Monthly Archives: November 2016

Expansion Now and Then

The NHL’s newest team officially got a name last week when it was announced that the expansion franchise in Las Vegas for 2017-18 will be known as the Vegas Golden Knights. The official colours will be steel grey (for strength and durability), gold (because Nevada is the largest producer of gold in the USA), red (for the Vegas skyline and the Red Rock canyons of the nearby desert), and black (for power and intensity.) Grey, Black and Gold are also the colours of the United States Military Academy at West Point, whose sports teams are known as the Black Knights, and where the new hockey team’s majority owner Bill Foley graduated in 1967.

There have actually been professional hockey teams in Las Vegas since 1970, and serious interest in an NHL team since 2007. The current ownership group has been involved in the discussion since the spring of 2014. The NHL authorized a formal expansion process on June 24, 2015 and made applications available to interested parties that July. It was then announced on July 21, 2015, that Las Vegas and Quebec City had applied. Nearly a year later, on June 22, 2016, it was announced that Las Vegas would become the NHL’s 31st team. Five months later, the team got its name. In about 11 more months, they’ll play their first game.


Things moved a lot faster when the NHL first expanded back in 1924! Yes, teams had been added – and subtracted and relocated – prior to this, but the admission of a second Montreal team and the first U.S. club for the 1924-25 season (which saw the league grow to six teams – although not the so-called “Original Six”) was the first true expansion.

There had been internal talks for a few years already, but the first public indication that the NHL was considering the addition of American teams came in March of 1924 when Colonel John Hammond, representing Madison Square Garden of New York, and Charles Adams of Boston were invited to Montreal during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Reports on March 20, 1924, had Adams confirming that he’d purchased an option on a franchise for Boston. Little more is heard again until September 26, but by September 30, the Boston Arena had agreed to give ice to Adams for his new team, and Art Ross had agreed to serve as the coach, manager and vice president.


The NHL wouldn’t actually confirm the new entries in Boston and Montreal until October 12, 1924; the Boston Professional Hockey Association, Inc. wasn’t officially formed until October 23; and formal approval of the franchises didn’t actually come until the NHL’s annual meeting in Montreal, on November 1, 1924. Even so, the two teams would play their first games against each other in Boston just one month later– meaning there was no time to waste!

On September 30, 1924, it had been reported that Boston would take over the now-defunct Seattle franchise of the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association, but that story quickly proved false. Ross would sign a few over-the-hill PCHA veterans for the new Boston team, but mainly he was on the road for the next few weeks trying to recruit promising amateurs. Most of the players he assembled met up in Ross’s hometown of Montreal on November 14, 1924, and proceeded to Boston together by train. The team also got its name that day, and its colours too. Brown and yellow, same as Adams’ chain of grocery stores. (Black would replace the brown in the Bruins uniform in 1934–35.)


“An interesting item is connected with Pres. Adams’ partiality towards brown as the team color,” noted that day’s Boston Globe. “The pro magnate’s four thoroughbred [horses] are brown … his Guernsey cows are of the same color; brown is the predominating color among his Durco pigs on his Framingham estate, and the Rhode Island hens are brown, although Pres. Adams wouldn’t say whether or not the eggs they lay are of a brown color.” Browns was even considered as the team nickname, but Adams was concerned that people would call them the Brownies, which struck him as childish. The team name, of course, would be the Bruins.


The stories surrounding the Bruins name are all pretty much the same. Charles Adams held a contest, but had very definite ideas about what kind of name he wanted. He wanted the name to relate to “an untamed animal.” He wanted the animal to be big, strong, ferocious and smart. (Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if that animal happened to be brown!) A secretary in the team office is usually given credit for coming up with Bruins – which comes from an old English term for a Brown bear first used in a medieval children’s fable. In his book “The Bruins” famed hockey writer Brian McFarlane specifically names Bessie Moss, whom he says was a transplanted Canadian working for Art Ross in Boston. When I was working on my Art Ross biography, I asked McFarlane about the story – which had proven impossible for me to confirm. He was pretty sure he’d come across it in either an old book or newspaper story some time during his hockey travels in the 1970s, but no longer had the source among his collection.


