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Writer June Callwood and husband Trent Frayne after services for Frank Shuster at Holy Blossom Temple. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Writer June Callwood and husband Trent Frayne after services for Frank Shuster at Holy Blossom Temple. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Remembering a sports writing great Add to ...

BRIAN WILLIAMS, CTV-TSN Trent Frayne was a truly great journalist. However he was so much more. Years ago we were both involved in the CBC show Celebrity Tennis being taped at the Inn and Tennis Club near Parry Sound. We received word that the Toronto Mayor's limo had been involved in a minor accident nearby.

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Trent and I drove to investigate. It was not serious and there were no injuries however it turned out the investigating OPP Officer's son was involved. Trent walked over to the officer and said--"don't be angry. Embrace him. I lost my son in a highway accident."

He had that rare combination of ability, decency, compassion and class.

Truly one of a kind.

STEPHEN BRUNT, Rogers Sportsnet

Trent Frayne – “Bill” – was a sharp, elegant, witty writer and a sharp, elegant, witty human being. He was part of Canada’s greatest generation of sports columnists, with Scott Young and Milt Dunnell and Jim Coleman, but even in that august company, his unique voice stood out. He had a remarkable subtlety, even when he was hammering home a point, or letting you know who the bad guy was. Rare are writers so light on their feet. He was also a colleague, a friend, a mentor, and a professional role model. Stepping into his shoes at The Globe and Mail remains the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done, and receiving those distinctive, short, sweet and absolutely-to-the-point notes of encouragement (and, occasionally, constructive criticism) from him over the years meant more than any award.

They don’t make them like that anymore.

Safe journey, Bill.

ALLAN MAKI, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

If there was ever a Mount Rushmore of Canadian sports writers, Trent Frayne would be up there with his face locked in that impish smile.

He was a master at his profession and could take you places and make you laugh with his polished touch – like the time he began a column by listing all manner of actors, singers and famous people then asking what they had in common with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The punch line? “None of them can hit left-handed pitching.”

That was vintage Frayne – wry, witty, a writer who could carve a subject to pieces with deft strokes instead of bludgeoning it to a pulp the way so many others did, and still do.

The newspaper industry has changed dramatically since Frayne’s writing days with The Globe and Mail. The news comes faster and more furious now; readers’ attention spans grow shorter by the tweet. But what remains of newspapers in their shining moments is what Frayne stood for, what he delivered unfailingly – a depth of subject matter, a point of thought and writing so sweet you could recite it like poetry.

Trent put out a book years back dubbed Trent Frayne’s All-Stars. It was a collection of Canadian sports writing and it featured many fine pieces. But it was clear to every scribbler included in the book who the real all-star was, the guy you wanted to emulate but knew you never could – although, if you’d pressed him he probably would have admitted his own shortcomings.

Trent Frayne couldn’t hit left-handed pitching, either.

TOM MALONEY, SPORTS EDITOR, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The phone rang.

"Hello," said the smooth, gentle voice. "This is Trent Frayne."

At the time, I was trying to find my way in hockey-crazed Toronto as a newly branded sports columnist with a baseball and basketball and football background. It wasn't going all that well, or so I thought every night while trying to find sleep. Maybe he sensed the insecurity.

He was already a Hall of Fame columnist and no matter what subject he chose to write about, and no matter the length of the piece, the quality of his smooth, intelligent, literary prose would seduce a reader from the opening sentence to the closing.

"Mr. Frayne," I said.

Why would Trent Frayne be calling me? Pregnant pause.

He described a breakfast club: Every month or so a group of sports writers would meet at a diner over eggs and coffee, and talk journalism. Free wheeling, lively, no-holds barred, he explained.

And he invited me to join.

I didn't know what to say.

Pregnant pause, again. Me?

"I'm honoured," I said, while thinking, wow.

As an aspiring sports writer, you look at the best in the business – at The Globe, Allen Abel ... Trent Frayne ... Stephen Brunt – and maybe attempt to imitate their styles. How hard can it be, right?

Ultimately comes a realization: You thrive or wilt on your own talent, because theirs is unique. It can't be replicated.

I got shipped to Calgary, and never did join the breakfast club.

So, we're going to start it again. In honour of Trent Frayne.

PHIL KING, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

When Trent Frayne joined you for lunch, it was never about the food. Frayne wasn’t a big eater. His bowl of soup and half a western sandwich at lowly Bill’s Deli in Oakville or his small plate of spaghetti at a small diner in Mississauga was always more than adequate for a man slight of build all his life.

For Frayne, lunch with a former colleague was another relished outing. A way to pass the time, shooting the breeze, as casual an occurrence as playing tennis, or shooting pool with old cronies, or watching three innings of a ball game before falling asleep.

