Alison Gordon becomes first female winner of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award

Alison Gordon, who became the first full-time female beat reporter in major league history when she covered the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979, has been named the winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2017 Jack Graney Award.

The trailblazing former Toronto Star reporter passed away on February 12, 2015 and will be honoured posthumously.

Canada’s baseball shrine presents this 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. “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. Her trailblazing efforts and strong coverage of the Blue Jays in 1979 earned 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.

“Our family is very appreciative of this award. Alison would perhaps be surprised to be remembered after all these years, but proud to find herself in such distinguished company as the past winners of the award,” said Charles Gordon, Alison’s brother, who was a longtime columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. “While much attention was given to her struggles as a pioneer among women sportswriters, she herself was motivated most by her commitment to good writing and her love of the game. Both of those came through strongly in her work.”

Details about the presentation of the 2017 Jack Graney Award will be announced in the coming months.

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