Category Archives: Personal

…it Happens

Though I’ve mostly enjoyed it (and managed to do pretty well for myself), writing books can be a very strange way to try and make a living. Remember how I was supposed to have two new books coming out this fall? (I’ve mentioned it here a time or two, I believe!) Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories and Engraved in History about the 1907 Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles. Remember those? Well, both books have now been postponed.

As Forrest Gump said while he was running across America (supposedly inspiring a somewhat ruder version on a bumper sticker), “…it Happens.”

The Kenora book was actually a tactical decision, and it’ll be just a short delay. With so many other hockey books due out this fall (as always), including new books about the Dawson City Stanley Cup challenge of 1905, and the history of pro hockey in Victoria from 1911 to 1926, publisher Rick Brignall thought it best to try and avoid this book getting lost in the crowd.

Obviously, this book is something of a niche interest, and the people in Kenora and Winnipeg and the scattering of really old-time hockey fans elsewhere who’ll (hopefully!) want to buy it will buy it whenever it comes out. So, it’s being pushed into late January of 2022, which will coincide with the 115th anniversary of Kenora’s Stanley Cup victory. But hey, if you were counting on Engraved in History as a present for the holidays, it is hoped it will be available for pre-order in November.

I’ll keep you posted.

As for True Stories … with the job shortages and interruption in the “chain of production” we keep hearing about in this not-quite-yet-post-COVID world, even though we met all of the deadlines on a very tight timeline, once the manuscript was sent to the printers, they told Firefly Books there was no way they could have it ready for November of 2021, and likely not until at least late January of 2022. Since this book was very much conceived as a gift book for your father/brother/uncle/grandpa at Christmas or Hanukkah, Firefly decided to hold it back until the fall of 2022.

It’s hardly the life-and-death issue so many other people have faced around the world for the past 18 months, so for someone who’s basically felt like he’s breezed through most of this Pandemic, it’s pretty hard to complain.

Besides, what can you do?

Even without COVID, publishing can be a strange industry. Remember, two years ago, when I wrote about J.T. Haxall kicking a 65-yard field goal back in 1882? At the time, I mentioned that I’d come across the story while working on a football book for National Geographic Kids. That book (It’s a Numbers Game! Football) was originally supposed to be published in the fall of 2020. Well, long before that — and completely unrelated to COVID — I was told that due to corporate restructuring at National Geographic, it was being bumped all the way to the spring of 2022!

So, over the past two years, this book has come back to me twice for updates from the 2019 and 2020 football seasons. Just yesterday it was returned to me one final time for my last notes and comments. (Sadly, the spring publishing date means there won’t be time for a final update after the current NFL season, which won’t end until about six weeks before this book should finally come out, but at least we’ll be able to add the record-breaking 66-yard field goal from this weekend.)

Again, what can you do?

At least I’ve been paid for the work on all three books (though I am still waiting for the final checks from Firefly) … and I do still have one new book that’s due in stores any day now. Hockey Hall of Fame Heroes: Scorers, Goalies and Defensemen is also from Firefly, and is the second edition (with updates and new players) of a book that was first published by them five years ago. If you’ve got a hockey fans around the ages of 9 to 12 years old, this would be a good one for them.

Speaking of younger hockey fans, right now I’m working on the fifth book in the Hockey Trivia For Kids series for Scholastic Canada. This one will also come out in the fall of 2022 but is due at the publisher this November 1 … a full 30 days earlier than any of the four previous books (which didn’t have to be delivered until mid December when I wrote the first one back in 2005). This time, COVID is the culprit again, with Scholastic worried about the chain-of-production delays brought about by the Pandemic.

What else can I say except, “… it Happens.”

Famous Jewish Sports Legends…

I haven’t posted anything since March. I’d been pretty busy until recently. In February, I started conversations with Firefly Books (for whom I’ve written several) about something new for their Hockey Hall of Fame series. They wanted something less stats-driven than most of their recent books … and they wanted it fast! So, in early March, I started writing and I delivered a lengthy manuscript at the end of April. It was quite the crunch.

The new book is called Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories. It’ll be out in November. And it’ll be a lot like the stories I post here. Some are actually re-writes of stories I’ve already posted. Many of the new ones would make great posts too … except it seems silly to “scoop” the book at this point. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this from me in the fall.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing about this story that’s so compelling I had to write it now, but I don’t like to stay away too long, and I thought it was sort of interesting since it demonstrates the twists and turns my research (I’m sure lots of people’s research!) often take. Also, I recently discovered that May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month in Canada. So, there’s that too.

Martin Rosenthal as he appeared in the “Silver Seven” Stanley Cup photo circa 1904.

I rarely write about anything Jewish — although the very first thing I ever had published was a story about shtetl life that I wrote in my grade six religious school class and was printed in the Temple Har Zion bulletin. And just last week, I said to a few different people that I think I care less about Jews in sports than many other Jewish sports fans. But, I do like history, so I’ve long been aware of Martin Rosenthal and his role as an executive with the Ottawa Hockey Club from about 1901 until 1918.

The Rosenthal family, I’m told by my colleague Irv Osterer of Ottawa, was a pioneering Ottawa Jewish family. Aaron Rosenthal, Martin’s father, was born in Germany circa 1835. Aaron’s wife, the former Bertha Lehman, was also German, born in 1850. According to Aaron’s obituary in 1909, he spent much of his young life in Australia, India, and other countries. Martin was born in 1873 in Kent, England. Genealogical records show the family arrived in Quebec City on June 21, 1874. After settling in Montreal, the Rosenthals came to Ottawa around 1878.

