Monthly Archives: February 2016

Baseball’s Maple Leafs (The Sequel)

Around these parts, winter has been nothing like the long, tough slog it’s been the past two years. Then again, the forecast is for a big blizzard tomorrow! So, it’s always a good feeling to know that pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training. It means summer can’t be too far away. Last January, I posted a story called Hockey Stars Join Baseball’s Maple Leafs. Today’s post continues the story of Babe Dye and Lionel Conacher.

Seasons started later in 1926 (the Maple Leafs opened on April 14 that year), but spring training was already in the news by this week in February. Even so, Toronto’s baseball team wouldn’t actually get down to business until about March 10. At that point, there was still a week to go in the NHL season. When it wrapped up on March 17, Babe Dye’s Toronto St. Pats had missed the playoffs, but Lionel Conacher’s Pittsburgh Pirates qualified for a semifinal series against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Maroons.

Manager [Dan] Howley is none too well pleased that post-season hockey may further delay the reporting of Babe Dye and Lionel Conacher,” reported the Toronto Star on March 22, 1926. “Howley feels that since St. Pats have finished the NHL season that Dye should lose little time joining the Leafs, and Conacher should also come on at once if Pittsburgh is eliminated by Montreal.

Conny Dye team
From the Toronto Star on April 28, 1926. Babe Dye is in the red oval near the centre; Lionel Conacher at the right. (Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell is to Conacher’s left.)

Conacher’s Pirates were eliminated the following day, and the Star noted: “The failure of Babe Dye to report is causing Manager Howley some anxiety. He is expected to join the club the latter part of this week. It is likely that Conacher will accompany his fellow-hockeyist.The Globe reported that “Babe Dye today wired Manager Howley asking permission to delay his reporting until March 28, as he is not feeling very well. His wish has been granted.

Dye finally showed up at the Maple Leafs’ Augusta, Georgia, training camp on March 29. Conacher didn’t report until April 6. Dye had only had one hit in 18 at-bats before that day, but suddenly went 5-for-6 with a pair of doubles. Conacher was in uniform the next day, taking batting and fielding practice with the team.

As noted in my story last year, Conacher was a great all-around athlete. He was best known as a lacrosse and football player but had made himself into a fine hockey player too. He’d been a good amateur ballplayer in Toronto, but hadn’t really played the game in three years! Still, “Manager Howley feels confident that the Toronto boy will develop into a good outfielder,” reported the Globe on April 7. Conacher was put into his first game the next day, and recorded his first hit, first run (the game-winner, in fact) and first putout as a professional baseball player in a 9-8 Toronto win over a team from Richmond, Virginia.

Conny Dye
This photo appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune on June 14, 1926.

Both Dye and Conacher broke camp with the team, though neither played in the season-opening 8-2 win over Reading on April 14. Dye was a proven minor-league star, and was played up in the publicity to promote Toronto’s home opener at the brand new Maple Leaf Stadium on April 28 … but as also noted in my story last year, neither hockey star contributed much to what would be a championship season for the baseball Maple Leafs in 1926.

With the Blue Jays set to mark their 40th season this year, I for one think it would be cool to seem them wear the 1926 Maple Leafs uniform as a throwback nod to the 90th anniversary of the old ballpark at the foot of Bathurst Street. For some even better photographs of the uniforms, check out this web site.

As Wrist Watchy as a Bull Elephant

Since the picture of hockey legend Lester Patrick that appears below originally ran in the Sunday Oregonian newspaper in Portland on February 14, 1915, consider this story a somewhat strange, slightly belated, Valentine’s gift to my wife, Barbara.

Watch Lester

You see, it was Lester Patrick who brought us together. (OK, technically, it was publisher Malcolm Lester who brought us together by hiring Barbara to edit my first book, the 1992 novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. But Lester Patrick was the star of my story, along with his brother Frank, Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor.)

Barbara’s knowledge of hockey was pretty limited at the time. Raised by two parents from Montreal, it basically consisted of, “Canadiens, good. Maple Leafs, bad.” But Barbara loves history, and historic photographs, and soon she could pick out Lester Patrick in a picture from just about any period of his life.

