Monthly Archives: September 2015

Uncle Sam Says…

Let’s face it. As Canadians, we so often like to feel ourselves superior to Americans when they get caught up in their latest national drama. But we also crave their approval when things are going well for us … such as with a certain baseball team!

In the Toronto Star last Sunday, Raju Mudhar, in his Sports Media column, brought up the issue of Bob Costas raising the ire of Toronto fans back in the 1989 playoff series against Oakland when he commented that: “Elvis has a better chance of coming back than the Jays.” Scott Moore, president of Sportnet, said, “when you get a [U.S.] network guy who is not as biased towards the Jays, people think they’re biased against them… Costas didn’t hate Toronto. He wasn’t a home-team broadcaster that our viewers are used to.”

Personally, I remember on the field during the afternoon before the 1985 Championship Series with the Royals got under way, Costas proudly speaking of how he planned to stick up for Canada. How? By mentioning that despite the cool weather in Toronto that night, there was already snow in Denver – which people at the time were touting as an obvious expansion site. Um, thanks … I guess.

I also remember how, the next day, at least one Blue Jay (it’s been 30 years, but I think it was Buck Martinez, who missed the end of the season and the playoffs that year with a broken leg,) was disappointed that Tony Kubek – who had been the analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts since nearly the very beginning – had not been supportive enough of the team in game one in his main job on the NBC broadcast. So it’s not just the fans.

Generally speaking, the U.S. media has gotten behind this year’s Blue Jays. It’s hard not to rally around a team that’s on such a roll. Still, there was that whole “Beer League” business back in August. Anyway, here’s the American view of past Blue Jays division championships in newspaper stories the following day. And here’s hoping there’s another one to add as soon as tomorrow!

Clinching Date: October 5, 1985. Blue Jays 5, Yankees 1

Clinching Date: Septmber 30, 1989. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3

Clinching Date: October 2, 1991. Blue Jays 6, Angels 5

Clinching Date: October 3, 1992. Blue Jays 3, Tigers 1

Clinching Date: September 27, 1993. Blue Jays 2, Brewers 0

Turk Broda, Yogi Berra and the Blue Jays

Last week, when the Toronto Maple Leafs opened training camp in Nova Scotia, both new coach Mike Babcock and new GM Lou Lamoriello talked about a “clean slate,” meaning they would have no preconceived notions on players based on last year’s woeful Leafs season. It’s probably just a coincidence, but that certainly seemed apropos for the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Among the many question marks for the Leafs heading into the season is (once again) who’s going to be the number-one goalie. “I like one guy to know he’s the guy,” said Babcock. “Someone’s gotta grab it.” He’s apparently prepared to let James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier fight it out. Bernier and Reimer both have their supporters among Toronto fans … but it’s not exactly like the Leafs are battling with the embarrassment of riches they faced at training camp back in the fall of 1936.


“Brilliant playing of some and more or less disappointing efforts by others have left several question marks hovering over the personnel of the Maple Leaf hockey team,” wrote Don Cowie of The Globe and Mail on November 4, 1936, as Toronto readied for the NHL season opener against Detroit the following night. “The big problem is in goal, and the question being asked on all sides; Will it be Hainsworth or Broda?”

George Hainsworth was a 41-year-old veteran who’d had his best years with the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1920s, but had certainly been solid during his three seasons in Toronto. He helped the Maple Leafs win three straight Canadian Division titles from 1933-34 to 1935-36 and make two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final. Turk Broda was a 22-year-old whom the Leafs had purchased from the Red Wings for $8,000 the previous spring – an unheard of sum for a raw rookie with no NHL experience during The Great Depression.

Conn Smythe, who had operated similarly with Lorne Chabot and Benny Grant in previous seasons despite the fact that teams of this era generally went with just one goalie, stated that the Leafs would carry both George Hainsworth and Turk Broda to begin the season and that they “would alternate until the better man was determined.”