Aaron Rosenthal was a jeweller, and several of his sons followed him into the business. In addition to the Jewish causes Aaron and Bertha supported (or created) in Ottawa, the family was very sports-minded too. Martin and his older brothers, Harry and Samuel, all played hockey at a fairly high level. And the family business supplied club pins to many Ottawa sports organizations too. After Martin got involved in management with the hockey team soon to be known as the “Silver Seven,” tickets to games were often sold through the Rosenthal business, and the Stanley Cup was sometimes displayed in the store window. (The building still exists, as the Birks Building, in Ottawa’s downtown Sparks Street Mall.)

From the Ottawa Citizen on August 3, 1900.

In doing my brief research on Rosenthal, I discovered that Martin didn’t seem to be very Jewish by the end of his life. His children had married outside the faith, his funeral was handled by a non-Jewish funeral home, he was buried in the Beechwood cemetery … and the service was officiated by a reverend. His obviously non-Jewish funeral, in fact, caused me to wonder if maybe the Rosenthal family wasn’t Jewish, but only German, and launched me into my brief genealogical search.

Clearly, the Rosenthal family WAS Jewish. Aaron and Berth had very strong ties to Jewish life in Ottawa. But Martin definitely shared fewer and fewer of those ties over the years.

Martin Rosenthal’s parents from newspaper stories at the times of their deaths.

In the the Canadian censuses in 1881, 1891, and 1901, when Martin Rosenthal still lived with his parents, the family is recorded as “Hebrew” or “Jewish.” By 1911, he’s married and has started a family of his own. The listing is tricky to find because the name has been transcribed incorrectly, but Martin, his wife, Mary, and son, Lionel, are all listed as Jewish. In 1921, Martin, Mary, Lionel, a daughter named Phyllis, and another son named Malcolm, all have “Jewish” listed as their religion … but for everyone except Martin, it’s been crossed out.

Sections of the Rosenthal entry from the 1921 Canadian census.

When Mary died two years later in 1923 (at about 52 years of age), her funeral service was conducted by Reverend T.E. Holling of St. Paul’s Methodist church. So, were Mary Belle Rosenthal (nee Adams) and her children every really Jewish?

Maybe.

Probably.

But I don’t know.

The Marriage record of Martin Rosenthal and Mary Adams. Perhaps she took Ruth as her Hebrew name if she did actually convert? (Religious denominations for the bride aren’t filled out for any of the three women married by Solomon Jacobs on this page.)

As you can see above, Mary Adams married Martin Rosenthal on October 10, 1905. They were wed in Toronto, and the record shows the marriage was performed by Solomon Jacobs. Though that name meant nothing to me, I do know that even now, it’s hard to find a rabbi to perform the ceremony for a “mixed marriage.” Solomon Jacobs certainly sounded like a Jewish name. But was he a rabbi?

He most certainly was!

British-born, and a rabbi to the once-flourishing Jewish community in Jamaica for 15 years, Solomon Jacobs became the rabbi at Holy Blossom synagogue in Toronto in 1901 and served until his death in 1920.

Because Rabbi Jacobs spoke English so well (I suppose most other Toronto rabbis at the time were from Eastern Europe and probably spoke Yiddish as their first language), he was often called on when newspapers were looking for the Jewish perspective on issues in Toronto. He seems to have been quite liberal in his views, but was able to keep the peace between older, Orthodox members of Holy Blossom and the younger Toronto Jews who would later push the synagogue toward the Reform movement.

Rabbi Solomon Jacobs.

Rabbi Jacobs seems like a fascinating guy. (Google him if you care to!) Still, he doesn’t strike me as someone who would have performed the marriage of Martin Rosenthal and Mary Adams unless she had converted to Judaism. But I don’t know that.

Still, for me, the connection (albeit brief) of Martin Rosenthal to Holy Blossom was particularly interesting. My family has a very long affiliation with that synagogue. On my father’s side, my Zweig grandparents were deeply involved there for years and years, and on my mother’s side, several of my Freedman and Rosen aunts, uncles, and cousins, are still members to this day. My earliest Jewish life began at Holy Blossom with Rabbi Gunther Plaut and then Rabbi Michael Stroh, a friend of my parents who presided over some of my first “lifecycle” events at Holy Blossom before moving to Har Zion, where he later performed the ceremonies at my bar mitzvah, my wedding, my father’s funeral, and many other family events as well.

So, in a strange way (and even though he seems to have fallen much further from the faith than I ever have or likely will), all of this feels like it has given my a bit of a “six degrees of separation” connection to Martin Rosenthal, and therefore to the Ottawa Silver Seven … which is kind of neat for someone like me.

This is the new book that will be out in November. One of three I’ve got due in the fall!

(Oh, and the title of this story… It’s a bit of a joke based on the leaflet handed out to the old woman in the movie Airplane! when she asked if there was something light to read…)

My Friend Art

As with many writers, I haven’t gotten rich doing what I do. But, I have (mostly) been able to earn a living doing something I enjoy. There’s a lot to be said for that. And even if I haven’t exactly made a fortune during all these years, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Not surprisingly, most of the famous people I’ve met through my work have been athletes and media personalities. But it’s not just the famous people who are memorable.

Far from it.

