill in this past year where he often showed excitement when the play dictated it, but I much preferred Jerry and Alan. Perhaps it’s unfair comparing him to two greats. Maybe he’ll grow into it since all broadcasters need time to develop their on-air voice as Jerry can attest to as he spent a handful of years broadcasting in the minors before this major league gig came up. And he had Tom Cheek to learn from. I recall Jerry saying before that he never stops learning and trying to better himself. I can only hope Wilner takes on the same attitude.
Given a lack of creative options, I’m afraid to say it, but the job is probably Mike’s to lose even though Dirk would be my choice.
Or, ahhh, maybe Darrin Fletcher can reappear! We can only hope.