BBWAA Career Excellence Award Winner Gerry Fraley mastered his craft
The late Gerry Fraley, who spent four decades covering baseball in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas, has now been honored with the highest honor his profession bestows.
On Dec. 5 at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, it was announced that Fraley was elected the 2024 winner of the BBWAA Career Excellence Award.
Fraley will be honored with the award that is presented annually to a sportswriter “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing” during the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Induction Weekend next July 19-22 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Fraley, who died in May 2019 after a two-year battle with cancer at the age of 64, was one of the most respected sportswriters of his generation. Called brilliant, dedicated and gruff, he served as national BBWAA president in 1987.
After Fraley’s passing, former baseball commissioner Bud Selig said, “He was fair, honest, a great reporter.”
After a perfect SAT math score, Fraley left his hometown of Clearwater, Fla., to attend Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh to become an engineer and to play football. He became a sportswriter instead, first with the Clearwater Sun then the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1981.
“I met him he was working for the Clearwater Sun and I was with the Philadelphia Bulletin when the Phillies were there for spring training,” said Mark Whicker, a recently retired sports columnist at the Orange County Register. “I would read his stuff and I realized that he knew as much about the team as we did, and he only saw them in spring training. I was obviously impressed with his instincts and his reporting ability and how much he knew about the game.
“I think this BBWAA award to me has always been for the people who go out to the ballpark every day and do their job, cover every game, and have to go through all the steps that you have to go through to do that. I think the award was basically made for him because he's the best beat person I've ever been around in any sport. He had great reporting instincts, he had a great ability to work a clubhouse and deal with everybody in the clubhouse, and he had a great network of people outside the clubhouse. He was a tough guy to compete with. I’m glad I never had to compete with him. He was a lot like a ballplayer. When he came to the ballpark, he was trying to win something.”
After the Bulletin folded early in 1982, Fraley was soon hired in Atlanta to cover the Braves for the Journal-Constitution. He moved to the Dallas Morning News in 1989, where much of his baseball-writing career was spent covering the Rangers.
According to Brian McTaggart, Astros beat reporter for MLB.com, the BBWAA award would have meant the world to Fraley.
“I think Gerry embodies everything that a baseball writer is. He loved the game, and he loved the people. Yet he had this this way about him where he questioned everything. I think that's what made him a great reporter,” McTaggart said. “He was cut from a cloth of the kind of baseball writer we don't see anymore. He lived to go out there and tell the stories of the people in the game. He loved to talk to people and find out more.
“The thing about Gerry is that if you got cornered talking to Gerry, he would talk to you for a long time, and you didn't mind because he had such a good way about him that he made you feel at ease. I think it was that way with not only his peers like myself and others who covered games with him, but also the players. That made him really respected around the game. He was somebody that the players could trust. You knew when you read Gerry Fraley, there was no sugarcoating anything. This was the truth. You could trust it. He always hit the nail on the head.”
“And readers benefited from it. I was a reader of his when I was in high school in Atlanta. He was my first hero as a baseball writer. And I was lucky enough to call him a colleague and a mentor later in life. I got to see the full spectrum of what of what Gerry was as a reporter and a journalist.”
With 370 ballots cast by Baseball Writers’ Association of America members, Fraley was named on 173 in a very close election. Bruce Jenkins, a baseball writer and columnist for almost half a century for the San Francisco Chronicle, finished second with 113 votes. Longtime New York Post columnist Joel Sherman received 83 votes.
Fraley, the 75th winner of the award since its inception in 1962, joins a prestigious cavalcade of writers previously honored, including such luminaries as Ring Lardner (1963), Grantland Rice (1966), Damon Runyon (1967), Fred Lieb (1972), Shirley Povich (1975), Red Smith (1976), Jim Murray (1987), Wendell Smith (1993), Roger Angell (2014) and Claire Smith (2017).
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.