As many of you known, I worked for 10 years on my biography, Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. Now, 10 years of working on a book is not exactly like 10 years of working in a coal mine! And it’s not as if I worked on it every day during those 10 years. But it was never very far from my mind. By publishing standards, the book was decidedly not a success … but I would never trade the friendships I made with the family of Art Ross.

Art Ross III — grandson of the hockey legend, and my good friend — died last week.

(Because of the times we’re living in, I guess I need to say that COVID-19 was not a factor.)

It was more by good luck than good management, but it was
perfectly fitting that Art received the very first copy of the book.

My father died several years before I met Art, and though he was never very comfortable with the idea the few times I’d mentioned it, he became a sort of father-figure to me. Especially after leaving Toronto for Owen Sound. In addition to sharing our research discoveries, I would often get in touch with Art just to say hello, or to moan about flooded basements, or roof repairs — the things about home ownership that always terrified me!

Not that I expected him to do anything about it, but his calming manner always helped.

I was never sure if Art’s discomfort with the father-figure idea was simply because he looked at us more as contemporaries, trying to figure out the stories in his family on the ice and off. Or if it was because of his strained relationship he’d had with his father, and his estrangement from his own son, which only ended a couple of years ago. (It’s a very odd thing that there have been at least five generations of father-son fallouts in the Ross family, going all the way back to the father of the “hockey” Art Ross; and probably extending to a sixth generation with “hockey” Art’s own father and grandfather.)

The young man in the photo is “My” Art. He is seated beside his grandfather,
Art Ross. Standing behind him is his Uncle John, Art Ross’s other son.

“My” Art Ross is how I often refer to Art when speaking about him with others. That was to differentiate him from his grandfather, Arthur Howey Ross, the hockey legend I wrote about, and from “My” Art’s own father, Arthur Stuart Ross. (“My” Art is, technically, Arthur Stuart Ross Jr.) He was actually the second family member I was in touch with when I first thought about writing my book back in 2005.

Among the very first people I had mentioned my idea to was Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though he never acts like it, I’ve often heard that Phil knows EVERYONE. He told me that one of Art Ross’s granddaughters had introduced herself when she had been to the Hall a few years before, and that he had an email address for her. I wrote to Victoria Ross on September 28, 2005. When she wrote back a few days later, she said that she would love to talk … and that she would also forward my email on to her brother.

When Victoria and I spoke on the phone for the first time on October 20, 2005, she mentioned that her brother was the family genealogist and the one I should really be talking to. Art and I were in touch by email a few days later. And after that … boy, did we talk!

Me, enjoying an old family scrapbook on a visit to Art and Kathy in Tennessee.

Art and I were probably in contact every few days, often many times a day, until the book was published 10 years later. That was more than five years ago now, and really, it was only the confusion and memory issues brought on by his increasing struggles with Parkinson’s Disease the last two years that finally slowed us down.

In the beginning, I suppose we both wanted something from this relationship. I wanted the stories he was willing to share; he wanted those stories to be told. But we bonded almost immediately over, I suppose, a love of history, telling stories … and getting those stories right! (I’ve written before about the Art Ross birthday battles, and the old divorce hiding in the family tree.) Both Art and his wife, Kathy, and me and my late wife Barbara, love(d) history and books and movies. (Barbara and I may or may not have had more movies in our old collection, but Art and Kathy probably had even more books than we did!)

Over all those years, Art and I mainly “spoke” to each other via email; sometimes on the phone; and occasionally by text. (Texts especially when the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox, or the Leafs and Bruins were hooked up in the playoffs.) Barbara and I also visited Art and Kathy a few times at their homes in Tennessee and Maine. They hosted a lovely party for us, along with several other Ross relatives, in Maine when the book came out in 2015.

Art and Kathy and Me and Barbara at the party in Maine in 2015.

It’s strange for me to realize as I write this that in the 15+ years Art and I knew each other, we probably spent less than 15 days of that time together in person. I’ve only met Victoria Ross in person once, younger sister Valerie twice, and youngest sister MacKenzie only via Facebook and Messenger. Yet, I feel a closeness to all of them. Kathy too, of course.

My friendship with Art, unusual though it may seem, was very special to both of us.

I am greatly saddened by his loss.

(For anyone who feels so inclined, donations can be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.)

Wayne Gretzky and the Zweig Brothers…

Last week, a Wayne Gretzky hockey card sold at auction for $1.29 million. It was a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card and it set a new record as the first hockey card to sell for over $1 million. (O-Pee-Chee produced hockey cards in Canada, and the Canadian cards are more valuable than the identical American hockey cards of the time produced by Topps.) [NOTE: The record was smashed on May 27, 2021, when a Gretzky rookie card sold for $3.75 million.]

Apparently, this Gretzky card is one of only two from his 1979–80 NHL rookie season to have earned a “Gem Mint” rating from PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) out of the 5,700 or so that have been certified. In a story by Kevin McGran in the Toronto Star last week, Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas (who sold the card) said even brand new O-Pee-Chee cards in 1979 would have had difficulty earning a top rating due to the poor paper quality used, the wires used to cut the cards, and the issues they often had with poor centering.

The record-setting Gretzky card certainly looks to be well-centered, with no folds or chips in the paper. And, apparently the slightly jagged edge on the right side only adds to its authenticity in an age where it’s easier than ever to fake these cards.

So, hey, collectors! If you like jagged edges, check out this Gretzky rookie card that belongs to my brothers and me. (David was the biggest Gretzky fan in the family, so he has it at his house.)

