Like the other 2019 inductees into the Santa Clara University Athletics Hall of Fame, Jerry Howarth ’68 can quote some glitzy stats from his college days. Or at least one: an unworldly sounding .500 batting average.
Of course, it bears mentioning Howarth only lasted one game with SCU’s first-year baseball team before getting cut. But he left with a triple to right-center field and the satisfaction of having chased a dream against long odds—SCU baseball then looming as a national power.
It’s Howarth’s willingness to test himself against the best that explains a lot about how a college baseball reject ultimately reached one of the peaks of the professional game. For 36 years, starting in 1982, Howarth was the play-by-play radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, a run of more than 6,000 Major League games that ended in February 2018 with his surprise retirement.
“Someone will follow Howarth in the booth, of course,” a columnist for the Toronto Star lamented after his decision was made. “But they cannot replace him, of course.”
It was time, Howarth says. He had always maintained that he would walk away if he sensed his standards slip. And in the wake of successful surgery for prostate cancer, he felt his energy drop—and vocal strength with it. He left with no regrets.
Focus on the Field
In the broadcast booth, Howarth prided himself on keeping the focus on the field, not himself. That fact was never more evident than in 2016 when one of his sons called him to say his name was trending across social media. The explanation: A caller to a radio talk show had just pointed out that Howarth never used the mascot names for the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves.
It was, it turned out, something Howarth had been doing mostly unnoticed since getting a complaint from an Aboriginal Canadian 23 years earlier—even during the 1995 World Series between the two clubs. It was the right thing to do, Howarth says. He had just never told anyone.
But in retirement, Howarth is sharing more of his own story. This past winter, he released a memoir. The title, Hello, Friends!, is a reference to his trademark broadcast opening. Undoubtedly the book will appeal most to baseball fans, and Blue Jays fans at that. But it’s also a fascinating look at the luck, pluck, and persistence required to reach heights people spend whole careers never making. And it’s a story with deep and unlikely roots in the Mission campus.
Howarth arrived at Santa Clara in 1964, drawn by the baseball program, then just two years removed from the College World Series finals. Yet he responded to the news of getting cut by going out to catch a final fly ball and running off the field without the least regret. He had given it his all.
Free from playing sports, Howarth begin to cover them, both for fledgling radio station KSCU and, more intensely, for The Santa Clara newspaper, where he would rise to sports editor. But the bigger development for Howarth at Santa Clara was a spiritual one. His first week on campus, he met John Shanks, S.J., his dorm’s resident priest, and the person he says inspired him to become the man he is today.
Howarth had come from a fractured home—his parents’ misery never more apparent than at holidays. “I would lie awake in bed at night, listening to the uproar in the house, telling myself that I would avoid conflict at all costs for the rest of my life,” he writes in Hello, Friends!
Shanks helped Howarth forgive his mother, whom he blamed for the family’s unhappiness. And he challenged Howarth to become more alive. “Fr. Shanks told me that I had just one of my four burners going on the top of a stove,” he says in the book. “Over the next four years, it was my intent to fire up those other three burners because I knew I had it in me.”