Whoever and however they got the name, the Bruins hit the ice for their first practice on November 15, 1924, and played their first game on Thanksgiving night, Thursday, November 27. It was an exhibition game against the Sasktoon Sheiks of the Western Canada Hockey League. Boston lost 2-1. They would beat their expansion cousins from Montreal (who were not officially named the Maroons until the following season) by the same 2-1 score in their first NHL game on December 1, 1924. Still, it would be a long, trying, season for the Bruins, who finished that first year with a record of 6-24-0. Montreal was only slightly better at 9-19-2.

The NHL will be counting on a better showing by Vegas – but they’ll be hard pressed to match the Maroons, who improved so quickly they won the Stanley Cup in their second season, or the Bruins, who were champions by year five.

Pyle and the St. Pats

In my story last week, I made a brief mention of C.C. Pyle as the agent for both Red Grange and Suzanne Lenglen. Charles C. Pyle (sometimes referred to as “Cold Cash” Pyle, and more often as “Cash and Carry” Pyle) was responsible for bringing both stars to Toronto in the fall of 1926 … but he was looking to take something away with him too: the city’s professional hockey team – The Toronto St. Pats.

Suzanne Lenglen and her agent, C.C. Pyle.

Writing in the Toronto Daily Star on October 8, 1926 (a few days before Lenglen’s appearance in the city), W.A. Hewitt noted: “Cash-and-Carry Pyle, who has Red Grange and Suzanne Lenglen under his wing, is trying desperately to break into professional hockey…” Hewitt wrote that Pyle had recently raised his original offer of $200,000 to $400,000 in an effort to buy the New York Americans, the NHL’s first franchise in The Big Apple.

By the middle of November, shortly after Grange’s visit to Toronto, came stories that Pyle had now set his sights on breaking into the NHL through Toronto. He had asked the owners of the St. Patricks what it would take to buy their team and was reportedly told $200,000. Though he’d offered double that for the Americans, Pyle was said to consider this price too high for the Toronto team. (Conn Smythe – who would soon put together a syndicate to buy the St. Pats for $160,000 – told the Star in 1977 that the team “might have been worth $15,000.”)

TO Papers
The Toronto Telegram had the story of Pyle’s interest in the St. Pats first on November 19.
Other local papers, such as the Globe, shown here, didn’t have it until the next day.

While it appears there would be more serious offers from Montreal investors (who likely would have left he team in Toronto) in the coming weeks, it was widely reported that if Pyle bought the St. Pats, he would move them to Philadelphia. Smythe used this threat of losing the city’s NHL team to an American city to rally his own group of investors and save the team in Toronto. He closed his deal on February 14, 1927, and renamed the team the Maple Leafs.

How close did Toronto really come to losing its team in 1926? It’s hard to know for sure. But C.C. Pyle’s interest in hockey seems to have been genuine. In the spring of 1927, he and Red Grange bought a large rink in Los Angeles, made plans to build another in San Francisco, and announced their intention to establish a four-team California Professional Hockey League. The league would run until 1933, though Pyle and Grange sold their interests in it around 1929.

Three Stars in Three Months

Over a three-month period 90 years ago, during the fall of 1926, three of the greatest sports stars of the Roaring Twenties made appearances in Toronto. A time-machine type of moment for someone like me, and yet – given the historical significance of these performers – they don’t appear to have attracted the size of crowds they should have.

First up was Babe Ruth, who appeared on a Friday afternoon, September 10, 1926, for an exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. The Yankees featured most of their star players, including Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koening and Bob Meusel, although Ruth played first base in this game and when Lou Gehrig came in late it was as the right fielder.

Photograph from the Toronto Star, box score from the Globe, September 11, 1926.