The edges are definitely rough! There are some issues with the corners, and some of the blue edge has worn away, probably where somebody’s thumb handled it too often. The centering looks good, but the biggest issue to a collector would be the hole from the push-pin near the bottom.

And therein lies, (as Paul Harvey used to say), “the rest of the story.”

My brothers and I were, essentially, children of the 1970s. Children of the 1970s — like the generations before them — may have enjoyed collecting sports cards, but we didn’t preserve them for their future value. We played with them!

Farsies. Topsies. Knock-Downs. Scrambles. (Some times for fun, sometimes for Keepsies!)

The damage to the back of our card is even worse!

I don’t think any of the Zweig brothers ever put their cards in the spokes of their bikes, but David and I definitely had our own, special game for them. We would take the plastic nets off of our table-top hockey game and put them on the floor. We’d put a goalie card leaning up in front of each net, then we’d grab a card in each hand, get down on our hands and knees, and whack around a marble (and each other!) while trying to score on the other one’s goalie. Most of the hockey cards we have to this day still have creases that bend perfectly between four fingers and a thumb.

Our Gretzky card didn’t get that kind of treatment. Not because we were thinking of its future value, but because David and I were now 15 and 17 years old and less likely to crawl around on the floor body-checking each other.

David and I were both big Gretzky fans. As I wrote back in February, we’d been so since February of 1978 when our father took all three of us to see Gretzky play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds against the Toronto Marlboros at Maple Leaf Gardens. We followed him in the newspapers in the WHA in 1978–79 and, I saw Gretzky play for the Edmonton Oilers against the Maple Leafs at the Gardens the first two times they played there in 1979-80; once in November and once in March. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March 29 game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead, and it was amazing!

I’ve never been much of a collector, though I’ve held on to plenty of things!
When card collecting was huge in the 1990s, I bought these two 1910 hockey cards because of their connection to my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.
If I’m remembering correctly, I paid $250 for Lester Patrick and $225 for Cyclone Taylor.

I saw the first Gretzky game on November 21 with my friend Mike Baum, who we called “Guy” because he loved the Canadiens. (Gretzky had two goals and two assists in a 4-4 tie that night.) I saw the March game with Steve Rapp, and afterwards we waited around to get autographs. I got Gretzky’s on a scrap from a popcorn box. (I believe I got his linemates Brett Callighen and B.J MacDonald too.) Since David was the bigger fan, I gave him the autograph … and he pinned it to the bulletin board in his bedroom, along with the Gretzky card — because Gretzky was his favourite player.

So, there you go. The autograph hasn’t survived, but because of the pinhole damage (not to mention the damage from the tape on the back!) the value of our Gretzky rookie card drops from a potential $1.29 million to maybe $1.29 hundred.

If we’re lucky!

And, hey, if I don’t get around to posting anything again over the next 10 days or so, Happy Holidays to everyone and best wishes for 20201. (How could it not be a better year?!?)

NOTE: The autograph still exists too! David has kept it all these years. Says I promised I’d get it for him if he let me wear his Gretzky jersey to the game that night. (I remember that I wore it, but don’t remember the promise! He says “I couldn’t believe you came thru.”)

Sports Musings from Now and Then…

Normally — when it happens in April! — I always say of the start of the baseball season and the hockey playoffs, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I know there are lots of sports fans out there who are thrilled to be watching again … but this year, I’m not so sure.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this Toronto Life story about my Mom and baseball.)

Yes, I imagine I’ll be watching too (at least some of the Maple Leafs games and I’m already watching the Blue Jays — the Buffalo Wings?), but I’m still not convinced it’s a very good idea. Hockey and basketball at least seem theoretically safer in their “bubbles,” but all that travelling in baseball seems to be courting disaster. I hope not, and I hope everyone gets through this safely, but look at what’s already happening to the Miami Marlins.

But, thus endeth the sermon. Really, I’m just posting this today to have a little fun.

As some of you know (some of you who are my friends on Facebook), I’m working on a new book. It’s a history of the 1907 Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles for a writer/publisher friend in Kenora. Yes, it’s pretty old time hockey, but if you read it when it comes out in 2021 — and I hope you will — I think it’ll make a pretty compelling case that hockey was always as popular (and obsessive!) with its fans in its earliest days as it still is today.

But, not everything from the old days was the same!

Sportscasters these days seem to consider themselves pretty funny (or punny, anyway), but you don’t see a lot of satire like this anymore.

What follows below was written by someone named C.M. Kyle of Winnipeg on March 17, 1905 and printed in the Winnipeg Telegram three days later. For context, the Ottawa “Silver Seven” had just defeated the Rat Portage Thistles (Rat Portage would officially be renamed Kenora on May 11, 1905) in a rough, best-of-three challenge series. It was the third straight season that Ottawa was the Stanley Cup champion, but fans outside the Canadian capital were become increasingly unhappy with the team’s tough tactics.

