A Writer’s Journey: Treasures from Allen Abel’s 50-Year Sports Journalism Career

A Writer’s Journey: Treasures from Allen Abel’s 50-Year Sports Journalism Career

Property from the Collection of Mr. Allen Abel to be Featured in June 8 Sports Memorabilia Auction

From a perfect Brooklyn childhood of stickball and bleacher seats in the 1950s, to a decade of covering major league sports and a dozen Olympic Games, to Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then to a decade on Capitol Hill and in the White House briefing room, Allen Abel’s television, newspaper, and magazine career has taken him to more than a hundred countries and a thousand different worlds of struggle and glory, pain and poverty, peace and war.

He has won six National Magazine awards for political, travel, and sports writing as a contributor to Sports IllustratedScientific American WorldviewSmithsonian Air & SpaceMaclean’s, and many other publications. He has also written five non-fiction books, including Flatbush Odyssey — A Journey Through the Heart of Brooklyn, which the Washington Post called “one of the best travelogues about anywhere, ever.”

As a television on-air correspondent and documentary writer and producer, Allen has served as on-air host, narrator, writer, or producer on dozens of documentaries for HBO, Discovery, History Channel, National Geographic Television, the National Film Board and CBC, as well as hundreds of feature items for Hockey Night In Canada, CBC News and CBC Sports.

The heavyweight battles that he has covered span the arc of human competition from Ali-Frazier to Clinton-Trump. 

As a sports columnist in New York and Toronto from 1972 to 1983, Allen was in the press box when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs on three consecutive swings off three different pitchers in the 1977 World Series; when Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10.00 at the Olympic Games in Montreal; when American amateurs miraculously won gold in men’s hockey at Lake Placid; when Pele made his final appearance as an active player (and, much later, when Bryce Harper made his first); when a teenaged Wayne Gretzky began his astonishing career as an Indianapolis Racer, and when Trevor Berbick ended Ali’s career on a sad, cold night in the Bahamas. 

Every night, as an aide-memoire and a souvenir, he would purchase a scorecard or program, each item expanding a collection that began at his very first game at Ebbets Field – though that precious, fragile scoresheet is not for sale today; it is a treasure to be preserved, Allen hopes, by his daughter Lizzie and generations to come.

As a journalist, Abel strictly obeyed a code of ethics that eschewed autograph-seeking or angling for a sweat-stained jersey or a fifty-goal stick. (Only once, as a cub reporter on his first assignment to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, did he have a dozen ancient honorees sign the ball that is featured in this sale.)  

The media credentials, passes, and pins that are included in next month’s auction are the badges of professional neutrality that separated the working writers in the press box from the screaming partisans in the stands. (Reporters cheer, too, but silently, for the athletes whom they had come to know as friends.)

Abel’s latest non-fiction book has been published by Sutherland House of Toronto. Entitled The Short Life of Hughie McLoon — A True Story of Baseball, Magic, and Murder, it is the impossible yet 100 percent true biography of a hunchbacked boy from Philadelphia who became the “lucky” mascot of the last-place baseball A’s in 1916, then ran his own speakeasy during Prohibition while secretly working as a secret police informer at the same time, only to be shot down at the age of 26 in a gangland crossfire.

“When a book title needs to tell people it’s a true story,” says The Globe and Mail, “it’s because the contents are almost too far-fetched to believe. A wild and well-researched tale about a hunchbacked human mascot from the early 20th century, enthusiastically told."

For additional information about the June 8 Sports Memorabilia auction, please see the auction page.