There have been many excellent memories of the legendary Trent Frayne since he passed away on Saturday. It was a rite of passage when starting in the Toronto media mob to end up sitting in a press room with Frayne at some sports event.
At the time Usual Suspects broke in as a radio and television reporter in the early 1980s there were a number of forbidding presences in the business. (One print eminence, who used to regularly rail against TV low-lifes “who wore makeup,” later went on to liberally apply plenty on his own cranky face when TV finally beckoned.)
But Frayne was invariably solicitous of younger people whenever he found himself across a table – as we were one afternoon in the old media room at Maple Leaf Gardens. He’d always be on the lookout for fellow wits who had something droll or amusing to observe. If you could keep up, Frayne would seek you out for a trenchant comment.
That first day at MLG, it was Harold Ballard in full throat about some misbegotten prospect (Miroslav Frycer?) and Frayne, who’d seen young Leafs prospects going back to Frank Mahovlich, made a Sergeant Bilko reference about the blustery Leafs owner. For a rookie reporter, a Frayneism was like making the team.
The other feature about Frayne was his willingness to accept the changes in the business. In the 1980s, a generation of Frayne’s colleagues were beginning to fall from the scene through attrition, retirement or the effects of a liquid lifestyle. Younger reporters, less collegial to the owners of NHL or CFL teams, less enthralled with the backstretch at Woodbine, were taking their place.
It might be said that the standards of the newsroom were catching up to the sports department. This didn’t sit well with some knights of the profession, who’d grown accustomed to Wimbledon tickets from Alan Eagleson or free meals in the press rooms of North America. The generation gap yawned in many press boxes as seniority demanded its due.
But Frayne always seemed to accept the changes sweeping over sports reporting. He had no problem when Ballard’s misogyny was exposed or Eagleson’s embezzlement landed him in jail – something a few of his colleagues took in good grace.
It’s well worth a Google search for Frayne’s work. Perhaps only Scott Young could match him for grace, economy of words and a sanguine turn on the hurly burly of the moment in sports. Something we could do well to remember today.
Speaking of candour, it was enlightening to see the show of affection in Toronto on Saturday night for hero Mats Sundin, who had his number retired before the Maple Leafs’ 5-0 pasting by resurgent Montreal. The outpouring of affection by the many wearing No. 13 in the crowd and captured by Hockey Night In Canada was gratifying for a player who always seemed to frustrate Leaf Nation for issues beyond his control.
First, Sundin was the butt of sports talk radio for being the cost of Wendel Clark’s banishment to Quebec City. St. Wendel was – and remains – the sine qua non of Leaf worthies, and Sundin’s arrival seemed to alienate Clark’s fans for a while. When Sundin showed himself to be a superior player, the focus moved to the captain’s failures to lead the leaky Leafs to the promised land of the Stanley Cup.
Finally, Sundin became the bête noire of Leafs fans for his persistent refusal to waive his no-trade clause, frustrating those who felt he should let himself be shipped off to a contender for some No. 1 draft picks. He finally agreed to a move to Vancouver in 2009 only after he’d severed his ties with Toronto.
Understandably none of this was mentioned amid Saturday’s hosannas to the stoic Swede. Trent Frayne would have no doubt arched an eyebrow.
Finally, the Whitney Houston retrospectives following her death Saturday have talked about her concert and movie legacy. But it was a sporting event that fixed her in the American consciousness. It’s hard to remember the uncertainty and fear surrounding the Super Bowl in 1991, just days after the launch of the first Gulf War. For Americans in particular, memories of Vietnam haunted them. So Houston’s stunning performance of The Star-Spangled Banner served as a balm and an inspiration to her countrymen. It made her a hero and she never was more popular. Worth revisiting to get an appreciation of how far she’d fallen in the years since.