Frayne would hold court. He’d always ask about work, or home, or family and always paid attention to the answer. With his biting wit, more than a touch of bitterness and a great laugh, his wry and occasionally foul-mouthed observations on the world were always entertaining. But what you’d glean among the dribbles of soup or cracker crumbs was often priceless. Like the reason he quit drinking: he woke up in the middle of the night on the other side of the 401, having crossed over the median, while drunk driving, on his way home from Mohawk racetrack in Campbellville, Ont. Or the reason he hated Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium so much was that he once got a parking ticket there. Or if you really prodded him, about the four or five sports halls of fame he was inducted into. And the time he won a National Newspaper Award writing about injustice in the horse racing world and then in the same sentence said, “Did you see the smile on that baby over there?” and it really was a baby, and not just a waitress he was flirting with.

Frayne saw a lot of sports and a lot of life over the years. World Series, Olympics, Grey Cups, Stanley Cups, boxing matches. Sports were his playground, as evidenced by the title of his autobiography, The Tales of an Athletic Supporter. He had a lot of fun and never took the sporting world too seriously. There was tragedy in his life, to be sure, outliving a son, his wife and all his contemporaries, but it never weighed down lunch. He just loved to chat.

LORNE RUBENSTEIN, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

A few years ago I found a copy of Trent Frayne’s book It’s Easy, All You Have To Do Is Win in a used bookstore. This collection of profiles included pieces on Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, a consideration of why goalies can be strange, and other stories. The pieces were full of Trent’s characteristic wit and insight. I’d gotten to know Trent by then, and asked him to sign my copy when we went out for breakfast at Bagel World on Wilson Avenue in Toronto. It was one of our eating and talking haunts.

I gave the book to Trent after we ordered our breakfast. He looked at me as if to say, “We’re pals, we’re colleagues, I’m just another guy hanging around in the toy department and telling tales. Why do you want me to sign this?” He signed the copy anyway. We soon were chatting about all things sports, and many things not-sports: films, politics, and books.

When I got to my car after breakfast, I opened the book to see what Trent had written.

“Dear Lorne, you’ll read anything,” he wrote. Priceless. Pure Trent Frayne.

He was wrong, though. I don’t read anything. But I’d been reading his work since I was a kid, wherever I found it: The Globe, The Telegram, the Star, Maclean’s, The Toronto Sun. I found a copy of his book on the history of The Queen’s Plate, and sometimes we went to the track together. My late father Percy loved his writing and he also enjoyed the track and he was pleased when I introduced him to Trent.

I was lucky, so lucky, to count Trent as a friend. I came to know him soon after I started writing in the mid-1970s. He encouraged me and he called me about my Globe golf columns when I started writing them in 1980. We were together at the Masters a few times, and it became our ritual to walk the entire Augusta National Golf Club early in the morning, before players started their rounds. What memorable walks they were.

Trent told me of when he watched Sam Snead blow the 1939 U.S. Open in Philadelphia. Snead was told he needed to birdie the last hole to win. The hole was a par-five, and Snead made a mess of the hole, thinking he needed that birdie. Par would have won. He triple-bogied the hole. I think Trent was still in shock 45 years later when he told me the story. But he was also full of compassion for Snead. By then, he’d seen it all in sports. He kept seeing it all and writing about it all, as long as he could.

Walking the Augusta National Golf Club from start to finish wasn’t our only ritual at the Masters. We had dinner with Herbert Warren Wind, the giant of golf writers who worked for The New Yorker. We usually met at a local hotel and, during dinner, talked, and talked, and talked. I was in the presence of two giants, two giants who were consummate writers.

As I continued to write, Trent invited me to a weekly breakfast at now-defunct Bregman’s, on Yonge St. north of St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. Trent was there, telling stories. Mordecai Richler showed up sometimes. Martin O’Malley. Senator Keith Davey. Joey Slinger. Allen Abel. Some company.

At some point I met Trent’s wife June Callwood: here was a pair of lovebirds. June was so friendly to me. Trent and June liked to go to the Ft. Lauderdale area during the winter. Trent flew, and June drove down in her Mazda Miata convertible sports car. She loved that car.

June died in 2007, and Trent was bereft, but he kept on keeping on. I visited him at the peaceful family home in Etobicoke, on a quiet street in the west Toronto suburb. I’d been there before, but now it was only Trent and me, sitting in his home filled with books. June’s workspace was intact. Light poured into the room. Trent invited me to take some of his books.

I told him I couldn’t do that. The books were part of him. Never mind, he said. “Take them. Take whatever you want.” he insisted. I took a few sports books, feeling I was taking a part of his life every time I removed one from his shelves. But he was offering me a gift. He was passing something on. He was passing on great sports writing.

One book was Sports of the Times: The Arthur Daley Years. Daley was a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for The New York Times. He wrote boxing and he wrote baseball and he wrote golf, and more. Trent admired his work. He saw himself in a line of writers. But, like all writers who become legends without any intention of doing so, he was himself. Utterly himself.

A few years ago, on a cold day, I picked Trent up to go for a drive. I wanted to visit a new course that was being built in Uxbridge, Ont. We drove the hour or so east of his home, and we got in a cart and drove around what would become the Coppinwood Golf Club, with its rolling hills in a tranquil country setting. The battery in the cart died when we were out on a far corner of the course. I was worried for Trent, but he didn’t seem concerned. He was in the open air, and the air was fresh. We made it back to the car without freezing.

