By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
Charles Gordon accepted the Jack Graney Award on behalf of his sister Alison Gordon on Saturday at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony.
Alison Gordon, who became the first full-time female beat reporter in major league history when she covered the Toronto Blue Jays for the Toronto Star in 1979, passed away on February 12, 2015.
“Alison would've been quite moved by the honour and maybe a bit surprised,” said Charles Gordon, a former long-time Ottawa Citizen columnist. “It was not her intention to be a trailblazer when she (started on) the baseball beat at the age of 36. What she saw was a chance to write about baseball, which she loved, in a nice, well-paying union job.”
The St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine presents the Jack Graney Award annually to a member of the media who has made significant contributions to baseball in Canada through their life’s work.
“Alison Gordon was a courageous pioneer who broke down barriers for female sports reporters across North America,” said Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s director of operations in a statement. “On top of her bravery, she was also one of the most talented writers ever to work the Toronto Blue Jays beat. We’re proud to honour her memory with this award.”
Born in New York City on January 1, 1943, Gordon attended schools in Tokyo, Cairo and Rome while her Canadian father, John King Gordon, travelled in his role as a diplomat for the United Nations.
In 1960, Gordon enrolled in Queen’s University and later worked as a producer for CBC’s As It Happens, where she contributed to a weekly sports segment called “Jock Talk.”
Gordon, who would become a Canadian citizen, also worked as a freelance writer and earned a National Magazine Award for humour writing in 1978, before being hired by the Toronto Star as their Blue Jays beat reporter in 1979. In accepting this job, she became the first female admitted into the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Her membership card identified her as “Mr.” Alison Gordon because the organization didn’t have gender neutral or female-specific cards.
Gordon was also the first full-time female beat reporter in major league history. In her first year, she had to fight to get into male dominated clubhouses and once inside, she regularly endured harassment and hostility, but her integrity, work ethic and fairness in reporting ultimately won the respect of the majority of the players, coaches and managers she covered.
“When she became the story, she was not happy,” said Charles Gordon on Saturday. “It interfered with her job.”
Gordon's brother read from a piece that his sister wrote in 2001 reflecting on her first season as a female beat reporter. Gordon stumbled a little at the beginning, getting the score wrong in the first game report she filed and then omitting the score altogether in her second story. But she quickly found her stride and became recognized as one of the best in her field. She was aided by the fact that, for the most part, the players on that hapless 1979 Blue Jays team, which finished 53-109, treated her well.
“These Blue Jays sure knew how to treat a lady,” wrote Gordon in her 2001 reflection.
Her trailblazing efforts and strong coverage of the Blue Jays in 1979 would earn her a National Newspaper Award citation for sportswriting.
Gordon would work as a Blue Jays beat reporter for five years and she documented her challenges in her 1984 book, Foul Balls, which garnered her a National Newspaper Award Citation of Merit.
After leaving the Blue Jays beat, she continued to write features for the Toronto Star and eventually penned five baseball mystery novels: The Dead Pull Hitter (1988), Safe at Home (1990), Night Game (1992), Striking Out (1995) and Prairie Hardball (1997). Not coincidentally, the central character in the novels was Kate Henry, a baseball reporter who ended up solving murders.
Gordon would settle in Toronto and later served as the president of the Crime Writers of Canada and the North American vice-president of the International Association of Crime Writers. She was also an executive member of PEN Canada, which strongly supports freedom of expression in writing.
Born in St. Thomas, Ont., Jack Graney was a scrappy leadoff hitter for the Cleveland Indians. His big league resume boasts a number of firsts. When he walked to the plate in a game against the Boston Red Sox on July 11, 1914, he became the first batter to face Babe Ruth. Almost two years later, on June 26, 1916, he was the first major leaguer to bat wearing a number on his uniform. After hanging up his spikes, Graney became the first ex-player to make the transition to the broadcast booth, performing radio play-by-play for the Indians from 1932 to 1953.
Previous Winners of the Jack Graney Award:
1987 – Neil MacCarl – Toronto Star
1988 – Milt Dunnell – Toronto Star
1990 – Austin “Dink” Carroll – Montreal Gazette
1991 – Joe Crysdale & Hal Kelly – CKEY
1996 – Dave Van Horne – Montreal Expos
2001 – Tom Cheek – Toronto Blue Jays
2002 – Ernie Harwell – Detroit Tigers
2003 – Allan Simpson – Baseball America
2004 – Jacques Doucet – Montreal Expos
2005 – Len Bramson – TBS Sports
2009 – Ian MacDonald – Montreal Gazette
2010 – Bob Elliott – Sun Media & canadianbaseballnetwork.com
2011 – W. P. Kinsella – “Shoeless Joe” novel adapted to film “Field of Dreams”
2012 – Jerry Howarth – Toronto Blue Jays
2013 – Rodger Brulotte – Montreal Expos, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 – Richard Griffin – Toronto Star
2015 – Serge Touchette – Le Journal de Montreal
2016 – Larry Millson – Globe and Mail
2017 – Alison Gordon – Toronto Star