The Silver Seven were the Broad Street Bullies (the Bank Street Bullies?) of their time. Their style of play could be downright scary. So, as one who’s not so much a fan of violence in hockey, I hereby present…

THE RAVEN (REVISED)
Once upon a midnight dreary,
as the Ottawas, weak and weary
Pondered over three great cup games
and from which they still felt sore;
Suddenly there came a tapping,
as of some one gently rapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping on their club-room door.
Merely this and nothing more.
Seeing that it was not heeded,
once again it was repeated,
Till at least it drew attention,
some one opened wide the door.
Entered then a stately raven,
plumage heavily snow-laden,
Who flapped his wings then took a perch
above their club-room door,
Saying sadly, “Never more.”
“What meanest thou” immediately
   arose the natural query,
“What brings thee here on this strange visit;
   ne’er heard of before?
With a sigh the raven turned,
   and pointing to their hockey colors,
Put his head beneath his wing,
   and whispered as he had before,
      Sadly, softly, “Never more.”
Dumb, astonished, scarcely breathing,
   wondering what could be the meaning,
Of those words so sadly uttered
   by the bird above the door;
Once again an explanation
   was demanded in vexation,
But the raven once again for
   loss of words, did as before,
      Mournfully saying “Never more.”
Losing patience, and at random
these mysterious words to fathom,
For the last time asked the question
of the bird above the door:
“Speak though coal-black imp of Satan,
or by he who sent the chasing,
’Round the country with the message
that shalt see the sun no more,
What mean these words, ‘Never more?’”
Seeing there was no evading
expectations now, the raven
Gazed bitingly upon the players
crowded ‘round the door,
And with grace and style enthralling,
but vehemence most appalling,
Said, “If you guys would play hockey
you’d be champions no more.”
Merely this, and nothing more.
Smarting from the raven’s satire,
but determined yet to know more,
From their strange yet noble visitor
who spoke in terms so sure,
Said “Pray tell us noble raven,
ere departing for they haven,
What makes thee think our Ottawas
will ne’er be champions more?
Why use these words, ‘Never more?’”
As if answering their query
that strange raven from his eyrie,
Said in tones so deep and solemn,
they cut right to the core,
“If you people would play hockey,
you would not now be so cocky,
For the first team you ran up against
would bang in twice the score.
Then you’d ne’er by champions more.”
(MORAL)
Ottawa has got some players,
but they’ve got a few man-slayers
On their team who think it noble,
their check’s face to cut and scar.
And until they are removed,
or until Father Time removes them,
Ottawa will hold the Stanley Cup
as they have done before,
But by hockey? — NEVER MORE!

And, hey, it that doesn’t do it for you, you can always check out The Simpsons version

Sports and Protests…

I’ve never been much for taking a stand. You know that story, “and when they came for me, there was no one left…” I’ve always thought that would be me. I’m not proud of it … but I know myself. These days, though, “Silence is Violence,” so here’s what I’d like to see in terms of sports protests.

First of all, despite all the plans now in place, I’m not convinced that any sports will (or should) start up right now. And if they do, it’s one thing for the Canadian government to say we’ll allow NHL players into Toronto (or Edmonton or Vancouver) because at least they’ll be sort of self-isolating. But, despite writing and commenting mostly about hockey, I’m a baseball fan above all else. A Blue Jays fan above all else. Still, I sure as hell hope the Canadian government won’t let the Blue Jays play at home, coming and going from the United States every three days to a week, and bringing in players from visiting American teams equally as often. That seems like madness to me. If Dunedin is unsafe (and I sure wouldn’t want to be in Florida right now), let the Blue Jays play out of Buffalo.

IF sports do resume, I hope that athletes will continue to protest. But if they do, here’s what I’d like to see. Please do not protest during the National Anthem. Not that I disagree with doing that, but by removing the National Anthem from the protests, you’d remove all the wrong-headed “they’re disrespecting the flag” nonsense. Don’t give them the chance.

Instead, when the referee or umpire brings the teams together for the opening kick-off, face-off, tip-off, or pitch, please take a knee then. On opening day, in each sport, perhaps take a knee for the 8-and-a-half minutes it took to murder George Floyd. The rest of the time, maybe a symbolic 30-seconds will do.

Stadiums will mostly be empty, but, if not, I bet there’d be a fair share of people booing and expressing “shut up and play” sentiments. Even if many people wouldn’t feel emboldened to speak out these days, I suspect plenty still feel that way. Even without the ability to say it, I’m sure there are too many who would like to see Black people kept in their place. I hope I’m wrong.

You may disagree with me if you’d like. Maybe my thoughts are naive. I won’t respond to comments on this story regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. If you agree with my thoughts on protesting, feel free to share this post. I’m not on Twitter, but if you are, and you agree, I’d be happy to have you Tweet this. But that’s up to you.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking…

Memories Play an Evel Trick

Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season in San Jose on Tuesday during the first game of the Maple Leafs’ three-game California road trip which continues tonight in Los Angeles. I’m not looking to jinx anything, but it seems pretty certain that he’ll become the first Toronto player to score 50 in a season since 1993–94, making him just the fourth in franchise history to do so. And, really, at this point, it would be disappointing if he’s not able to break Rick Vaive’s single-season record of 54 goals.

Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50 when he set the team record back in 1981–82. But seven seasons before that — and coming up on 45 years ago later this month — another player on another Toronto team became the city’s first pro athlete to reach the 50-goal plateau. I was there on March 25, 1975 when “Shotgun” Tom Simpson scored his 50th for the Toronto Toros. This was just going to be a short piece about that … but then I found something more.

Apparently, it was a tradition with Toros owner John Bassett to buy a new suit for a player if he scored four goals. Better than a new hat for three goals, I guess!

As I mentioned in my most recent story, the Toros and the WHA were a big part of my young hockey life. I do have many fond memories, but, it seems that as the years go by, they’re all starting to blend together!

