Alison Gordon conducts a locker-room interview with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Rick Bosetti in 1979. She’s got a pen and a notebook. He’s got a towel and a stubby.
Alison Ruth Gordon
Born: January 19, 1943 (New York City)
Died: February 12, 2015 (Toronto)
Alison Gordon became the first woman reporter to cover the American League when the Toronto Star assigned her to the Toronto Blue Jays beat in 1979. She faced hostility from managers, players and even her own colleagues, some of whom resented a woman’s presence in what had been an all-male preserve in the press box and locker-room.
At first, Blue Jays manager Roy Hartsfield, a gruff, taciturn, tobacco-chewing, old-school figure, refused to answer her questions, advising his players to do the same. In time, she won over John Mayberry, Toronto’s slugging first baseman, and she found players responded to her questioning.
“The problems I had in the first season really did a lot for me,” she said in 1984. “I couldn’t take it the easy way. I had to speak to the players and probe for the story. I didn’t have the luxury of just going into the manager’s office and waiting for him to drop a few quotes in my lap.”
Word spread that she was no “pecker checker” and she came to be accepted, albeit grudgingly. Her membership card in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, No. 845, referred to her as Mr. Alison Gordon. The group had no provision for female members.
As her rookie season progressed, she found more players opening up. “The team respects me,” she told Hana Gartner on CBC-TV’s “Take 30.” “They know I’m a baseball writer, they know I’m in it for the duration and I’m not in it for the sensation.”
One of the excuses for barring women from the baseball beat had been the need to provide access to the locker-room for post-game interviews. “Sure there’s nudity,” she wrote after one month the beat, “but it’s workaday, out-of-the-clothes and into-the-shower sort of nudity. It’s matter of fact, and so am I.”
She left the baseball beat in 1983 and the following year released a memoir, “Foul Balls: Five Years in the American League.” She continued with the Star and other newspapers as a feature writer.
In 1988, she issued her first mystery novel, “The Dead Pull Hitter,” featuring an irreverent baseball writer for the fictional Toronto Planet newspaper named Kate Henry. The novel was shortlisted for a City of Toronto Book Award and the Leacock Award for Humour.
Other Kate Henry mysteries, all with a baseball theme, followed: “Safe at Home,” “Night Game,” “Striking Out,” and “Prairie Hardball.”
Gordon served as president of the Crime Writers of Canada from 1990 to 1992. She was also active in PEN Canada, the organization dedicated to freedom of expression, serving as president in 1993-94.
Born in New York City, Gordon spent her early years in Korea, Japan, Egypt and Italy. Her father, J. King Gordon, was a CBC correspondent, a diplomat and an academic, who had helped write the Regina Manifesto that led to the founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to the NDP. He was also a managing editor for The Nation magazine. Her mother was an editor. Her grandfather was Rev. Charles Gordon, better known by his pen name, Ralph Connor, the Canadian novelist. Her older brother, Charles Gordon, is a retired journalist.
She moved to Canada to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., dropping out before she completed her degree. She was active in the peace movement in the 1960s and was active in the successful Liberal leadership campaign of Pierre Trudeau. Gordon took up writing as a career in her 30s, winning an National Magazine Award honourable mention for a humour piece, titled “Margaret’s Diary,” published by Weekend magazine. Before joining the Star, she worked as a producer with CBC Radio’s “As It Happens,” while she also sold articles to such magazines as TV Guide, Saturday Night, and National Lampoon.
She was a runner-up for a National Newspaper Award for a story looking back on her rookie season on the baseball beat, which was headlined, “Locker room confessions: Woman baseball reporter tells all.” In it, she wrote, “I had my gimmick. I was my gimmick, and as the only woman covering the league, I was remembered by every player, coach and manager in the American League. Not every rookie has that.”
An excerpt from a 1980 Toronto Star promotion.