The Leafs, behind soon-to-be New York Giants star Carl Hubbell, led 2-1 for most of the game before the Yankees scored four in the eighth and three in the ninth for an 8-2 victory. The whole game was played in just an hour-and-a-half! Only about 6,000 fans showed up at Maple Leaf Stadium, and by most accounts, it wasn’t much of a game. The crowd had come to see Ruth hit home runs, but he managed only two singles. Still, he was swarmed on the field by about 100 young boys the moment the game ended.

A month later, on October 12, 1926, tennis star Suzanne Lenglen of France was in Toronto. Lenglen was the Serena Williams of her day. Not only was she the world’s most dominant female tennis player, she helped to change tennis fashions and was a hard-nosed businesswoman. In an era when tennis was strictly amateur, she was the first to become a professional. In fact, that’s what brought her to Toronto. It was her second stop on a pro exhibition tour across North America that had begun at Madison Square Garden in New York two nights before.

Lenglen’s star power had made tennis a popular spectator sport, and while I couldn’t find a specific attendance figure for her exhibition at Toronto’s Arena Gardens, stories note it was a large and particularly well-dressed crowd. Lenglen defeated American Mary Browne 6-0, 6-2 in a singles match, but she and her French partner Paul Feret were defeated by Browne and fellow Californian Harvey Snodgrass in mixed doubles.

Photo from the Toronto Star, October 13, 1926. Lenglen is wearing the head scarf.

Of particular note throughout her tour was the question of why Lenglen had turned pro – a widely criticized decision that saw the All-England Club at Wimbeldon (where she had won six championships in a seven-year span) revoke her honorary membership. Lenglen was up front about it, saying she did it for the money. She estimated that she’d made millions of francs for others while spending thousands of her own on entrance fees.

“I have worked as hard at my career as any man or woman has worked at any career. And in my whole lifetime I have not earned $5,000 – not one cent of that by my specialty, my life study – tennis…. I am twenty-seven and not wealthy – should I embark on any other career and leave the one for which I have what people call genius? Or should I smile at the prospect of actual poverty and continue to earn a fortune – for whom?

“Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rulings, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it make tennis more popular – or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register?”

Another professional pioneer was in Toronto the next month, on November 8, 1926, when Red Grange was in town to play football. Grange had been a star at the University of Illinois at a time when college football ruled the sport and the fledgling National Football League was barely an afterthought. Grange – known as “The Galloping Ghost” – changed all that with his decision to sign with the Chicago Bears in 1925. He drew huge crowds to NFL games that season, and as a barnstormer afterward, but when he got into a dispute with Bears owner George Halas, Grange and his agent C.C. Pyle (who also represented Suzanne Lenglen!) formed their own team and their own league the following year.

Red Grange on the left, an action shot of the game on the right.
From the Toronto Star, November 9, 1926.

Grange was playing with the New York Yankees of the American Football League when he came to Toronto for a league game against the Los Angeles Wildcats at Maple Leaf Stadium. Unlike the huge crowds he attracted in the United States, there were only about 10,000 to 12,000 fans at this game. After a scoreless first half, Grange scored on a 70-yard touchdown run and the Yankees went on to a 28-0 victory.

Legendary Toronto sportswriters W.A. Hewitt (father of Foster), Lou Marsh and Mike Rodden all covered the game. Given today’s NFL-envy among so many Toronto football fans, it’s interesting to note that these writers believed the Toronto crowd was unimpressed with the American rules. Too much passing; not enough running; and not enough kicking. (The game was called football, after all!) And where were the single points? Why didn’t the American players have to run back punts? Why wasn’t the ball turned over when the punting team downed it? Forward passing was not yet allowed in Canadian football, and the fans also wondered why it wasn’t a fumble when an incomplete pass hit the ground.

All in all, the Canadian fans (or, at least, the sportswriters) felt there were just too many rules in American football. And for his part, Grange – who attended a game between Balmy Beach and the Hamilton Tigers at Varsity Stadium earlier in the day – liked all the punting and the running … but he thought the Canadian game was too rough!