Back in 2016, I posted a story here about Olympic memories. I wrote that the Munich Olympic Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. (The massacre of Israeli athletes occurred on September 5-6). My grandfather had died that August 26, and Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. I remember all of this, of course, but each event now seems so separate and distinct to me that it’s hard to believe they all happened within two weeks.

No tragedies in today’s story, but although I do remember that I was there when Tom Simpson scored his 50th goal, I really had no memory of all that went on. Turns out, Simpson entered the game against the Vancouver Blazers on that Tuesday night with 46 goals … and scored four to reach 50. He also added two assists for six points in Toronto’s 8-4 win. I don’t really recall any of that, but what really amazed me was that it happened on the same night as one of my other greatest Toros memories; the night that Evel Knievel went one-on-one against Les Binkley for ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

I do remember that Knievel scored a couple of cheap goals. And I think I remember him skating back to center ice after each of his attempts to talk things over with Frank Gifford of ABC. In my memory, they weren’t mic’ed up in a way that we could hear them, although I believe we did hear Frank Gifford introduce Evel so maybe we heard their conversations too. What I didn’t know until researching this story was that Global TV, who used to broadcast Toros games, wasn’t allowed to air this second-period intermission stunt because ABC had the exclusive rights to it. So maybe the conversations were ABC property as well?

Ads from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

Something else I remember about that night was that although we were told that Knievel had some hockey experience in his background, not everyone believed that. Maybe that was just my father being cynical and not a widespread belief, but that’s how I remember it. (Then again, my memories of that night are obviously not as sharp as I used to think!)

The picture on the left must have been taken the day before the game when Evel took to the ice at the George Bell Arena. Though he scored twice on his four shots, my memory of it is that he definitely looked a little less than graceful on skates!

In reading through the articles now from before the game, it was made pretty clear that Evel Knievel had played some competitive amateur hockey in his younger days … which other hockey researchers have pretty much confirmed over the years. (It’s interesting, now, to be able to read hockey stories about a young Bob Knievel in Montana newspapers online.) Knievel even claimed that Gordie Howe and the boxer Joe Louis were his sports idols.

Still, it definitely seems that Toronto sportswriters thought Knievel’s appearance at the Toros game was just a cheap publicity stunt … but it’s one of my best childhood hockey memories. So was being there when Tom Simpson became Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer. I just didn’t remember that both things happened on the very same night!

Evel Knievel’s hockey records from the Society for International Hockey Research.

10 Images from My Hockey Life

It’s one of those things I usually ignore. Facebook “challenges” to copy something, or list this, that or the other. But, this one intrigued me. The challenge was to post an image a day for 10 days — I always used more than one image! — that were memorable or meaningful to my hockey life, with zero explanations. Frankly, as a writer, the explanation is the best part. Based on how few likes and comments these images actually got on Facebook, this may be a waste of time … but, I figured, why not tell the stories? So, here we go.

Many of the images I might have chosen are in family albums at my mother’s condo in Toronto, so I didn’t have access to them here in Owen Sound. Also, my own pictures and albums are among the last things I have yet to get around to unpacking since my move, so I really only had access to images on my phone and computer, or that are accessible online. Still, these tell a pretty good story of my hockey life.

I was only eight years old in September of 1972. I honestly didn’t even know they played hockey in Russia before this series was announced. Of course I bought the hype we’d win the series in eight straight! Given the family I grew up in, I have no doubt I would have become a huge sports fan anyway, but after Paul Henderson’s goal in game eight, there was no doubt! And I must have flipped through Twenty-Seven Days in September a thousand times!

I was a sports fan, and already working as at least a psuedo-sportswriter when I got the idea to write Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada in the summer of 1990. I was unhappy in a job I used to love, and knowing myself and that I would NEVER write a book in my spare time, I quit my job to write this. I was only 26 years old. My father had recently quit dentistry – which he’d always hated – and when I said I wanted to take a year and move up to the cottage and write a book he said, “You won’t have too many more chances to do something like this.” Both my parents were very supportive. It’s no exaggeration to say my whole life changed because of this book. (I included the picture of Frank Patrick because he’s one of the real-life hockey characters in the book … and I love this cartoon!)

The Leafs book (which came out in 1977 when the team was still counting its age from the name change to Maple Leafs in 1927) was my first real introduction to the history of the team. That, and the old pictures that used to line the walls at Maple Leaf Gardens. The newspaper clipping is from after Toronto beat Montreal 9-2 on December 26, 1973. I was there with my brother David. (I think it was the second NHL game for both of us.) We went down together on the subway. I was 10 and he’d just turned 8 the day before. Imagine anyone letting their kids do that today?!?

It was hard to get tickets to see the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid. So, we went to a lot of Marlies games instead. And when the Toros moved from Varsity to the Gardens, my father got season’s tickets. (I definitely saw the Toros play at Varsity too, but I don’t think we got the tickets until the move.) I saw some amazing things at Toros games… Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield in the stands when they were being wooed for the Toronto Northmen (who became the Memphis Southmen) of the World Football League; Gordie Howe playing with Mark and Marty (I’d seen them all at Marlies games too when Gordie was only watching his kids instead of playing with them); Bobby Hull with the Winnipeg Jets; Jacques Plante with the Edmonton Oilers; and Evel Knievel taking shots at Les Binkley between periods for a segment on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Brian McFarlane has become a friend over the years I’ve worked in hockey. It’s an honour. This book of his — and his creation of Peter Puck! — is what really introduced me to hockey history. Buffalo Sabres goalie Roger Crozier ran a summer hockey school in Barrie, Ontario, near where our family has a cottage. David, Jonathan and I (along with our cousin Bob) all attended. For David and me in particularly, our first summer there (it was only for a week or two, actually) turned us from beginners with one year’s experience and little idea of what we were doing on the ice into pretty good hockey players. Well, I was pretty good. David was great!

