By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 22) – We share a given name and we shared (more than 20 years ago) – he as the Blue Jays media relations director; me as a reporter for The FAN-590 – several of the greatest moments in Toronto sports history. That’s why I’m writing today about Howard Starkman, shortly after his unexpected retirement from Canada’s lone Major League team.
“Dear Friends: As you may know, my official retirement from the Blue Jays was Friday (Apr. 11),” Howard wrote in an email. “The past 38 years went so quickly. The random date was my choice over a year ago. I had committed to getting the 2014 season started and felt it was the right time. I have so many cherished memories of my experiences here.”
It’s no wonder why.
Between 1985 and 1993, Howard Starkman was the most sought after media relations guru in the history of Canadian sport. That’s because the Blue Jays – beginning with the run-up to their first playoff appearance and ending with their second of consecutive World Series championships – were the most popular team, coast to coast, in the country. Reporters, photographers and TV personnel from Newfoundland to British Columbia wanted a piece of the club – a frenzy that spiraled beyond anything witnessed in our land when the Blue Jays moved from Exhibition Stadium into SkyDome (and its retractable roof) in mid-season 1989. From that moment until Joe Carter’s “touch-’em-all” blast off Mitch Williams nearly 4½ years later, there wasn’t an unsold seat at the ‘Dome… or a vacancy in the press box.
HOWARD STARKMAN (LEFT) BEING PRESENTED AT SKYDOME (NOW ROGERS CENTRE) WITH A TROPHY IN HIS NAME BY BLUE JAYS PRESIDENT PAUL BEESTON.
Starkman executed, as well as anyone could, the unenviable balancing act of “protecting” the Blue Jays players and providing access to them on a daily and nightly basis. He was necessarily gruff at times, yet almost always fair… and his bark was invariably worse than his bite. He came by that bark honestly, having worked for Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard as Toronto Maple Leafs publicity director from 1969 to 1976. Though he’ll never admit so, I always figured that a young Howard woke up each morning and looked in the mirror, wondering how fate could have landed him in such an ordeal. Desiring a competitive wage for someone of his experience, Starkman left the miserly Leafs roughly three years before Ballard began his systematic destruction of the hockey club by re-hiring George (Punch) Imlach as general manager.
It was a brilliant, timely departure for Howie.
YOUNG HOWARD IN 1974 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS PUBLICITY PHOTO.
Seeking their first P.R. manager, the Blue Jays quickly brought him aboard at a salary above the poverty line, where Starkman would have forever remained at the Gardens. It was the start of a long, rewarding affiliation among the multitudes that covered the baseball team – myself included – and the man that somehow coordinated the frenzy.
I had the privilege of being “kept in line” by Howard from 1988 to 1994 at Canada’s first all-sports radio station. I was there – home and away – to watch the Blue Jays in their biggest moments: American League Championship Series games at Oakland (1989), Minneapolis (1991), Oakland (1992) and Chicago (1993); World Series games at Atlanta (1992) and Philadelphia (1993). There was the Major League All-Star Game at SkyDome in 1991 and others with Howie at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (1992) and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh (1994).
MY TICKET FOR BLUE JAYS FIRST-EVER GAME – vs. CHICAGO WHITE SOX – APR. 7, 1977.
For being the most tenured employee in Blue Jays history, the Howard Starkman Award will now be presented annually to the club’s employee-of-the-year – a richly earned tribute to Starkman, who joined the organization in ’76 just after the accounting department hired Welland, Ont. native Paul Beeston. You may recognize the latter as president of the Blue Jays before and after their championships – a tenure briefly interrupted by a role at baseball’s head office in New York. Starkman hung around and retired with the longest unbroken term in club history.
I don’t often dig out my cardboard newspaper scrapbooks from the Blue Jays early years (damn, are they heavy), but I did so this week… as my lower-back is reminding me. There was no other way to recognize Howard for all the hospitality he provided in the infant stage of my radio career. Presented below, therefore, is a collection of 84 original newspaper pages from the best moments (to date) in Blue Jays history.
Happy, healthy retirement, Howard S. From Howard B.
TORONTO STAR STORIES FROM JAN. 10, 1976 ? AND FEB. 4, 1976 ? DETAILING PLAN OF MOVING THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS TO TORONTO.
TORONTO STAR SPORTS FROM NOV. 6, 1976 INTRODUCING THE FIRST BLUE JAYS ROSTER AFTER EXPANSION DRAFT IN NEW YORK THE PREVIOUS DAY.
GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE OPENER
TORONTO STAR FROM MAR. 12, 1977 (THEN-METRO CHAIRMAN PAUL GODFREY THROWING FIRST PITCH) – DAY AFTER FIRST-EVER ORGANIZED BLUE JAYS GAME: EXHIBITION OPENER vs. NEW YORK METS IN DUNEDIN FLA. TORONTO WON, 3-1.
THE DAY BEFORE
FRONT AND BACK COVERS OF TORONTO SUN SUPPLEMENT FROM APR. 6, 1977 – DAY BEFORE THE SEASON OPENER vs. CHICAGO WHITE SOX.
FRONT-PAGE EDITIONS OF THE TORONTO STAR ?? ON APRIL 7, 1977 – AFTER THE BLUE JAYS FIRST-EVER GAME AT COLD, SNOWY EXHIBITION STADIUM.
A RECORD NIGHT
TORONTO STAR SPORTS – JUNE 27, 1978 – NIGHT AFTER SECOND-YEAR JAYS ESTABLISHED A TEAM RECORD THAT STILL EXISTS FOR MOST RUNS IN A GAME.
FIRST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE
TORONTO SUN ? AND TORONTO STAR ? OCT. 6, 1985 – DAY AFTER BLUE JAYS BEAT NEW YORK YANKEES AT EXHIBITION STADIUM TO WIN AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST TITLE.
FIRST PLAYOFF GAMES
TORONTO STAR AFTER GAME 1 ? AND GAME 2 ? OF THE 1985 AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES AT EXHIBITION STADIUM BETWEEN BLUE JAYS AND KANSAS CITY ROYALS. JAYS WON BOTH GAMES AND LED 3-1 BEFORE THE ROYALS AND GEORGE BRETT RALLIED WITH THREE CONSECUTIVE VICTORIES TO PREVAIL IN SEVEN.
1991 ALL-STAR GAME at SKYDOME
1992 ALCS: BLUE JAYS vs. OAKLAND
ON COVER OF MY SCRAPBOOK: CARDBOARD SIGN (COURTESY SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER) GIVEN TO FANS AT OAKLAND COLISEUM PRIOR TO GAME 3 OF 1992 ALCS.
OAKLAND – OCT. 11, 1992
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT MOMENT, TO THIS TIME, IN BLUE JAYS HISTORY: ROBERTO ALOMAR’S GAME-TYING HOME RUN OFF DENNIS ECKERSLEY IN THE NINTH INNING OF GAME 4 AT OAKLAND COLISEUM. WITHOUT IT, THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A 1992 WORLD SERIES MATCH-UP (AND VICTORY) AGAINST THE ATLANTA BRAVES.
FIRST AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT
BLUE JAYS DEFEAT OAKLAND ?? IN GAME 6 AT SKYDOME – OCT. 19, 1992 – TO WIN THEIR FIRST AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP.
FIRST WORLD SERIES
DECORATED COVER OF MY SCRAPBOOK AND FRONT OF OCT. 18, 1992 TORONTO SUN – MORNING AFTER BLUE JAYS DROP WORLD SERIES OPENER ? IN ATLANTA.
FIRST WORLD SERIES WIN
TORONTO STAR SPORTS ? AND TORONTO SUN COVERS ? OCT. 19, 1992 – MORNING AFTER PINCH-HIT HOME RUN BY ED SPRAGUE EVENED WORLD SERIES IN ATLANTA.
COVER AND SPORTS FRONT OF USA TODAY FROM OCT. 19, 1992.
FIRST WORLD SERIES GAME IN CANADA
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 1992
ATLANTA – OCT. 24-25, 1992
FIRST PARADE – OCTOBER 26, 1992
TORONTO SUN SEP. 28, 1993: JAYS CLINCH AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST AT MILWAUKEE.
SECOND AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT
COVER OF TORONTO STAR ? AND TORONTO SUN ? FROM OCT. 13, 1993 – MORNING AFTER THE BLUE JAYS ELIMINATED CHICAGO WHITE SOX IN GAME 6 AT COMISKEY PARK FOR THEIR SECOND AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP.
SECOND WORLD SERIES
TORONTO STAR (OCT. 20, 1993) AFTER BLUE JAYS AND PAUL MOLITOR HAMMER PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES AT VETERANS STADIUM IN GAME 3 OF THE WORLD SERIES.
PHILADELPHIA – OCTOBER 20, 1993
BLUE JAYS AND PHILLIES COMBINE TO SCORE 29 RUNS IN GAME 4 AT VETERANS STADIUM – TWO DECADES LATER, STILL A WORLD SERIES RECORD.
TORONTO – OCT. 23, 1993
SECOND PARADE – OCT. 24, 1993
“TOUCH ‘EM ALL, JOE!” – THE LATE, GREAT TOM CHEEK.
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