Sun had its own Parrish

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

TORONTO - The anniversaries of the Toronto Sun rarely pass without mention of the brave Day 1 employees and the impact George Gross had in shaping the vaunted sports department, but rarely do you hear anything about the Sun's second sports editor.

History can be like that, sometimes. You tell part of a story often enough and it becomes convenient and comfortable. But if you look at 40 years in totality on this grand anniversary, and wonder about where we’ve been and where we’re going, the fingerprints of Wayne Parrish can be found all over the product.

Parrish came from the Toronto Star as Gross’ handpicked successor in 1986 and his move prompted one of the great and one-sided newspaper trades of all-time. Parrish joined the Sun. In response, the Star instantly plucked popular columnist John Robertson from the Sun.

In newspaper terms, this turned out to be Doug Gilmour for Gary Leeman. It was that one-sided in 1986. It remains that way, 25 years later, and long after Parrish has left the building.

He came to the Sun intent on building the largest, richest, most aggressive, most-original, thought-provoking, hardest-working, sports department in the country. In his first hiring of consequence, he landed a little known baseball writer from the Ottawa Citizen.

The writer’s name: Bob Elliott.

Last summer, Elliott was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. This summer, it’s not out of the question that he will be receiving the writer’s award at Cooperstown, thus becoming the first Canadian to be so rewarded in baseball journalism.

And it wasn’t unnatural when Elliott won a Canada Sports Media award a number of years back that he chose Parrish to introduce him at the banquet.

I arrived at the Sun a month or two after Elliott was hired.

I had known Parrish during his days with the Star and was actually phoning him on the day he chose to leave for the Sun. I was working on a book on Lanny McDonald at the time. I needed some Star articles copied for me.

When I called the Star and asked for Parrish, I was told he didn’t work there anymore. I called him at home, asking if he could get me the clippings.

He asked me a question: “Do you want to come home and work for The Sun?”

That was the beginning of a few months of conversations going nowhere. “I’m going to Grey Cup,” Parrish told me one day. “Call me after the Grey Cup and we’ll settle this thing.”

I called him after the Grey Cup. Then I called him again. And again. No response. So I wrote him a very short letter, back in the days when people wrote letters. “When you said call me after the Grey Cup, you didn’t specify which year.”

The next day, Parrish hired me from the Calgary Herald — and my first Sun story happened to a double byline with Elliott. The subject: Is it possible to have a grass field at the new indoor stadium being built in Toronto?

Elliott, at least, went on to bigger things.

One day, Parrish called me into his office. At the time, Hall of Fame writer Frank Orr was penning a popular Sunday notes column for the Star called Either Orr. “I want you to come up with something to counter that column,” Parrish said. “I’m not going to tell you what to do or how to do it, you’ve got to come up with something you’re comfortable with.”

That was in 1987. I don’t think Either Orr lasted much longer, which was a Star mistake I didn’t mind. The bloody column Parrish prodded me into doing has been kicking around for 24 years.

Paul Godfrey used to call it the most read page in Canadian journalism. My current sports editor, Bill Pierce, who has done a marvellous job in expanding the depth and breadth of our section, turned Paul Beeston’s favourite page into two pages every Sunday. If you want to blame someone for the Sunday notes, blame Parrish and Pierce.

Parrish had that innate understanding of what sold and what didn’t. When something happened, he didn’t think twice about saying, what are you doing today? “Nothing,” would be my answer.

Then he’d say: “You’re on a 12 o’oclock flight to Florida. You can buy your clothes down there. Rent a car. Brian Spencer’s been murdered.”

That was life with Parrish. One day covering a murder in Florida. The next day having lunch with George Bell’s parents in the Dominican Republic. The next in Switzerland, chasing down the last days of Bill Derlago’s hockey career. It was the best of times for work and frequent flier miles. The worst of times for staying married and bringing up children.

Today, you see the bylines in the Sun: Elliott. Mike Zeisberger. Mike Ganter. Rob Longley. Mike Rutsey. All of them hired by Parrish, who left the department 20 years ago. Others working elsewhere, like Scott Morrison and Tim Wharnsby, flourished under Parrish’s tutelage. This is a sports newspaper: The history of which can’t be properly told without invoking the name of its most influential sports editor.

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