When we went to Marlies games as kids, we usually bought tickets in the greens for $1. In February of 1978, our dad took all three of us to see Wayne Gretzky of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I remember Gretzky scoring a nice goal … but what I remember most of all was that our father bought us four seats in the golds! It cost $16. That seemed like a fortune! David and I followed Wayne Gretzky very closely after that. I saw him play his first two games against the Leafs at the Gardens in November of 1979 and March of 1980. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead. It was amazing!

I worked with Dan Diamond & Associates on the NHL Guide & Record Book and many other publications from 1996 to 2018. If I have a “name” at all in hockey, it’s because of my time there. I was brought in during the summer of 1996 because Dan had more projects on the go than they’d ever had before. Writing sidebars for the Hockey Hall of Fame Book was the first work I ever did for Dan. We also did the media guide for the first World Cup of Hockey that summer. I should probably have posted the covers of Total Hockey, which kind of made us all, but these were my first.

Steve Yzerman starred for the Peterborough Petes in his last year of Junior hockey when I was in my first year at Trent University. I never actually saw him play, but I heard his name on the radio all the time and followed him for his whole career because of that. But these images don’t actually have much to do with Yzerman or the Red Wings. My father died in May of 1997. A month later, my brothers and my mother were all at our house with me and Barbara to watch the Red Wings (we have cousins from Detroit) finish off their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Though I’ve written a couple of novels and a few books for “grown ups” (saying adult books always sounds pornographic or something!), I guess I’ve made much of whatever my reputation is as a children’s author. I can’t complain. (Although I sometimes do!) It’s been a good gig.

It took me 10 years to do the work involving in writing my biography of Art Ross, which came out in 2015. Believe me, it did NOT pay off financially, but the friends that Barbara and I made in the Ross family are worth more than money. It was a book I really wanted to write … and the launch party was a lot of fun. It wasn’t very long ago, but so much has changed since then.

Happy (History) Holidays

Thanks to everyone, but especially to Lynn and to my family, who helped me through this past year. Lots to adjust to, but things are good. I know that many of you have experienced losses, or health issues, or other changes, in your own lives this year. I wish you all strength and hope that you (like me) have the love and support you need.

So, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or anything else you celebrate at this season.
All the best to everyone in the New Year. (It’s going to be 2020! How did that happen?)

Montreal Gazette, December 25, 1913.
New York Daily News, December 25, 1926.
The American Israelite (Cincinnati, Ohio), December 30, 1948.
The Canarsie Courier (Brooklyn, New York), December 24, 1959.
Ottawa Journal, December 14, 1921.
Los Angeles Evening Express, December 15, 1928.

Working Hard or…

My web site recently turned five years old. I posted my first story on October 10, 2014. Seems hard to believe. The intention at the time was to promote my writing and to try and drum up more appearances for me at schools to talk about my kids books. It was NOT to help me work through my problems.

That said, a lot of you have only been reading my site since I started posting stories about Barbara and me. Even for those who’ve followed me since the beginning, I’ve certainly gotten more reaction from these personal stories than anything else … and it helped me. A lot. So, thank you. Still, I’m not one who really likes to talk about his feelings! When I had something to say (or something to work through) I wrote about it. But I haven’t felt the need for a while. I guess that’s good.

When my web site was first set up, I told people that I would use the News and Views section to “share some of the quirky sports history stories I come across during my research.” It was fun for me, so I pretty much shared something every week. But I haven’t had much cause to be poking through old hockey stories lately. Nor much inclination, either. The truth is, the only real lingering side effect that I can detect in myself after 14 months is that I don’t have much enthusiasm for work. That might be a function of aging as much as anything. I don’t know. But even when I’ve had work, and I’ve gotten into it – and expected that would make doing more work easier – I still wake up the next day thinking, “I have to do it again?!?”

Well, I may not like working, but I do like to eat … so early this past summer, I agreed to do a book about football for National Geographic Kids. (Mainly American football, but I slide in the occasional Canadian reference when I can.) The book will be very similar to many of the hockey books I’ve done in the past, but I have to admit it’s been kind of fun to be researching something different. (As it was several years ago when I did a soccer book for NGK.) This one’s going a little slower than I’d like, but I’ll still have it ready for them on deadline at the end of this month. And, recently, while working on it, I came across the kind of story that I love to dig into. So, I thought I’d share it.

J.T. Haxall as a young Princeton football player and elderly Baltimore banker.

The football book is part of a series of Sports by Numbers, so it needs to include as many numbers as it can. Math when possible, but statistical lists are more than acceptable. So, plenty of those. And when delving into the longest field goals in football history (NFL, CFL, NCAA, anything!), I stumbled across the fact that a man named John Triplett “Jerry” Haxall had kicked a 65-yard field goal for Princeton versus Yale … in 1882!

Given how large and heavy a football of that era would have been, this struck me as pretty much impossible! I had to know more.

Fortunately, Wikipedia has a short entry on Haxall. He was from a wealthy Virginia family and later went on to a long and successful career in banking in Baltimore. Not that Wikipedia tells you much about that. But it did have a reference to a story by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice on November 30, 1915 that proved a fine starting point.

