Pry open the archives and you’ll unleash a flurry of memorable lines penned by Trent Frayne, a sportswriter extraordinaire – no matter the game.
A natural storyteller and an ace wordsmith, Frayne worked for almost every magazine and newspaper in Canada, including two stints at The Globe and Mail in a more than half-century career as a reporter, columnist and feature writer.
Slight and gnarled with a face as wrinkled as a prune, his writing was as sleek and warm as amber. The late Pierre Berton called him “likely Canada’s greatest sportswriter ever.”
He died Saturday morning in Toronto of complications from old age and pneumonia. He was 93.
He belonged to the sports writing coterie that included Scott Young, Ted Reeve, Jim Coleman, Dick Beddoes and Milt Dunnell, scribes you read for the pleasure of their syntax, their wit and their irreverence. Writers who followed the action and put flesh on the players in images that lodged in your memory banks. Their heyday was print, before television made visualizing what was happening on the ice or the field obsolete.
About hockey legend Elmer Lach, Frayne once opined: “less polished than persistent, less artistic than artisan, less incomparable than inexorable.” After watching the “willowy” high-jumper Debbie Brill at the Olympic trials in Quebec City in the summer of 1976 he wrote: “There she is, maybe 20 yards from the crossbar, calmly eyeing it, one foot slightly ahead of the other, teetering slowly, back and forth, back and forth, long legs bare and smooth and tanned, twin cynosures.” Cynosures? What editor would let you get away with that these days?
The author of more than a dozen books and a writing member of the hockey, football and Canadian news halls of fame, he also won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing for The Toronto Sun in 1975, a feat that journalist Steve Simmons recalled last November in an elegiac article in the tabloid. “He was a big-game journalist, who could write John McEnroe one day, Reggie Jackson the next, and Punch Imlach after that without missing a beat,” said Simmons, praising Frayne with his “great ear” and “inquisitive eye” as “the most elegant” columnist of his sports writing generation.
Married to the late June Callwood for more than 60 years, Frayne stuck to sports while she took on the world. “He liked the human drama of sports, not just the physical nature of accomplishments,” said his friend, Phil King, a sports editor at The Globe. “With his easy writing flair and biting wit, he’s entertained millions of Canadian sports fans for several generations.”
Frayne was one of the boys, but he never forgot that he too had once been a rookie in the newsroom. Back in the early 1980s when Frayne was a four times a week columnist for The Globe, novice reporter Jim Christie looked up to Frayne not just because he was a signature writer, but because “he was such a great and co-operative team player, a guy with no ego who had no interest in hogging the limelight.”
On a hot summer night in July, 1983 swimmer Alex Baumann was expected to break a world’s record at the World University Games in Edmonton, but if Christie was to make his deadline, he had to be hitting his typewriter keys when Bauman emerged dripping from the pool. “I’ll be on the pool deck,” Frayne said, “and if he breaks the record, I’ll get some quotes for you.” In the end Baumann, won two medals, but failed to break a record “by a fingertip.” Still, Christie never forgot the generosity of spirit, which is largely unknown in the competitive world of sports reporting, but which he says was “emblematic” of Frayne.