In 2008 we have already
seen the loss of two of
Canada’s – and indeed the world’s – greatest sports writers.
written by RYAN GLASSMAN
George Gross 1923-2008
In Canadian journalism, only one man will forever be known as “The Baron.”
In a career that spanned nearly six decades, Gross will not only be remembered as one of the Toronto Sun‘s founding fathers, but a trailblazer in shaping how sporting events are covered in this country.
Born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia on January 23, 1923, Gross covered both sports and politics in his homeland. But at the time, Czechoslovakia was a post World War II communist regime and Gross was jailed for his works.
In 1949, Gross and a friend fled the country by rowing across the Danube eventually landing in Austria. Gross then made his way to Canada, where he became a freelance writer for the Toronto Telegram in 1957. He would be hired full-time two years later and would work for the paper until it folded in 1971.
Instead of looking for new careers, Gross and his colleagues at the Telegram became the backbone behind the creation of the Toronto Sun. Gross was the founding sports editor of the paper, which debuted on November 1, 1971.
During his illustrious career, Gross covered 9 Olympic Games, 8 World Cups in soccer and 11 world hockey championships. But his true love was tennis’s grandest stage, Wimbledon, an event Gross attended 17 times.
Gross’ contributions led him to being inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and he also received the Olympic Order.
Toronto Sun News Columnist Mike Strobel recalls how Gross was in his office, working on a column about the 1932 Toronto Maple Leafs just days before his death.
“Here he was, right up until the end, working hard and enjoying it,” Strobel said. ”If you can learn anything in this business, that’s what you want to learn.”
On March 21, 2008, George Gross died of a heart attack in his home in Etobicoke, Ontario at the age of 85.
Milt Dunnell 1906-2008
Canadian sports columnist Milt Dunnell was a man of few vices. He did not care for swearing, drinking or smoking. What Dunnell, one of the Toronto Star’s most iconic figures, did care about was looking for a fresh way to tell his tales of the sporting world and asked those who worked in the newsroom with him to be doing the same thing.
“He was a terrific guy, no-nonsense,” Toronto Star columnist David Perkins said. “He didn’t suffer fools. He was a smart guy. People who were dumb, Milt didn’t have time for them.”
Born on December 24, 1905 in St. Mary’s, Ontario, Dunnell started as a local correspondent for Stratford Beacon Herald. He joined the paper full-time in 1929 and would hold the position of sports editor there for five years before leaving for the Toronto Star in 1942. Seven years later, Dunnell became the sports editor for the Toronto Star.
In 1970, Dunnell retired from his position as sports editor, but continued working for the Toronto Star before retiring in 1994.
While Dunnell reported on the Olympic Games and Stanley Cups, two events always stood out to him. One was the 1964 Kentucky Derby, in which Dunnell’s favourite thoroughbred, Northern Dancer, was victorious. The other was the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
In 1984, Dunnell was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and received induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame seven years later.
Dunnell also shared a special honour with late friend George Gross: both were the proud owners of 1967 Stanley Cup championship rings from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He’s the guy we’d all want to be. It was a different time in journalism,” Perkins says. “It wasn’t like now with the Internet, which has cheapened the value of the written word. Milt wrote literature. He wrote beautiful stuff.”
Dunnell died of pneumonia on January 3, 2008 at North York General Hospital. He was 102 years old.