In a tabloid newspaper known for its sports coverage, no one wrote sports at The Toronto Sun with greater style, elegance, humour and grace than did Trent Frayne, who passed away Saturday at the age of 93.
Frayne was a national treasure, a storyteller so warm and so adept, he did what only the very best can do: His writing spoke aloud, making it sound as though he was talking only to you, and you were sitting alongside him hearing the story for the very first time. He had that gift, that ear, that inquisitive way about him.
If there has been a better Canadian sports columnist, I have not read that person.
Frayne could make you laugh one day, cry the next, and smile in between. He was, unlike so much of today’s media world, able to write about hockey or football or one of his loves, tennis, or the Olympic Games, or baseball, without missing a beat. He wasn’t a specialist. He was a sportswriter. And to call him a Hall of Famer is to tell only part of the story: He was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Canadian News Hall of Fame, and his National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1975 was a breakthrough for a young newspaper looking to establish itself. In 1990, he was honoured as a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and not long after that was inducted in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Frayne, married to the legendary late June Callwood, and known to his friends as Bill, was author of 13 books, one of them being an anthology of Canada’s best sportswriting — which aside from his wife and family was the love of his life. Casey House, the Toronto care centre for people with HIV, was named for Frayne’s son, who passed away at the age of 20 in 1982 after a motorcycle accident.
Frayne came to the Sun in the early 1970s, bringing a sense of reason, passion and dignity to the sports pages. He was as natural a story teller as this newspaper, or any other, has ever had. He was big-time, big-game but not big attitude, always making time for the young people in the industry, always sharing an opinion, directing, those who asked for any kind of help.
Frayne, who worked for numerous Canadian newspapers, left the Sun in 1983 and spent time at Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail. He was part of what many consider the golden era of Canadian sportswriting — with columnists such as Milt Dunnell, Jim Coleman, Dick Beddoes and Scott Young becoming national figures of prominence.
“Today’s athletes have climbed to such heights on the economic ladder that setting up an interview with one is like making an appointment with the Prime Minister,” Frayne once wrote. “Reminding me of an old story about Babe Ruth — invevitably an American story. Being advised he made more money than the U.S. President, Calvin Coolidge, ‘Well, why not?’ said the Babe. ‘I had a better year.’ ”
Frayne, born on Sept. 13, 1918, in Brandon Man., eventually made his way to the big city of Winnipeg, before travelling east to Toronto. He passed away early Saturday morning at the Christie Gardens retirement home. He is survived by three children and his extended family. Funeral arrangements are pending.