Alison Gordon decided on a media career after graduating from Queen’s. Although born in New York with dual citizenship, she opted for a Canadian passport at 21 and embarked on a stint in ‘public affairs’ broadcasting with CBC radio and TV.
Active in the peace movement in Canada in the 1960s she also played a key role in support of Pierre Trudeau’s run for the Liberal leadership in 1968. She was a producer for CBC’s As It Happens and a news anchor in Halifax at one time. She also did freelance writing, earning a National Magazine Award for humour writing in 1978.
But we’ll remember her best for joining the Toronto Star sports department. There’s not much doubt that she first and foremost wanted to be a baseball writer. Not active in sports in her youth, during her school years in New York she fell in love with the game and remained a lifelong devotee.
When The Star handed her the baseball beat in the late 70s — she was one of the few women writing baseball and the first with a major league regular baseball beat assignment. Her brother Charles was quoted as feeling she didn’t intend to take it on as a ‘trailblazer’ but just doing the job routinely then was a challenge for a woman.
That she handled it with distinction was and is a significant achievement. Writing about her recent death, the Ottawa Citizen described her as: “Feisty, some might say salty, and very, very funny, Alison Gordon walked into dressing rooms to interview some of the most self-absorbed professional athletes in North America and handled it with determination. Her first season was difficult: her efforts to gain access to locker rooms often attracted more attention than the games she was covering.”
“She was a pioneer,” said Howard Starkman, the Jays former media relations director for five decades. “She was a strong woman from an emotional point of view and at that time you had to be because she faced a lot of challenges.”
Challenges Gordon faced head-on, according to Starkman.
“She was able to handle it,” he said. “She could write, she had great passion for the game — so when she did get into the scrum she was able to handle herself. She had credibility with her baseball knowledge so when she wrote about it she wasn’t trying to fool anybody. She knew what she was talking about.”
She was the first woman to be admitted into the Baseball Writers Association although ironically, the intitial paperwork listed her as Mr. Alison Gordon.
Some players treated her well while others did their best to make her job a form of torture. Often while conducting an interview another player in the background would try to distract her by slowly parading around in his birthday suit. She described one guy as taking “longer to get dressed than anyone I have ever encountered, before or since.” Some players protested the presence of women in the locker room on religious grounds, others on the grounds that a locker room was a male province.
Crude remarks and intimidation greeted her in many major league ball parks. In Texas the Rangers tried to deal with the issue by banning all reporters from the locker room. That lasted one day.
She gave it up after five years, having had enough of the travel and the machismo. That was the beginning of a new career — as author — of five mystery novels featuring a 40-year-old woman sports writer turned detective named Kate Henry. The first was called Dead Pull Hitter and was published in 1988. She earned a National Newspaper Award Citation of Merit for “Foul Balls,” her first book which detailed her experiences covering baseball.
Upon learning of her death last week, Sports Media Canada president Steve McAlister commented: “Alison was a pioneer in our industry and played a pivotal role in breaking down barriers for women in the sports media business. It speaks volumes about her character that she was much more interested in writing about the Blue Jays than being the subject of stories in Major League Baseball or of her pioneer status.
“Most importantly for baseball fans, she was an outstanding journalist whose passion for the game was captured with every story featuring her byline.”
Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston stated: “The Toronto Blue Jays were saddened to learn of the passing of Alison Gordon who covered our club for the Toronto Star beginning in 1979. Allison was a pioneer in sports journalism opening the door for many to follow, as she was the first female writer to cover Major League Baseball on a full time basis. On behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays, I extend my sincere condolences to Alison’s family and many friends.”