A MOMENT WITH AN EGOTIST AND HIS GOD
The media have been filled with praise for that elegant jockey of a man, Trent Frayne, who knew how to talk and write as if birds nestled in his words. They could sing or have the sarcastic irony of a Jay.
Here is one story that few know, and one which I promised never to write until Frayne died because it would have seemed like an intrusion that exposed his very soul. A fine companion at a game or the track, but there was walls of silence around the personal.
The California Angels were in town and Reggie Jackson, then one of baseball's superstars, had hit one of his 583 home runs.
Frayne wrote in the Toronto Sun about how the player known as Mr. October for his World Series clutch hits had held court later in the locker room. He stood, flaunting his nudeness, a king holding court before the serfs who would copy his every utterance.
Frayne wrote how Jackson had thanked God for letting him hit that home run. And Frayne had tackled him on that, saying he hadn't thought Jackson was one of those in sports who dragged God into every game.
Frayne had done his usual wonderful thorough story on the Jackson performance. It intrigued me as a fellow columnist about how he had done it. It was filled with quotes. Did he use a tape recorder, which were not as common in the mid-1980s as they are today? Did he scribble notes? Or did he memorize key phrases and flesh out the sentences later?
Frayne was wonderful to colleagues, especially to the cubs. He always took time to help. And he loved to yarn about the business.
He confided that the heart of the exchange between Jackson and him never made the paper. He censored himself because he didn't want to hurt the great love of his life, his wife, the famous writer June Callwood.
Frayne said that Jackson had replied angrily to his question about why Jackson had given credit to God for just another of his many home runs. And that was the end of what he wrote.
But Frayne confided that Jackson had demanded "Don't you believe in God?" And Frayne said he ducked. He said he wasn't the subject of the story but Jackson was. Jackson persisted. Finally Frayne said that no, he didn't believe in God.
Jackson reacted as if he had been stabbed by the words. He ordered everyone to leave. He yelled at reporters who were slow. He waited. And finally there were just the two, the big black with the bulging muscles and the small dapper writer who usually had the nice crinkle of laughter in his smiling eyes.
But Frayne had decided to dig in.
"So why don't you believe in God," Jackson demanded again? And again Frayne said nothing. But Jackson persisted, the famous athlete looming up over the dapper writer whom generations of sports writers wanted to imitate.
Finally Frayne said: "I don't believe in God because of how he hurt my wife. The most important person in my wife's life was our youngest son Casey. And he came home from university for the Christmas holidays in 1982. He was returning to Kingston when his car was hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a highway ramp. He was killed instantly. And I know there is no God because God would never have done that to my wife."
Jackson said how sorry he was, but there really was a God, and they said He moved in mysterious ways. They stood there awkwardly but there really wasn't more to say.
Frayne and I were in the middle of the bustle of the Sun's newsroom, with reporters yelling questions at each other and editors complaining about missing copy. And we also didn't say anything for a few moments. And finally he turned, and looked back with a sad smile, and walked away, leaving me with the tears of any parent who fears the death of their child.
Trent and June buried the ashes of Casey under a stone in the driveway of their home near the Old Mill where they lived for decades. Casey's name is on the home that June founded for HIV-AIDS sufferers, just one of the many ways that the greatest power couple in Canadian journalism left their mark and their words on their adopted city.
They were the couple that everyone wanted at their event. I recall one black-tie dinner honouring Gerald Ford in a fund drive for Israel. Mary and I saw a sign for the VIP reception. As we contemplated whether we should try to go in and hob nob with the famous, like the former U.S. president, the Fraynes swept us up and we marched in together.
We were standing beside Ford when June asked me in a whisper why all the nearest men were hard of hearing. I told her they were Secret Service guarding the former president and the ear pieces were part of the two-way radio system.
"You mean they're Secret Service," June said, and stuck out her tongue at the nearest one. He was scanning the room when he saw June's tongue out of the corner of his eye and did a double take. He looked away and then looked back quickly, but June acted demure.
I asked why she didn't like the Secret Service but June had no particular reason. As an activist from the radical side of socialism, she was just against all varieties of police out of principle.
We stood there embarrassed. Mary, trying to mend the silence, complimented June on her tan, asking if she had been south. "No," June said, "I'm part Indian you know."
Many people tell many stories about Trent and June because they always made a difference with their actions and their words.
There are also a lot of stories about Reggie Jackson because he acted larger than life. He was an intimidating Hall of Famer and proud of it. There is the legend about Jackson getting on a busy elevator in New York with two large dogs. Jackson uttered the stern command "Sit" to the dogs. And two young blondes immediately sat on the elevator floor.
Probably not true, but it's been told for years. Then there is this other unknown story, about him giving a lecture on Christianity to a writer in Toronto, which I know, sadly is true.