It didn’t take long for the Leafs to make a decision. On November 25, Smythe announced that Hainsworth had been released outright. Turned out to be the right move. Hainsworth was all but done, whereas Broda would become the winningest goalie in franchise history with 302 regular-season victories, and five Stanley Cup championships.

But hey, it’s still baseball season and the Blue Jays are in a pennant race! The Yankees kept things interesting this week … just as they did back in 1985. Yogi Berra – who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 90 – briefly served as Yankees manager that season. (And all season in 1984.) Though I did see him around Exhibition Stadium during my ground crew days, I have no personal memories to share. However, please enjoy these Yogi Berra-isms from my 2006 quote book for Firefly Books, Home Plate Don’t Move. And remember a 3-1/2 game lead is great, but it isn’t over til it’s over!


Mixed Memories…

With the launch of my new book Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins this Saturday, and with the Blue Jays in the heat of a pennant race for the first time since 1993, I’m a little bit torn over what to write about this week. Hockey history? Blue Jays nostalgia? Fortunately, I have one memory that combines both nicely.

I don’t recall the exact date, but it was mid September in 1986. (Looking it up, it was either September 9, 1986 or the doubleheader on September 11 after a rainout the night before. It was definitely a wet night.) The Jays were playing the Yankees at Exhibition Stadium, and I was there with my Dad. Soon, an elderly gentleman sat down next to us. To any sports fan from Toronto at the time, he was instantly recognizable. It was King Clancy.

Clancy Auto

He couldn’t have been any nicer. He signed the autograph above for me that night, and really seemed to enjoy talking baseball with the people around us. Turned out, Clancy was a big fan of the Yankees’ Dave Winfield, but we were all trying to convince him that Jesse Barfield had the better arm.

On Facebook last week, after the Blue Jays swept the Yankees in New York, I posted a story about the August 2, 1983 Blue Jays doubleheader sweep of the Yankees at Exhibition Stadium. There was a record-setting crowd that night, and the joint was jumpin’! It’s one of my best memories from my Ground Crew days. As I pointed out on Facebook, the game the next night was a great one too, featuring Jesse Barfield nailing Ken Griffey at the plate on what I remember as the greatest throw I’ve ever seen.


The other day, I found a YouTube clip that shows the throw. Looking at the grainy footage (the play begins at the 17-second mark), it’s a little hard to appreciate just how great that throw really was. But coming as it did in the summer of the Blue Jays’ very first pennant race, just after the Jays had gone out in front 5-1, but with the Yankees immediately threatening to get right back in the game (have a look at the Baseball-Reference summary), I’ll stick with my memory!

Oh, and by the way, it was the very next night that Dave Winfield killed that seagull. I don’t remember what King Clancy had to say about that…

A Brief History of the Hockey Phenom

So far, the NHL’s “Next One” has handled it all beautifully. Of course, the hard part hasn’t really started yet for Connor McDavid. Then again, maybe getting out there on the ice against real NHL competition, even at the age of 18, will be the easy part for McDavid. How good is he? “This guy is a special kid,” said NHL superstar Steven Stamkos the other day. “I think he’s better than me right now.”

McDavid (who trained with Stamkos for much of the summer) respectfully disagrees. “That’s obviously one of the nicest compliments,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s really true.”


“He’s definitely way ahead of where I was at 18,” Stamkos insisted. Sidney Crosby, who met McDavid briefly this summer and entered the NHL in 2005 with similar hype, says: “I think he’s got things figured out pretty early on. I understand that the expectations are high, but he looks like a guy who is going to be able to deliver on them.”

What follows is an admittedly hit-and-miss history of hockey phenoms in headlines…

Tyrone Daily Herald (Tyrone, PA). March 25, 2005.

The Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, IN). December 15, 1994.

Morning Star (Wilmington, NC). July 1, 1992.

Montreal Gazette. February 3, 1984.

The Tuscaloosa News. March 26, 1982

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 29, 1981

The Pittsburgh Press. October 9, 1969.

Ottawa Citizen. September 14, 1957.

The Milwaukee Journal. February 1, 1946.

Montreal Gazette, November 9, 1942

The Winnipeg Free Press. October 14, 1935.

