25 May Texas Rangers: Brilliant, dedicated and gruff: Dallas Morni…
On a slow night in the early ’80s, a message on the Astrodome’s scoreboard invoked baseball patrons to make some noise for the home team, inciting a visiting sportswriter instead.
Leaning out over the railing of the open-air press box, he bellowed, “Clap, you sheep!”
A nearby reporter gasped, “Who is that?”
Only one of the most respected sportswriters of his generation, that’s who Gerry Fraley was. Brilliant, dedicated and gruff. A bona fide Breslin-esque newspaper character admired by peers, players, managers, coaches, umpires, officials, scouts, clubhouse attendants, at least one commissioner, waitresses in general and a former president in particular.
Fraley, who died Saturday at 64 after a two-year bout with cancer, was a loyal friend, bitter enemy, loving father and a “ballwriter’s ballwriter,” according to the consensus of nearly two dozen national colleagues.
He also covered football, basketball, NASCAR and various assignments over a career spanning four decades. Fraley’s versatility, said his Dallas Morning News boss, Garry Leavell, “is what separated him from his peers.” Only a month before his death, he wrote the lead on a Stars-Predators NHL playoff game despite his weakened condition and a tight deadline. Hit the button with a minute to spare, as was his custom.
“Even as he fought against this dreadful illness,” Leavell added, “it was hugely important to Gerry that he didn’t let down his colleagues and his readers. He had a work ethic second to none.”
Prepared for any subject, Fraley preferred one above all others, as a former Texas Rangers owner indicated through a spokesperson.
“Gerry was an accomplished writer and a keen observer of many sports,” President George W. Bush said. “It always seemed to me that baseball was his real passion, thereby establishing a kinship and a lasting friendship.”
A media career was foreshadowed early. According to family legend, he read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, then set out for his first day of grade school. He was so smart, said his brother, Brad, that, his senior year, his Florida high school teachers told him he was on his own.
“Or maybe it was because he was a pain in the ass,” Brad said.
He majored in football and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University before converting to journalism. He would cover the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Rangers for The News, joining SportsDay in 1988.
Fox’s Ken Rosenthal called Fraley “a role model for me . . . just by the no-BS way he carried himself.” Claire Smith, a colleague of Fraley’s at the Philadelphia Bulletin and the first woman elected to the writer’s wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said Fraley’s passion and desire “were like guideposts.”
Watching Fraley work, ESPN’s Mark Kreidler said, “I learned what being a great beat writer entailed and what a professional line of questioning sounded like.”
Fraley’s dedication – he charted Rangers statistics after each game, even when he wasn’t on the beat – informed his coverage.
“You didn’t have to draw any pictures for him,” former commissioner Bud Selig said. “He knew. He understood. You could trust him.
“He was fair, honest, a great reporter.”
Work ethic and an extensive network helped Fraley forge relationships built on reporting, not flattery. He never shied from the truth or hid from the fallout.
“For us guys they call old school,” said former reliever Charlie Kerfeld, now a scout, “he was the ultimate reporter. He wrote what mattered, not gossip and junk. He showed up every day in case you had an issue with what he wrote.”
Fraley’s crisp, incisive prose crackled with insight. He didn’t just report that a player had been sent down. He explained why; what the player had to do next; and how opposing scouts regarded his odds.
His coverage rarely accentuated hi-jinks, eliminating a good deal of Rangers material. When Jose Canseco headed a baseball over a fence, Fraley sought out the pitcher victimized by the gaffe. Kenny Rogers didn’t think it was funny, Fraley wrote.
Despite his often sober approach, he was clever and quick. Like the time he watched a pitcher roll a baseball down the first base line with his nose and exclaimed, loud enough for fans to hear, “If you want to see something really funny, watch him try to get a big league hitter out.”
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