Monthly Archives: October 2016

It Only Feels Like Forever!

Well, I’d still like to have seen the Blue Jays in it, but fans in Chicago and Cleveland have been waiting for a World Series championship a lot longer than Toronto baseball fans, who haven’t seen a title since 1993. Their droughts make even the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win in 1967 seem pretty recent!

Cleveland just got to celebrate the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, and the city’s first of any kind since 1964, but they haven’t seen their baseball team win the World Series since 1948. And even that, of course, pales in comparison to the mother of all championship droughts. The Chicago Cubs haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won it since their back-to-back titles in 1907 and 1908! Both wins came over the Detroit Tigers.

Not surprisingly, some of the coverage of those Cubs wins looks a little bit different than what we’re used to today…

Cubs 1
From the Chicago Tribune on October 6, 1907. Prices go up, but the dilemma remains.

Cubs 2
Cubs fans roared when their team scored two in the bottom of the ninth
to tie Game 1 at 3-3 on October 8, 1907 as depicted in the Tribune the
next day. The game was called after 12 innings, still tied 3-3.

Cubs 3
Because of the tie game, it took five for the Cubs to sweep the Detroit Tigers in 1907.
This cartoon appeared in the Tribune on October 13, 1907.

Cubs 4
A year and a day later, October 14, 1908, the Tribune commemorated
the previous day’s 3-0 victory of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown that
gave Chicago a 3-1 lead over Detroit in the 1908 Series.

Cubs 5
The Cubs then made it two in a row, as noted in the Tribune on October 15, 1908.

Cubs 6
And in the Detroit Free Press the same day.

An Ace Of An Idea!

As you likely know by now, the Maple Leafs’ lavish ceremony on Saturday night to open the 100th season of NHL hockey in Toronto was a huge success. After years of choosing to “honour” players numbers but keep them in circulation, the team announced it would retire those numbers – as every other team in sports does for its greatest franchise heroes.

What Dave Keon had long perceived as this lack of proper recognition is what had kept him away from the team for so long, rather than any lingering resentment over his feud with Harold Ballard. Now Keon is back, and while I might quibble with his selection as the number-one player in Leafs history, his number 14 has taken its rightful place among the rest of the team’s greats.

Uni 1

In the past, the Leafs had only retired the numbers of Bill Barilko (5), who was famously killed in a plane crash after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951, and Ace Bailey (6) whose career ended in 1933 when he fractured his skull after being knocked to the ice by Boston’s Eddie Shore. Even so, James van Riemsdyk was the only current Leaf wearing one of these newly retired numbers, and he gladly gave up Borje Salming’s now-retired 21 and took 25.

Team president Brendan Shanahan had something very interesting to say when asked about the decision to change the Leafs’ policy regarding retired numbers. “When you asked questions, people really didn’t have a reason why we [weren’t doing it]. I like the story of players handing numbers down … to another player. But I don’t remember Borje Salming handing a sweater to JVR. It wasn’t happening. It’s a great story. But if you’re not doing it, then let’s do the right thing.”

Uni 2

I have read accounts from Teeder Kennedy saying how pleased he was when he was given the number of his hero Charlie Conacher, and I know that Darryl Sittler has talked about his belief that the team had big plans for him because he was given Frank Mahovlich’s #27. But the only Leafs story I’m aware of where a player literally handed his former number to a current player was when Ace Bailey requested that Ron Ellis be given his #6.

Bailey handed his number to Ellis in a ceremony at the Hot Stove Lounge at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24, 1968. “My family and I wanted to see somebody wear the number while I was still active in hockey,” said Bailey, who was a timekeeper at the Gardens. “Ron is a real hockey player who never gives his club any trouble. I think he’ll be an all-star in years to come.

“This number is two digits lighter than your old number,” Bailey joked to Ellis, who had worn #8 since his junior days, “so you should go a little faster.”

“I’ll wear this sweater with a great deal of pride,” Ellis told him.

Uni 3

But as the Toronto Star noted the following day, Ace Bailey handed a #6 sweater to Ron Ellis, but not the #6 sweater. Bailey had kept his retired jersey for nearly 30 years, but it had recently been discovered that it was missing!

Bailey had loaned his sweater to the Hockey Hall of Fame about seven years earlier, but a short time later the Maple Leafs asked the Hall if they could have it and Barilko’s #5 sweater for a display at Maple Leaf Gardens. Gardens officials swore they had returned it, but the Hall of Fame’s new curator Lefty Reid was “99 percent sure it was not in the building.”

Speculation was that Bailey’s sweater may have been destroyed a few years earlier when a drain backed up at the Hall of Fame building and flooded some storage rooms, or that a workman might have made off with it during recent renovations there.

“If anyone has seen a blue hockey sweater, 1933 vintage, with a white Maple Leaf on the front and the number 6 on the back,” wrote Jim Crerar in the Star, “please contact Lefty Reid at the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately.”

I don’t believe the sweater has ever turned up.

P.S. As a late note to this story, the dean of hockey historians Bill Fitsell points out that Charlie Conacher DID hand a #9 sweater to Teeder Kennedy, as noted in the Globe and Mail of September 11, 1946. Click on the link to the right: leafs-unis-4

Great Start … But Is It A Record?

Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Austin Matthews scored four goals last night in his first NHL game. It’s pretty amazing! (Although marred somewhat by Toronto’s 5-4 loss in overtime to Ottawa.) So, was it an NHL record? That’s not as straightforward as you may think!