I Love A Parade

Well, after 108 years of waiting, Cubs fans couldn’t have asked for a much nicer day for a parade last Friday. They say there was a total of 5 million people who lined the streets or were on hand for the “Cub-stock” rally at Grant Park.


According to Major League Baseball’s web site, it was the seventh-largest gathering of human beings in world history… and the largest ever in the Western Hemisphere.

  1. Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, India, 2013 (30 million)
  2. Arba’een festival, Iraq, 2014 (17 million)
  3. Funeral of C.N. Annadurai, India, 1969 (15 million)
  4. Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, 1989 (10 million)
  5. Pope Francis in the Philippines, 2015 (6 million)
  6. World Youth Day, 1995 (5 million)
  7. Cubs World Series parade (5 million)
  8. Funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1970 (5 million)
  9. Rod Stewart concert, Brazil, 1994 (3.5 million)
  10. Hajj pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2012 (3 million)

Since the parade, Cubs players have been to Disney World, appeared on Saturday Night Live, and taken the World Series Trophy to a Blackhawks game. None of them, however, have attempted to duplicate the old Blackhawks’ celebratory feat of rolling a star player through the downtown business area in a wheelbarrow.

Hawks Clips

Not only did Roger Jenkins do this with goalie Chuck Gardiner in 1934,

Hawks Pic

He did it again with Mike Karakas in 1938.

But it seems that this odd wheelbarrow tradition dates back nearly as far as the Cubs’ last World Series win in 1908, as it may well have begun with hockey’s Quebec Bulldogs in 1912 – a story that appears in a couple of my children’s books and which I often tell when I’m visiting classrooms.


Tuning In Over Time

Game Seven of the World Series. As classic phrases go, it doesn’t get much better than that! I don’t really have a favorite in this one, but it’s hard not to be rooting for the Cubs. Still, if they do win it, it’ll certainly be tough not to feel bad for fans in Cleveland.

These fans in Cleveland are reacting to the game played in Chicago.

The Indians drew more than 67,000 fans to Progressive Field for games three, four and five of the series … which were played at Wrigley Field in Chicago! These fans paid $5 for a ticket (proceeds going to local charities) to watch the game on the giant video board. This has become something of a thing in recent years, but fans have been gathering to follow their teams on the road like this for more than a century!

When the Winnipeg Victorias hockey team traveled to Montreal to play their Victorias for the Stanley Cup in February of 1896, telegraph wires were run to local hotels so that Winnipeg fans could receive play-by-play updates during the game. Soon, fans all across Canada were showing up at train stations or outside of newspaper offices to “listen in” on these telegraphed reports. As early as 1907, fans gathered inside the rink in Kenora, Ontario, to receive updates from Montreal as the Thistles battled the Wanderers for the Stanley Cup.

Fans gather in the street to follow the World Series.

Baseball has similar traditions, with a history of elaborate electronic scoreboard devices set up in American cities to follow the action of the World Series. Often, these devices drew big crowds in the streets outside of newspaper offices, but there were also set ups in theaters, armories, and other reception halls.

Ads in the New York Times in 1915.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find it amazing how much the Gameday display on the web site for Major League Baseball…


looks like one of those old-fashion scoreboard machines…


My favorite of these old-time devices is something call the Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator. It was like a giant arcade game which used mechanical men to re-enact each play in a game as it was received via telegraph. For more on this one, you can see a story I wrote a few years ago for the Society for American Baseball Research.

Manikin Field
The Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator, circa 1913.

Details of the Manikins from Thomas Jackson’s patent application.

And during the 1926 Junior World Series when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Louisville Colonels, fans in Louisville had a unique way of following the action when their team was in Toronto.

From The Globe in Toronto, October 5, 1926.

So, as it so often seems to be, the more things change, they more they stay the same!