Perky’s Yarns Are Overdue

TORONTO (Aug. 31) — I remember saying to myself: “Howard, just watch Dave Perkins. Observe the way he comports himself around athletes and you will learn immeasurably.” So, that’s what I did.

It was Aug. 17, 1987. At Pearson International Airport. I was 28½ years old. The Toronto Blue Jays — not yet chartering aircraft for trips to the west coast — were boarding an Air Canada flight to San Francisco. Ahead, was an eight–game road swing through Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle. I was on the trip to research material for a magazine story. Perkins was covering for the Toronto Star, where he shared the Major League Baseball beat with Neil McCarl, Allan Ryan and Garth Woolsey. I had not yet begun working for CJCL AM–1430 — the voice of the Blue Jays. That was nine months in the future; still more than five years before it would become Canada’s first all–sports radio station. Back in August 2013, on the occasion of Perky’s final column for the Star, I wrote about the summer–of–1987 flight we shared to northern–California:

At some recent point, Blue Jays temperamental slugger, George Bell, had pulled another of his off–field stunts. Bell was a terrific bats–man — en route, that season, to being named the American League’s most valuable player — but he routinely tripped over his own words and action. Details, I don’t remember. But, I do recall how Dave had pilloried Bell in the Star for his latest indiscretion. I can also tell you the Blue Jays left–fielder was less than fond of criticism. As long as I live, I’ll remember Bell wailing at Jim Hunt (the late Toronto Sun columnist) “Hunt, I keeeel you!” as the two gathered around the batting cage prior to games.

I therefore sat with my mouth open while Bell and Perkins engaged in a long and friendly poker competition during that six–hour flight to San Francisco. “Wow, this guy must have respect,” I thought to myself, watching the veteran, pull–no–punches baseball writer deal cards with the hot–head he had recently blistered.

Coincidentally, Dave leads off his new book FUN AND GAMES: MY 40 YEARS WRITING SPORTS with a story of that Blue Jays western trip 29 years ago. Entitled “Midnight Morgue”, it recounts how Toronto outfielder Rick Leach went missing in Seattle before the final game. I can still close my eyes and see general manager Pat Gillick — his face ashen — gathering reporters from Toronto behind the press box at the old Kingdome to deliver the news. “We don’t know where he is and we are working with Seattle police,” said Gillick.

Writes Perkins in Chapter 1: “It felt like an old B movie come to life. It was past midnight, cool and foggy, and where better to look for a missing major leaguer than the city morgue? There had been no sign of Rick Leach, the AWOL Blue Jay, at any of the downtown Seattle hospitals. Officially, there was zero information; he hadn’t been missing long enough to get police excited, although his teammates surely were.”

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TORONTO STAR LEGEND DAVE PERKINS TALKS TO A ROOM PACKED WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS AND MEDIA COLLEAGUES ON MONDAY NIGHT DURING THE LAUNCH OF HIS SPORTS–WRITING MEMOIR.

As it turned out, the one–time University of Michigan quarterback was just fine… so to speak.

“We never did find Leach, of course,” concludes Dave in the opening chapter. “He had been in an airport hotel on some kind of bender, which turned out to be the first we knew of a recreational–drug issue for which he later sought treatment. He sheepishly checked in with his wife and the ball club early the next morning. He returned to the Jays, albeit briefly and somewhat subdued. His career was nearly over, but he was far from the craziest guy I ever met in the business. He wasn’t even the craziest guy on that ball team.”

Perkins was surrounded, Monday night, in a St. Lawrence Market pub by a veritable plethora of Canadian media giants — past and present. If you weren’t aware of the respect garnered during his four decades of prose for the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, you found out in a hurry. More than 100 people jammed The Jason George on Front St. as ECW Press officially launched Dave’s memoir. Among the most prominent guests were Canadian broadcasting legend Brian Williams (TSN), who writes the Foreword to the book, and long–time Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. But, it didn’t stop there. Representing the Star were such colleagues as Allan Ryan, Garth Woolsey, Rosie DiManno, Bruce ArthurKevin McGran, Chris Young, former sports editor Phil Bingley, current sports editor Jennifer Quinn and baseball columnist Richard Griffin.

From the Toronto Sun, there was Hall–of–Fame baseball writer Bob Elliott; colleagues Steve Simmons, Mike Zeisberger and Steve Buffery (veteran baseball scribe Ken Fidlin was in Baltimore covering the Blue Jays and Orioles). The Globe and Mail was represented by Robbie McLeod and David Shoalts. Steve Milton was there for the Hamilton Spectator. Also on hand were former Blue Jays media relations director Howard Starkman; ex–Woodbine race–caller (and one of Dave’s closest pals) Dan Loiselle and Canadian Olympic sailor Paul Henderson, who headed up Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Games. A good time was had by all.

I attended with my trusty NIKON:

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IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL NIGHT DOWNTOWN ON MONDAY FOR THE LAUNCH OF DAVE’S BOOK.

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THESE GREY–BEARDS AND WONDERFUL CHAPS SHARED THE BLUE JAYS BEAT AT THE TORONTO STAR FROM THE MID–80’s TO THE MID–90’s, INCLUDING THE WORLD SERIES YEARS: LEFT–TO–RIGHT: GARTH WOOLSEY, ALLAN RYAN AND PERKY. HOW COOL IT WAS TO SEE THEM RE–UNITED ON MONDAY.