The Ottawa Journal. March 14, 1906.

And if you haven’t already seen it, please have look at my August 20 web story about The NHL Official Guide & Record Book and Connor McDavid. The Guide will be shipped by the printer’s this week and should be in stores very soon.

A Trophy By Any Other Name

Back to hockey history this week. And, let’s be honest, a bit of book promotion too.

When I was pitching my new biography of Art Ross, I kept saying to publishing people that Ross’s name was one that every hockey fan already knew … even if they didn’t know why. That’s because, ever since the 1947-48 season, the player that leads the NHL in scoring has been rewarded with the Art Ross Trophy. As I say very early in my book, Art Ross was so much more than just a name on a trophy. But what if the NHL scoring trophy had a different name?

My experience has been that most people think the Art Ross Trophy was created by the NHL to honour Art Ross. That’s not true. None of the NHL’s early trophies were actually created by the league. Each piece of silverware was purchased independently by an individual donor who wished to turn it over to the NHL. Even the Vezina Trophy, which WAS named for Canadiens goaltender Georges Vezina, was purchased by the owners of the Canadiens and donated to the league in 1926 to honour Vezina after his career, and then his life, was cut short by tuberculosis. Previously, the Hart and Lady Byng, and later the Calder, were all originally named for the men and women who purchased those trophies and donated them to the NHL. Like those trophies, the Art Ross Trophy was actually purchased by Art Ross, along with his sons Arthur Stuart Ross and John Ross, and that’s why it bears his name to this day.

Ross engraving

Still, it’s unclear why the NHL went more than 20 years after the donation of a trophy to recognize the league’s best goaltender before someone finally chose to honour the league’s best scorer. Charlie Conacher, a two-time NHL scoring champion (and five-time goal-scoring champion), certainly thought it was odd.

In a daily column he wrote for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper during the 1936-37 season, Conacher noted on February 12, 1937: “It is the ambition of every forward to make his goals and assists reach a larger total than that of any of his rivals. I know I was always under the impression that there was a trophy for realizing this ambition until I finally was successful. Then, the year I led the league I found that with the honour went no prize that I could keep for later years.” In his column a day later – while admitting that the NHL’s maximum salary of $7,000 was a lot of money (!!!) – Conacher added that, in addition to a trophy, a cash bonus for winning the scoring title would be nice too.


Over the next few weeks, Conacher responded to many letters he received commenting on his trophy and bonus suggestion. Most fans were against it. Some felt it would encourage selfish play (to which Conacher replied that assists were worth as many points as goals). Others felt players deserved no extra award or incentive for doing what they were already paid to do (but “winners of the Vezina, Hart and Lady Byng Trophies are only doing their duty too,” countered Conacher in his February 18 column). There were those who supported Conacher’s idea, but felt that such a trophy should be awarded to the top-scoring line, or the top-scoring team, instead of an individual player.

Nearly a month later, in his March 16, column, Conacher printed the contents of a letter he received from a Toronto man named Bob Mitchell: “I have read a great deal about your thoughts toward having a trophy for the leading scorer of the NHL…. Wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to the late Howie Morenz if the NHL Governors donated a trophy called the Morenz Cup to be presented to the leading scorer of the NHL each season.

Morenz had passed away on March 8, 1937, several weeks after suffering a career-ending broken leg in a game on January 28. Conacher had been advocating for a benefit game for Morenz (and a players injury fund too) since his February 15 column and was pleased to report before noting Mitchell’s suggestion that the Governors had committed themselves to such a game – though it would not take place until November. None of the NHL Governors, however, ever stepped forward with a Morenz Cup. It would take until the 1946-47 season before the NHL finally awarded a $1,000 bonus to the NHL scoring leader. It was another year until Art Ross finally donated a scoring trophy.

Ross Cup
This is the original Art Ross Trophy, purchased by Art Ross in 1910 for competition in the Montreal City Hockey League. A few years later, it became an international amateur award. Although the engraving clearly says Art Ross Trophy, this old mug is usually referred to as the Art Ross Cup.