As it turned out, on October 16, 1915, a player named Mark Payne at Dakota Wesleyan University had drop kicked a field goal from 63 yards out, breaking the 1898 drop-kick record of 62 yards by P.J. O’Dea of Wisconsin (both of which also strike me as impossible!) This put Haxall’s 65-yard place kick — which had been noted year in and year out in the Spalding Football Guide – back in the news. And (like me, now) there were people who doubted it.

Old-time kickers must have been pretty good!

Apparently, Grantland Rice asked to hear from anyone who’d been at the game and could testify to Haxall’s record. He got a response from James O. Lincoln, Yale class of 1884. “Dear Sir,” wrote Lincoln. “Luther Price, a newspaper man whom I know well, is correct. Haxall kicked that goal against Yale in 1882. I saw him perform the feat. Although, of course, the spectators did not measure the distance, it was beyond the midfield, and was announced at the time as being sixty-five yards.”

This satisfied Grantland Rice … but I was still skeptical. So, I began looking for contemporary accounts of the game played at New York City’s old Polo Grounds. In reporting on it, the Boston Globe on December 1, 1882, said only that, “This was the greatest kick ever seen.” The New York Sun said, “It was a long distance, and nobody believed that he could make it.” However, the Sun also said the ball “was 115 feet from the goal.” That’s only 38 yards or so, and, apparently, it was this account that led people in 1915 to wonder. But the New York Times (who wrote Haxall’s name as Hoxall) had said in its game report, “He was over 65 yards from Yale’s goal,” and the Hartford Courant (which spelled his name as Hachall) said he “sent the ball 66 yards across the field to the goal.”

But I was still curious, so I kept digging…

This illustration appeared in various newspapers in November of 1915.

Next, I found a story from December 12, 1915, which quotes Parke H. Davis writing a few days before in the New York Herald. “Since I am the compiler of this record,” wrote Davis of his work for the Spalding Guide, “I beg the privilege of defending its accuracy… My authorities for fixing the distance of this field goal at sixty-five yards are the accounts in the Yale News, the periodicals at Princeton, and the testimony of several eyewitnesses of the kick.”

The Yale News of December 5, 1882, quoted by Davis, says that the Yale team knew to look out for Haxall, and that he was 65 yards from the Yale goal, “when he made a kick that would have disturbed the transit of Venus. Slowly, steadily the ball was blown onward by the wind over the heads of the breathless players to drop at last on the wrong side of the goal for Yale. And now pandemonium reigned among the yellow and black. It is said that this is the finest kick ever made. You should erect a bronze statue of Haxall, Princeton.”

As to the players Davis interviewed, many had gone on to be prominent business men. “The members of these football pioneers are strikingly clear as to the events of the game, he says. “While no one of them says positively that the goal was kicked down sixty-five yards, in the absence of any mark except the midfield mark, which was fifty-five yards distant from the goal [NOTE: American fields were not reduced to the 100-yard standard of today until 1912, while Canadian football fields have remained 110-yards long], all of these players, nevertheless, assert that the kick was ‘about sixty-five yards.’”

It’s interesting to note that the Princeton narration of the game says only that “Haxall kicked (a) magnificent goal from midfield among Princeton cheers.” Yet Davis then quotes a player from that game who’d become a well-known clergyman in New York … though he chooses not to mention him by name: “Haxall put the ball down for a place kick fully 65 yards from the goal line,” states the clergyman at the end of a lengthy recollection of the game, “and what is more he stood at least 15 yards towards the one side line from the center of the field, thereby not only making the kick more difficult but in reality making the kick longer than 65 yards. The ball sailed in the wind squarely between the posts.”

Not surprisingly, all the talk of his 33-year-old field goal record came to the attention of J. Triplett Haxall himself. He was then asked by a fellow Prinecton alum to give his account of the kick, which he did for the Princeton Alumni Weekly in mid December of 1915.

Haxall writes that he and Tommy Baker (apparently an uncle of U.S. hockey legend Hobey Baker) had practiced their kicking “for some time preceding the Yale game of 1882.” They discovered that having the holder place the ball practically perpendicular to the ground and then kicking it on the bottom end, “started it accurately revolving on its long axis and resulted in long distance being realized before it began to drop.” Haxall added, “why the tendency nowadays seems to be to kick the ball in its middle and not on its ends I have never been able to understand.” (I guess kickers eventually rediscovered Haxall’s technique.)

As for the big kick in the Yale game – which Princeton lost, by the way: “I have always understood the distance was as recorded by the officials who had such matters in hand. The claim lately advanced that, due to a typographical error, the distance should have been 35 yards and not 65 yards, I think all the writings of the time sufficiently refute.”

Haxall recalls, “the wind was blowing sufficiently to require testing its direction by tossing up a bunch of grass or something of the kind,” but states that his record kick, “was the result of quite long practice by Tommy Baker and myself.”

Following his death on June 5, 1939, an obituary in the Princeton Alumi Weekly from July 7, 1939 (which is quoted on Wikipedia), notes that Haxall had once remarked, “My epitaph will probably be:

J.T. Haxall
Kicked a football.
That’s all.

Well, he did get a larger writeup in the Baltimore Sun, but he wasn’t far off.

It still may not be 100 percent official, but if it wasn’t for that lengthy kick, who’d still be writing about John Triplett Haxall today?