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THE BEEST WAS IN THE HOUSE: LONG–TIME TORONTO BLUE JAYS PRESIDENT AND BON VIVANT PAUL BEESTON POSED WITH PERKY (ABOVE) AND BRIAN WILLIAMS (BELOW).

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DAVE SPOKE ABOUT HIS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS AT THE GLOBE AND MAIL IN THE EARLY–70’s AND HOW HE DISCOVERED HIS BY–LINE ABOVE A STORY ON BOBBY HULL WHEN ORDERING FRIED FISH ONE AFTERNOON. YES, THE FISH WAS WRAPPED IN THE GLOBE’S SPORTS SECTION.

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THE GREATEST MOMENTS

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DAVE PERKINS COVERED THE BIGGEST MOMENTS IN BLUE JAYS HISTORY, INCLUDING ROBERTO ALOMAR’S ICONIC HOME RUN (ABOVE AND BELOW) OFF DENNIS ECKERSLEY IN OAKLAND DURING GAME 4 OF THE 1992 AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES…

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AND, OF COURSE, BOTH OF TORONTO’S WORLD SERIES TRIUMPHS (ABOVE), ENDING WITH JOE CARTER’S “TOUCH–‘EM–ALL” BLAST OFF MITCH WILLIAMS OF PHILADELPHIA (BELOW) THAT WON THE 1993 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP AT SKYDOME.

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HERE’S DAVE WITH “THE POPE” — AS HE CALLS HIM — CANADIAN OLYMPIC SAILOR PAUL HENDERSON. I REMEMBER TRAVELING TO TOKYO IN SEPTEMBER 1990 FOR THE RADIO STATION AS THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE CHOSE THE SITE OF THE 1996 SUMMER GAMES. PAUL HEADED UP TORONTO’S BID. ATLANTA GOT THE NOD. PAUL HASN’T CHANGED IN 26 YEARS. “I STILL HAVE NO HAIR,” HE SAID MONDAY NIGHT. “WHY SHOULD I LOOK DIFFERENTLY?”

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SHARING A LAUGH WERE STEVE SIMMONS OF THE TORONTO SUN (LEFT) AND BLUE JAYS MEDIA RELATIONS GURU HOWIE STARKMAN, WHO LOOKED AFTER ALL OF US IN THE WORLD SERIES YEARS.

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SOUTHPAW DAVE SIGNS COPIES OF HIS MEMOIR.

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HECK, EVEN I MADE THE BOOK (ALBEIT ON PG. 300), WHEN DAVE WROTE ABOUT PAT QUINN’S ILLNESS DURING THE 2002 STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS BETWEEN THE MAPLE LEAFS AND CAROLINA.

Conspicuous by their absence on Monday were two people that Dave and I held in high esteem: Toronto Star columnist Jim (Chester) Proudfoot (who died in April 2001) and the late, great voice of the Blue Jays, Tom Cheek, who succumbed to brain cancer in October 2005. Perky and I shared many–a–dinner when traveling with Chester during the Blue Jays championship years. While on a hockey trip to Tampa in 2008, Dave drove me across to Clearwater, Fla. to see Cheek’s resting place. We truly loved both men.

Dave’s book is a veritable bargain at $19.95 Canadian and U.S.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 60’s & 70’s

During the book shindig Monday night, Howard Starkman and I got to yakking about old issues of Sports Illustrated Magazine — several of which I pulled out of my collection on Tuesday:

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OCT. 16, 1967: DURING THE ST. LOUIS–BOSTON WORLD SERIES.

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DEC. 11, 1967 (LEFT): BOBBY ORR, GERRY CHEEVERS AND REFEREE BILL FRIDAY DURING THE 1967–68 NHL SEASON OF EXPANSION FROM SIX TO 12 TEAMS. JAN. 23, 1968 (RIGHT): VINCE LOMBARDI AND GERRY KRAMER (64) EXULT AFTER THE GREEN BAY PACKERS DEFEAT OAKLAND IN SUPER BOWL II AT MIAMI. IT WAS LOMBARDI’S LAST GAME WITH THE PACK.

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JULY 29, 1968: DENNY McLAIN WENT 31–6 FOR THE WORLD SERIES–CHAMPION DETROIT TIGERS IN ’68; HE’S THE LAST MAJOR LEAGUER TO WIN 30 IN A SEASON.

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MAR. 16, 1971: AFTER ALI–FRAZIER I AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. ALI’S FIRST PRO DEFEAT.

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MAR. 13, 1972 (LEFT): JOHNNY BENCH OF THE BIG RED MACHINE, ARGUABLY THE BEST–EVER CATCHER IN BASEBALL. APR. 24, 1972 (RIGHT): KAREEM ABDUL–JABBAR WAS STILL WITH THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS PLAYING AGAINST HIS FUTURE TEAM, THE L.A. LAKERS, IN THE NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL.

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OCT. 8, 1973: QUARTERBACK FRAN TARKENTON LEADS THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS OVER GREEN BAY.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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