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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 ...


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.


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.

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