Mark Whicker was a sports columnist at the Philadelphia Bulletin. When reporting on spring training for the Phillies in Florida, he took note of the coverage being provided by Gerry Fraley in the Clearwater Sun.

"He was around the Phillies for six weeks a year and knew more about what was happening with the team than we did,'' Whicker said.

The Bulletin had an opening for a baseball writer in 1981, Whicker offered a strong endorsement and Fraley was hired. They were out of work on Jan. 29, 1982, when the Bulletin folded, leaving Philadelphia to the Inquirer and Daily News.

Whicker landed at the Daily News. Fraley was hired in Atlanta and covered the Braves for the Journal-Constitution. He moved to the Dallas Morning News in 1989.

"Gerry's the only person who literally could have covered two beats at once,'' Whicker said. "Great observer, encyclopedic memory, an instinct for knowing what's happening and what's about to happen.''

Fraley, 64, died at home Saturday after dealing with cancer for two years.

A month ago, he wrote the lead story on a Predators-Stars playoff game. This was followed by several Rangers bylines into early May.

Fraley had a perfect SAT math score and went from Clearwater High to prestigious Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh to become an engineer and to play football. Somehow, he wound up as a sportswriter as smart as an engineer and as hard-nosed as a football player.

The baseball press boxes of the 1980s and early '90s were locations of great irreverence. Fraley offered barbs with the best of them. Just don't disturb him with mindless banter at crunch time.

The Morning News posted an excellent Fraley obit. It's accompanied by a photo of Gerry producing a postgame piece in the Cowboys press box. There are three empty seats and then a gaggle of reporters crowded together.

My cartoon bubble above those reporters was this: "I'm not sitting next to Fraley. He'll bark at me if I bother him while he's working.''

Which was most of the time, and almost to the end.

PLUS THREE

Biggest non-St. Thomas losers in MIAC fiasco:

•St. John's. Even if the Tommies remain in Division III and games are played, Gophers-North Dakota hockey has proved rivalries wane when they become nonconference.

•Macalester football. The Scots enjoy the friendly confines of the Midwest Conference for one sport, but there will be pressure to replace the Tommies in order to maintain an eight-game MIAC schedule.

•Transparency. The unwillingness of MIAC presidents and complicit athletic directors to explain this stunning action has made the conference a punchline.

Read Reusse's blog at startribune.com/patrick.