The fact that Lester is posed with a wrist watch in this picture has nothing directly to do with Barbara and me. But it does fit nicely with our own quirky interests in history and the fact that among the strange bits of trivia we know is that to most people in North America in 1915, a wrist watch – often referred to at the time as a wristlet, or bracelet watch – would have been thought of as – well … girly.

Consider the following excerpt from a story by Christopher Klein that appeared last year on the web site of The History Channel:

Fashionable dandies with portable timepieces on their arms were belittled as “wrist-watch boys” while the tried-and-true pocket watch remained the masculine convention. “The fellow who wears a wrist-watch is frequently suspected of having lace on his lingerie, and of braiding his hair at night,” reported the Albuquerque Journal in May 1914. A New Orleans theater in 1916 assured audiences that the main character in one of its plays was not “portrayed by a wrist-watch, screen actor dude, but by a man’s man.”

Nobody would ever guess,” said the 1915 story accompanying the wrist watch pic in the Oregonian, “but Lester Patrick, ferocious, wild-acting captain and cover point of the Victoria hockey club of the Coast League, wears the daintiest, most cunning little timepiece imaginable, on his powerful left wrist… Patrick stands about six feet one and weighs 180 pounds and he is about as wrist watchy in action as a bull elephant on a rampage.

But Lester Patrick was in the vanguard as opinions began to change. Wrist watches had been popular with military leaders in Europe since the 1880s, and by the middle of World War I – even though the United States wouldn’t be in the fighting for almost another year – The New York Times on July 9, 1916, featured a story entitled Changed Status of the Wrist Watch. It reads in part:

Until recently the bracelet watch has been looked upon by Americans as more or less of a joke. Vaudeville artists and moving-picture actors have utilized it as a funmaker, as a ‘silly ass’ fad. Now, however, since preparedness has become the watchword and timepieces have become a necessary part of the equipment of soldiers, the status of the wrist watch is changing.

Lester Patrick had received his wrist watch from the citizens of Victoria, B.C. as a thank you for leading its hockey team to a second straight PCHA championship in 1913-14. The Oregonian called it, “Vindication for the wrist watch. Yes sir-e-e-e-e!” So much so that these days, “screen actor dudes” clearly aren’t worried about wearing one.

Watch Celebs

How the Deal Got Done

There are all these talking heads on sports television these days (radio too) telling us the “inside story” on what trades might be in the works. Drives me crazy! Personally, I don’t want people telling me what might happen (but usually doesn’t). I want people giving me analysis when something DOES happen. And, for me, I don’t care who breaks the story. I care about who covers it best.

Admittedly, I don’t exactly have my ear to the ground for these types of things, but for all the talk that he’s been on the block over the past year (and for all those Leaf fans who’ve been wishing they’d trade him for even longer than that), when the nine-player deal that sent Dion Phaneuf to the Senators was announced yesterday, it was amazing to see how fast it got done … and how little had leaked out beforehand.

Phaneuf +
Dion Phaneuf and Matt Frattin are among the Leafs leaving for Ottawa.
Milan Michalek is one of the Senators headed to Toronto.

Nine players, and millions of dollars in salary, were swapped between Toronto and Ottawa. Even accounting for inflation, that’s a lot more money than the deal that was considered the biggest in hockey history when the teams from these same cities were last involved in a major blockbuster. And it’s not likely that this deal will have the same immediate impact on the Maple Leafs as the trade to acquire King Clancy on October 10, 1930 (not October 11, as most sources indicate).

The Ottawa Senators had been the top team of the early 1920s, winning the Stanley Cup in 1920, 1921 and 1923 when the NHL had only four teams and still had to compete with other leagues for the top prize. Even after the NHL expanded to 10 teams in 1926-27 and took over control of the Stanley Cup (for all intents and purposes), the Senators won it again that season. But with six of the league’s teams now in the United States, and Toronto and Montreal both much larger than Ottawa, the Canadian capital was the smallest market in the NHL by far. In order to survive, the Senators began selling off their stars; Cy Denneny to Boston, Hooley Smith and George Boucher to the Montreal Maroons, Frank Nighbor to Toronto.