The house into which Trent and June had moved in 1953 was eventually sold. Trent transferred to Christie Gardens, a retirement community not far from his home. I visited him in his small, neat apartment. There were a few books, and a computer – he was using e-mail now. It was okay, he told me. Things change. You take what’s given; not that he liked what had become of sports writing. It was all money, and “pull” quotes. Where was the storytelling? He told me that you had to be on the scene to write a story worth reading; it wasn’t a matter of grabbing, or “pulling,” a quote from an interview transcript.

We went to Caplansky’s delicatessen for lunch. The new deli was on the second floor of a downtown building then, and it was a long climb up. No elevator. Trent trudged up, slowly. We ordered soup and pastrami sandwiches, and fries with gravy, and we again talked and talked and talked. I took notes that afternoon, about his early days in Brandon, Man., where he was born, and in Winnipeg, where he worked for the Tribune. I’m in Florida as I write, and I wish I had those notes in front of me, and my Trent Frayne file.

But then again, I don’t need those notes, or the file. I have the memories of being with a pal who could write, really write, and who grew up in the golden age of sports, and who stayed the course. When Sports Media Canada presented me with an award in 2009, I wanted to make sure one person above all would attend, if he could. That was Trent. He was weak, but he was game. I picked him up at Christie Gardens, and we went to the luncheon at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Trent was introduced, and given a standing ovation. It meant a lot to me that he came along.

In my book Links, published in 1989, I wrote the following: “When thinking of people I have met through golf, I reflect on my friendship with Canadian writer Trent Frayne … our first walk together at Augusta led to a friendship I treasure.”

That was true then, and it’s true now. Goodbye, my friend. DAVE PERKINS, TORONTO STAR Regarding Trent Frayne, he was the last of that grand generation of Canadian sports writers, with Milt Dunnell, Scott Young and Jim Coleman, who passed along so much to the many who followed them to the keyboard. Trent always knew exactly who had written what and shared praise generously. An email from Trent, nodding to a theme or even a well-turned phrase, was the epitome of approval in the newspaper business around here, at least in the games dept. When Trent was at the top of his game, it went without saying his stuff was the best in the sports section; most days it was the best in the paper, period. Some days he even was the best writer in his own household, which is the highest praise of all. He would have waved away the cliche, but his passing truly signposts the end of an era like no other. I am sad to hear of his loss. Anyone who appreciates the written word should be.

LOUIS CAUZ

I was aware of Trent Frayne’s much celebrated standing in the world of journalism long before we became close neighbors for more than twenty years in Etobicoke. Besides earning a living writing about the world of sports, we had something else in common. Trent wrote a book in 1959 about the first 100 years of Queen’s Plate history. I wrote one 25 years later called The Plate: A Royal Tradition.

During the mornings when Frayne would call the house to get the coffee pot on as he was on the way over with fresh muffins from the local bakery, we’d discuss the intriguing and controversial merits of the two books as well as the Blue Jays, Leafs and Argonauts. Our morning coffee sessions didn’t always go well as Frayne disliked cats, and Harry would invariably jump up on Trent’s lap and be ushered to the floor with a “scoot, animal.”

I first met Trent in 1966 when The Globe and Mail assigned me to cover thoroughbred horse racing at Woodbine. The affable author/columnist was employed by the Ontario Jockey Club in its publicity department. One story he loved to tell about himself involved horse owner and hockey icon Conn Smythe, who felt Frayne’s knowledge of horse racing was limited, and would say, “Frayne, you don’t know the difference between a stud and a tie pin.” Trent later went on to write an acclaimed book on Northern Dancer.

We never shared press boxes at major sporting events. Our association was basically social, rarely professional except when he requested research data from my large baseball library. He might be writing a piece for Maclean’s re the merits of the DH rule, which we disagreed (I disliked the DH) or which pitcher was the first true one-inning save specialist. We often discussed Joe DiMaggio. We had both interviewed him, Frayne in 1941 and I after DiMaggio had retired.

We both belonged to the Skyline Health Club. Trent was in his 80s and still played tennis on a daily basis. He would often, unsuccessfully, attempt to entice a neophyte like myself into a match on the club’s pool tables, where he spent many afternoons with his cronies. One of the great experiences of our association was his invitation to join his author friends at Bregman’s on Yonge Street for monthly breakfasts. The round table authors often included Joey Slinger, Martin O’Malley, Sen. Keith Davey, who always wanted to talk baseball, Jack Rabinovitch, Allan Abel, Lorne Rubenstein and Avie Bennett. I was a good listener in this company.

To the end, before leaving his home on Hillcroft Ave., Trent was the most dapper person at our local shopping plaza, a cover from GQ men’s magazine. He had a wry sense of humour and a curmudgeonly attitude re: the current state of the world of sports. He “pooh poohed “much of the glitz that surrounded a modern sports event. He loved his grandchildren, often taking them for walks past my place on Haliburton Avenue.

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