A CONVERSATION WITH TOM CHEEK on DAVE STIEB
By Blake Bell
Thursday April 23, 1998
Tom Cheek was the radio voice for the Toronto Blue Jays from their inception in 1977 until his retirement in June 2004. He called 4306 consecutive games over those 27 years, landing him on the Blue Jays' Level Of Excellence and in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
On April 23, 1998, having been granted a media pass (for the nascent Dave Stieb website that Len Lumbers and I had started in March), I spoke to Tom Cheek on the night when Blue Jays pitching legend, Dave Stieb, took his comeback at the age of 40 (after 5 years off) to the next level. Stieb started for the Syracuse Sky Chiefs in an Exhibition game vs the 1998 Blue Jays, moving up from Single A Dunedin, still 8 weeks away from re-joining the Jays on June 18, 1998. (Follow our @DaveStiebToday Twitter account for your daily dose of Dave Stieb history.)
BELL : When you heard Stieb was coming back, what was your first reaction?
CHEEK : My first reaction was a little bit of confusion because I had breakfast with Dave in the Skydome when the Blue Jays were there to play an exhibition against the Cardinals and he was there as a guest coach. We talked about Dave and the club wanting him to continue as a coach and he was...kind of...considering, but maybe towards not doing that. And then three or four days later, I hear about the comeback bid, so I was a little bit confused as to whether that was always in the back of his mind. He told me this morning before this outing here that that was not the case, that he knew that he felt good when he was pitching down there but Sal Butera, the bullpen coach, caught him in the spring time down there and said, ''Boy, from what I've seen, you can still pitch'', so...I think it's great; I'm pulling for him.
BELL : Do you think he's going to crack the line-up?
CHEEK : Well, I think the hitters will tell him if, and when, it's time to abort or press on. I mean, it's just that simple. He will, or he won't be able to get them out and the Triple-A thing here will be telling.
BELL : Richard Griffin, the writer from the Toronto Star, said that Gord Ash was the one who was most reticent about bringing him back because it would be a step back for the organization - this is what Griffin was 'reading' off Ash. Do you get that sense from Gord at all?
CHEEK : That's a tough one to answer. Gord is supported of Dave. I think people are protective of Dave. I sat up here and watched it going on down there and I could remember a Dave Stieb circa 1981, 82, 83. Back at that time, these guys wouldn't have touched him. I would not want to see Dave embarass himself. He had...I think it is something Dave had to prove to himself one way or another. I don't know what's in Gord Ash's mind, but they are supportive of Dave. Dave's a favorite son.
BELL : Did Dave say he definitely wanted to be a starter. Did he give you that impression; as opposed to a reliever?
CHEEK : No, he really didn't. I really didn't broach that with him. I did a little interview with him this morning but we didn't even broach that aspect of it. It was more 'how are you feeling', ' what are you pinging on the gun', 'what are the hitters telling you' - that kind of thing. I think he understands that to get back to the big leagues and to participate and contribute in whatever role would be a wonderful story at his age and everything else. I will say this - the man is in superb shape, as he was when he played; when he was a younger man, so I wouldn't bet against - nor would I bet that he's going to pull it off. I think it's just let's take a wait and see.
BELL : What did you think of today?
CHEEK : I thought, at first when I saw him out there that, you know, maybe this is a mistake, but then he settled down and I can see the old conpetitive juices flowing. I saw him run over to cover first base one time; kind of 'turn-back-the-clock' stuff in my head, so...I don't know. I'd like to see - I won't be around to see a couple more of these. I only saw him in the spring time, pitching against batting practice hitters and that kind of thing. Today was the first of these and I kind of have mixed emotions about it at the moment.
BELL : What is your favorite Dave Stieb memory?
CHEEK : Without a doubt, the last out in Cleveland back in '90 when he pitched the no-hitter.
BELL : What was the best game you ever saw him pitch; because I don't even think he would rank that as the best game he ever pitched.
CHEEK : Well, it was a no-hitter. I saw him again in Cleveland when he probably was as good, or better, and the ball inexplicably bounced over Manny Lee's head - to this day we don't know. I saw him take it to the 9th inning when Roberto Kelly - Stieb, a pitch he would like to have back. It would be hard to rank them but that was the no-hitter and that's a favorite moment because I know all the frustration the man had trying to do it.