HOLY MACKINAW! BOWEN ON AN IS­LAND OF HIS OWN

PressReader - Tke Channel - HOLY MACKINAW! BOWEN ON AN IS­LAND OF HIS OWN
Joe Bowen stood in the press box at the Gale Cen­tre in Ni­a­gara Falls, Ont., when a young fel­low ap­proached from the stands and asked for an au­to­graph.Then came the kids, one af­ter an­other, tak­ing pic­tures, hap­pily tak­ing self­ies with Bowen, ex­cit­edly find­ing a celebrity of sig­nif­i­cance on the first day of Maple Leafs train­ing camp.Most of the kids ap­proach­ing Bowen seemed to be un­der the age of 12. Prob­a­bly few of them have heard him do a game on tele­vi­sion. But I hap­pened to ask one of them if they knew who he was.With­out men­tion­ing Bowen’s name, he said: “He’s the voice of the Leafs.”I thought of that as the young man spoke and of the rev­er­ence with which he said that. The voice of the Leafs, soon to be pre­sented with the Fos­ter Hewitt Memo­rial Award at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Teams are sup­posed to have voices. That’s al­ways been part of the at­trac­tion.When you heard Vin Scully, it didn’t mat­ter what the game was, you thought Los An­ge­les Dodgers.When you heard Ernie Har­well, it was Detroit Tigers. When you heard Johnny Most mum­bling, he was mum­bling about the Bos­ton Celtics. And when Chick Hearn did a game, it had to be the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers.It’s a re­mark­able at­trac­tion: when a man and his voice in some ways be­come as pow­er­ful and as pop­u­lar as those who play the game. Es­pe­cially voices at­tached to home teams. Our teams.The way Bowen has been at­tached to the Leafs on ra­dio and on tele­vi­sion and fool­ishly not on tele­vi­sion any­more.And then I started think­ing about this de­tached Blue Jays sea­son, a sea­son of dis­ap­point­ment and de­spair, and it al­most makes sense that Jerry Howarth hasn’t been part of it.The dis­con­nect just be­came more of­fi­cial with­out Howarth be­ing there, with­out that sound and feel, and it be­came more real to me as the Jays put out line­ups on a nightly ba­sis that led to a ma­jor-league lead in at­ten­dance drop.Is there a voice of the Blue Jays to­day? Tom Cheek has long passed away. This is the first sea­son with­out Howarth and rather than trust strong broad­cast­ers on ra­dio or tele­vi­sion for this first sea­son with­out Howarth, Rogers treated the sea­son in the same man­ner the Blue Jays treated their out­field: with a ro­tat­ing cast.Bring­ing out a dif­fer­ent lineup on ra­dio and a dif­fer­ent lineup on tele­vi­sion reg­u­larly and all that is a dis­ser­vice to a pub­lic that watches and lis­tens and is all but trained to be part of the process.Some­times the tele­vi­sion lineup has Buck Martinez do­ing play by play and Pat Tabler do­ing colour. Some­times it has the ex­cep­tional Dan Shul­man do­ing play by play and ei­ther Martinez or Tabler do­ing colour. And some­times all three of them are there.You turn on your tele­vi­sion on any given base­ball night and you’re not sure who is do­ing what, ex­cept the oc­ca­sional yelling for a ball to get out of the park.It’s no dif­fer­ent from the ra­dio side. Ben Wag­ner, the Blue Jays’ rookie of the year, was brought in from Buf­falo to do play by play along­side the ven­er­a­ble Mike Wil­ner, un­less Shul­man is do­ing the play by play, un­less some ex-Blue Jay is brought in to do some in­nings of colour. It’s not very ap­par­ent to the lis­ten­ing pub­lic who the ra­dio crew is on any given night.So who is the voice of the Blue Jays? I’d pre­fer it to be Shul­man, as I sus­pect most base­ball watch­ers would, but he does some TV and does some ra­dio and not enough of ei­ther while busy work­ing his base­ball and bas­ket­ball as­sign­ments for ESPN.Truth is, right now there is no voice of the Blue Jays, which may be ap­pro­pri­ate con­sid­er­ing the state of the team and that the face of the fran­chise won’t be here un­til April.And at the same time, there is no real ra­dio voice of the Rap­tors, ei­ther, but that’s more the fault of Maple Leaf Sports and En­ter­tain­ment, where the com­bined own­er­ship of Rogers and Bell have di­min­ished its own prod­uct by the petty in­fight­ing of the two com­pa­nies.They have one ra­dio crew on Sport­snet 590 The Fan. They have an­other ra­dio crew on TSN 1050. On any given night, you have to be a mind reader to know which sta­tion has the game on (the same ap­plies to Leafs games on ra­dio). And they have Matt Devlin do­ing play by play on Sport­snet and TSN, but with a cross­over of colour com­men­ta­tors and an­nounc­ers.So who is the voice of the Rap­tors with Chuck Swirsky and “T-Mac to the rack” long gone? It’s prob­a­bly Devlin, but that’s no slam dunk. For all of us, that be­comes a per­sonal ques­tion about what you hear or how you feel.For me, it’s prob­a­bly Jack Arm­strong, who doesn’t work on all the broad­casts, tele­vi­sion or ra­dio. But the di­vi­sion of net­works and ra­dio sta­tions and own­er­ship squabbles has made it that way.The Blue Jays, un­der one own­er­ship group, can and should fix this.Hav­ing no voice in a year of hav­ing not much of a team is un­nec­es­sary con­fu­sion for ev­ery­one.Teams are sup­posed to have voices. That’s al­ways been part of the at­trac­tion.

Toronto Maple Leafs ra­dio play-by-play man Joe Bowen is a rare high­light in the city’s sports broad­cast­ing land­scape, laments Steve Sim­mons.

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