Clancy Journal

On August 20, 1930, a headline story on the front page of the Ottawa Journal confirmed that the club was willing to entertain offers for King Clancy and that teams had begun making inquiries about the Senators captain and star defenceman.

Over the next few weeks, rumours poured in:

  • The Maroons were offering $35,000 and right winger Jimmy Ward
  • Boston was interested, but Ottawa wanted Lionel Hitchman in return
  • The New York Americans were offering $50,000 in a straight sale
  • The Rangers were offering $60,000 for Clancy and Hec Kilrea

The Toronto Maple Leafs were silent … until they lost the rights to John Gallagher, a former star junior defenceman Toronto believed they had signed. Trouble was, the Montreal Maroons also believed they’d signed Gallagher, and in late September the NHL sided with them. Writing in the Toronto Star about a month after the Gallagher decision, Charlie Querrie noted:

Kidding Conny Smythe one day about the result of the Gallagher case and remarking that Montreal generally had the edge in league affairs, the little leader of the Leafs asked me how I would like to see Frank (King) Clancy with the local squad. I looked at him and started to laugh, but when he said he was going east, and remembering ‘Rare Jewel’ [a horse Smythe owned that had recently come in as a long shot and is said to have earned him about $15,000], I began to wonder if he would put it over.

Clancy +
King Clancy and John Gallagher.
(Photos obtained from the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research.)

Indeed, Conn Smythe left Toronto for Ottawa about October 5, announcing (as The Globe reported on October 7) that he would return with Johnny Gallagher in his possession, “or some better player.” A similar report appeared in the Ottawa Journal that same day under a headline atop the sports page stating: SMYTHE WANTS CLANCY.

A day later, the Globe, the Journal and the Toronto Star (undoubtedly other papers too) announced that Toronto had been given an option on the Ottawa captain. The Star also noted on its front page on October 8 that Smythe had announced the directors of the Toronto Maple Leafs would be asking the fans for their opinion on whether or not King Clancy was worth a price of $35,000 plus two players.

Clancy Ad
This ad appeared in Toronto’s Globe newspaper on October 9, 1930.

On the evening of Friday, October 10, 1930, the following press release was issued:

The directors of the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club unanimously resolve to exercise their option on player ‘King’ Clancy with Ottawa. The directorate also appreciate the tremendous enthusiasm and support displayed by the fans of Toronto and all Ontario in this matter.

The Toronto Star reported on some of the many letters the Maple Leafs had received:

“Clancy will be another Rare Jewel…”

“Buy Clancy, don’t let the Maroons get him…”

“See Smythe for Sand, get Clancy if it cost forty grand…”

“If I had $50,000 I would buy the player myself and give him to you…”

“Clancy and the Stanley Cup, some bargain, leave the kid forward line alone, and Day…”

“Oh, Clancy, Clancy, you are the man I fancy, if [Conn] Smythe doesn’t get you, he’ll kick himself in the pantsie…”

The Maple Leafs gave up Art Smith, Eric Pettinger and $35,000 for King Clancy. They made the playoffs in 1930-31 for just the second time in six seasons. A year later, they opened Maple Leaf Gardens and won the Stanley Cup. Soon, with Foster Hewitt broadcasting their games from coast to coast in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs were a national institution.

Ghost of a Chance

If you’re reading this in Canada, and you’re looking to OD on hockey a day before the Super Bowl, this Saturday, Hockey Day In Canada will be bringing us its annual 13-hours of coverage. This year, the host city is Kamloops, B.C. So here’s an offbeat story from British Columbia’s hockey past.

Before the NHL was formed, the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy available to the champions of any senior provincial hockey league in Canada. Since all leagues were small and regional, the current Stanley Cup holder would be called upon to defend the Cup (much like a boxing champion or a mixed-martial arts fighter today) against challenges from champions of other leagues . Because the hockey season was so short, these challenges could occur at any time during the winter; before the season, after the season, and even in the middle of the regular season.

