‘BoniBlog – Larry and me — “lifers” in this racket

By John Iaboni, Sports Media Canada special correspondent

Larry Millson checked into Spring Training this week, covering the Blue Jays as a freelancer for The Canadian Press. He’s been a solid pro in this business for a long, long time. And it was Larry who gets credit for opening the big door that changed my life forever.

Larry Millson

“I apologize, John,” Larry begins our chat with that ever-present smile and youthful twinkle in his eyes. “I thought you were going to do something more respectable. If I’d have known at the time, I would have steered you somewhere else. So I’m really sorry to get you involved in this business because I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Guys like me are lifers and I didn’t realize you would become a lifer, too.”
Two gentlemen at Oakwood Collegiate, Bob McKinney, the head of physical education, and Neil Wilson, my football coach, approached me in 1967 to be the school representative supplying sports scores for our school to The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.
Millson joined The Toronto Telegram in 1967 after sports editor Chick McGregor offered him a full-time chance initially working the overnight desk before he evolved into the high school sports beat reporter. So Larry and I would run into each other during high school games involving Oakwood and we became instant friends. He then called me in May of 1968 to provide scores to The Tely from a rugby tournament I was attending over the Victoria Day weekend at Fletcher’s Fields in Gormley that he was unable to cover.
Well, I tried and tried and tried, staying up overnight calling every half hour to The Tely desk but no one would take the scores. Finally in exasperation I left a message asking Larry to call me. He did on the Tuesday after Victoria Day. I explained how badly I felt that The Tely didn’t have the scores and why that was. He apologized profusely and said: “I’m never going to forget what you did.”
The man kept his promise even though he was soon covering other things. You see, in the fall of ’68, Larry moved from the high school beat to coverage of the more prestigious Leafs and Argos. But when Rick Matsumoto took over the high school beat at The Tely, Larry told him he should bring me in to assist with taking all the phone calls from the various school reps because he was impressed with my tenacity and dedication in that rugby situation. So, there was me, along with David Grossman, a kid from Parkdale Collegiate, working those nights at The Tely. For me, it was an introduction to the magic of a storied newspaper building and its sports department. It would become a career that bit me instantly and cast aside my aspirations to be a teacher.
Millson, a Ryerson grad, worked with The Hamilton Spectator, The St. Catharines Standard and The Toronto Star before The Tely came calling. When The Tely folded in 1971, he had the chance to join The Montreal Star and even the fledgling Toronto Sun.
“Late in the game, I got a chance to go to The Globe and Mail,” he says. He then adds with a laugh: “I could have been their first hockey writer at The Toronto Sun but I knew you wanted that job so I left it open for you. No, it’s just that it was the way things came together. When The Sun first started there was a lot of doubt whether they had finances, there were all sorts of things. I was there with a three-year-old daughter and I figured you had to take what you knew was solid.”
Larry, as popular and well respected a sports reporter anyone can meet, represented The Globe with extreme professionalism for 37 years until February 6, 2009. He was the full-time Jays reporter from 1980 through 2006.
Has baseball been his favourite assignment?
“I guess so because I did it the most,” he says. “I really loved horse racing; I did a lot of hockey, a lot of junior hockey. Basically everything I’ve done, I enjoyed at the time. The other sport I’ve always really liked is soccer. When I was at The Telegram I used to cover the Toronto Falcons of the North American Soccer League and I used to practice sometimes with them.
“Laddie (Ladislav) Kubala, a great, great player … the only player to play nationally for three different countries (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain) and also coach of Spain, was also the coach of the Falcons. A lot of time I’d get to play on the same team as him in our practice games. So I really like soccer because my grandfather played in England before the First World War.”
Aside from his various MLB and NBA assignments for CP, Larry has done work for MLB.com, U.S. newspapers not staffing Jays’ games and also for the Jays Game Day Program.
“I’m sort of for hire,” he says. “Have computer, will travel.”
Larry Millson’s definitely a lifer – and so am I. Thanks, Larry!