The confusion probably goes back to the 1979-80 season when the NHL didn’t want to consider Wayne Gretzky a rookie because of his one year as a professional the season before in the World Hockey Association. Gretzky had 51 goals, 86 assists, and 137 points that season. His 51 goals would have been two short of Mike Bossy’s then-rookie record of 53 … but his 86 assists and 137 points should have been records. They still should be, but instead, you’ll see those ROOKIE records are held by Peter Stastny, Joe Juneau (70 assists) and Teemu Selanne (132 points).

M1

The records Gretzky is credited with for the 1979–80 season are all records for A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL SEASON … but not rookie records. It can certainly get a bit confusing!

For years, the NHL listed the record for most goals by A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL GAME as 3, first by Alex Smart in 1943, and then, more recently, by Real Cloutier, Fabian Brunnstrom and Derek Stepan. Unfortunately, I don’t have NHL Guide’s going back far enough, but my guess would be that before Cloutier (who, like Gretzky — but with even more years — was a WHA veteran) this was actually listed as a rookie record, but ever since I’ve been working on the Guide the wording has stated FIRST GAME and not ROOKIE.

There has also been a record for MOST GOALS BY A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL SEASON, ONE GAME that for years was shared by Howie Meeker and Don Murdoch. But then, beginning with the NHL Official Guide & Record Book for 2010-11, we added the much older five-goal games by Joe Malone, Harry Hyland and Mickey Roach during their first NHL seasons. Since Malone and Hyland had both scored 5 goals in the two games played on the very first night in NHL history back on December 19, 1917, we had to add them to the record for most goals by a player in his first NHL game as well.  Given that the rule book already had a distinction between rookies and first-year players, how could we not?

M2
Stories from The Toronto World, December 20, 1917.
Summaries from the Toronto Star of the same date.

Malone and Hyland had both been pros, playing in the highest leagues of their day, since 1908. So, it’s certainly hard to consider them NHL “rookies” in 1917-18. Still, given that it was the league’s first season, there’s no denying that they each scored five goals in their first NHL games.

So, technically, while Auston Matthews seems to have set a rookie record last night, it’s not a record for a player in his first NHL game. But it’s still a pretty impressive debut! And if you check the summary above, you’ll note that Reg Noble scored four goals for Toronto against the Wanderers in that December 19, 1917 game. So, it looks like we’ll need to add that to the list along with Matthews for next year.

It Could Have Been Worse

Winning last night certainly takes a lot of the sting out of it! I still can’t explain the hitting woes (except that I think we’ll find out that Josh Donaldson has been hurt worse than they’ve let on), but before you go saying what a horrible collapse the Blue Jays had this September, consider this. At no point during the 2016 season did Toronto ever have more than a 2-game lead in the American League East  – and they only led by that much for four days. Four! They only led the division at all for 32 days during the entire season. That’s basically one month out of six.

Now, admittedly, the Jays did hold that 2-game lead from August 28 through August 31, and 29 of their 32 games in first came after July 30. Obviously, that makes their September slide feel all the more painful. But even if they hadn’t won last night, I really think it seems a lot worse than it actually was.

Edwin
Edwin Encarnacion reacts to his game-winning three-run blast in the 11th inning.

Not convinced? Well, consider this. The Jays spent 111 days in either second or third place this year. That’s three times more time than they spent in first. And, really, they were never more than about 5 games from falling completely out of the playoff picture. So, hanging on for that home wild card berth was probably where they should have ended up anyway.

Since the two-team wild card format was introduced in 2012, I’ve always wondered how much qualifying for that wild card game would really feel like making the playoffs. Well, having gone through it now,  I think it really does … and I’m not saying this just because we won! Still, it does seems strange to have the fate of an entire season come down to a single game. The baseball season has always been a marathon, not a sprint. But then again, it’s not like this never happened before the advent of the wild card.

Back in 1908 – the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series! – the fate of the National League season came down to just one postseason game. It wasn’t actually a playoff. It was a makeup game made necessary by the fact that the Cubs and the New York Giants had finished the season tied in first place and now had to replay a tie game from a few days earlier, on September 23, 1908.

Dunnell
Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star didn’t get much out of Fred Merkle even 40 years later.

Even now, 108 years later, that tie game is one of the most famous in baseball history. If you don’t already know the story, in a nutshell, the Giants should have won that day with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, but the baserunner on first base, 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle, never touched second. When the Cubs made a play to force him out, the ruling was made that the Giants apparent winning run didn’t count. For plenty more, you can Google Fred Merkle, or watch this clip of Keith Olbermann from 2013.

Merkle was dubbed “Bonehead” for his baserunning blunder and after the Giants lost the makeup game on October 8, 1908, his so-called “boner” would literally haunt him until his dying day. And beyond, really, because anyone who knows his name today is likely to know it because of that play.

Headlines
A sample of some of the headlines that appeared above his obituary in
newspapers across North America the day after Fred Merkle died on March 2, 1956.

You may have heard Sandy Koufax recently, lauding Vin Scully and telling about how when Scully was covering the Dodgers in the World Series, he would say a prayer before it got started. Scully didn’t pray for the Dodgers to win, but for no one to make the type of mistake that would live on in infamy. No doubt Vin Scully had Fred Merkle in mind.