Hod pic

The most famous challenger of this early era is the Dawson City team that travelled across Canada – part of the way by dogsled – only to be crushed by Frank McGee and the Ottawa Silver Seven in January of 1905. It was rare for a challenger to defeat the Stanley Cup champion, but teams like the Winnipeg Victorias and the Kenora Thistles did pull it off.

With a population of only 6,000 people in 1907, Kenora will always be the smallest town to win the Stanley Cup. But it wasn’t the only one to take its shot. The smallest of them all was the town of Phoenix, British Columbia (population about 1,000) who challenged for the Stanley Cup in 1911.

Phoenix is located in the south central part of the province, some 300 kilometres from Kamloops and just north of the border with Washington state. The area is known as the Boundary District. Copper was discovered near Phoenix in 1891, and by about 1895 a booming community grew up around the Granby mine. Hockey was introduced to the area a short time later.

The game caught on quickly, and received a big boost in the region in 1907 and 1908 when Frank and Lester Patrick moved to Nelson, B.C., with their father’s lumber business.

Phoenix sked

During the winter of 1911, the Boundary League featured teams in Phoenix, Grand Forks, and Greenwood. They played a double-round robin schedule with each team having eight games over the six-week season. Phoenix had imported several new players from all across Canada this year, although none were names fans would recognize today. (You can read the names at the bottom the next clip.)

The season began on January 2 with Phoenix and Grand Forks playing to a 3-3 tie. Phoenix then rattled off five straight wins to clinch the title by January 30. Two more wins followed and Phoenix finished the season on February 13 with a record of 7-0-1. But in order to call themselves provincial champions and have a shot at the Stanley Cup, Phoenix needed to win the tournament at the annual Rossland Winter Carnival.

Phoenix claimed the British Columbia title by defeating a beefed-up team from Greenwood and then romping to an 8-2 win over hometown Rossland. They also won the Open challenge series, defeating Rossland once again and crushing the team from Missoula, Montana, 13-5. All four games were played in just five days.

Silverware

Later, Phoenix beat Rossland one more time, pushing their record for the year to 12 wins and a tie in 13 games. Only one thing marred a nearly perfect season for Phoenix: they never got the chance to test themselves against the Patrick brothers and their powerhouse team in Nelson. Challenges were issued, but Nelson refused to play in the tiny rink in Phoenix, wouldn’t agree to meet the team on neutral ice, and didn’t offer any acceptable dates in their own rink. Nelson even took a pass on the Rossland Carnival.

Undaunted, on February 24, 1911, a telegram was sent to William Foran, one of two trustees in charge of administering the Stanley Cup, asking for a series with the Ottawa Senators:

Phoenix Request

Newspapers across Canada reported on the Phoenix challenge, though few gave the team serious consideration.

Other Cities

When a reply came from William Foran, it was indeed bad news:

Challenge received. Regret impossible to give you dates this season as there are three other challenges before the trustees. If you so desire will arrange for a series of matches with the holders of the cup at the opening of next season.

It was strongly hinted that if Phoenix did get a chance to play for the Cup, they would add Frank and Lester Patrick to their lineup. However, as the 1911-12 season approached the brothers were busy creating the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.  Phoenix never seems to have followed up with Foran.

Phoenix Forgotten

The team continued to have success in the Boundary League in the years to come, but there would never again be a Stanley Cup challenge.

In the following years, many men from the tiny town of Phoenix found themselves fighting with the Canadian Army during the first World War. Fifteen sons of Phoenix gave their lives. In a sense, the town did too. The end of the War saw world markets for copper collapse, and in 1919 the Granby mine closed down. The town cleared out, with many former inhabitants leaving everything behind. By 1920, Phoenix was literally a ghost town.

Among the last projects planned in Phoenix was a monument to the local War dead. When many of the town’s buildings were sold for scrap, the $1,200 raised by the sale of iron and lumber from the local hockey rink was put toward the memorial. Today, the Phoenix Cenotaph is the only relic remaining from a once booming town that had hoped to win the Stanley Cup.