Category Archives: Personal

Marathon Men … and Kids Too

We’re coming up on the anniversary (although the 81st is a little inelegant) of the longest game in NHL history. At 8:30 pm on the evening of March 24, 1936, the Montreal Maroons and the Detroit Red Wings faced off at the Montreal Forum. There wouldn’t be a winner (there wouldn’t even be a goal!) until almost 2:30 am the following morning. Nearly six full hours of hockey were played that night; 176:30 by the game clock, with 116:30 of that coming during six overtime periods. The series was a best-three-of-five, but the Maroons and Red Wings played nearly three full games on that evening alone!

In Montreal, the defending Stanley Cup champion Maroons were favoured to defeat the Red Wings and go on to win the Stanley Cup again. Not surprisingly, Detroit coach and GM Jack Adams felt otherwise. “We were the best team over the regular season and proved it by getting more points than any other club in either [division],” said Adams. “The playoffs will merely confirm this fact. We have the best team Detroit ever had and this year we should be good enough to win the Cup.

Maroons
Ad in the Montreal Gazette, March 24, 1936.

It would turn out that Adams was right, but in truth, the Maroons and Detroit were very evenly matched. The teams had nearly identical records (Detroit was 24-16-8; Maroons 22-16-10) and fairly comparable scoring statistics. Still, nobody could have predicted what happened in game one. Detroit goalie Normie Smith turned aside all 90 shots he faced. His Red Wings teammates managed only 68 shots on the Maroons’ Lorne Chabot (some sources say 67), but Mud Bruneteau fired the one that mattered. As Elmer Ferguson wrote in the Montreal Herald the next day:

At twenty-five minutes past two this morning, a bushy-haired blonde veteran of hockey, Hector Kilrea, a sturdy, scarlet-clad form wearing the white emblem of Detroit Red Wings, went pounding tirelessly down the battle-scarred, deep-cut Forum ice, trying to pilot a puck that was bobbling crazily over the rough trail, almost out of control.

It looked like another of the endless unfinished plays – when suddenly, in shot the slim form of a player, who through this long, weary tide of battle that ebbed and flowed had been almost unnoticed. He swung his stick at the bobbling puck, the little black disc straightened away, shot over the foot of Lorne Chabot, bit deeply into the twine of the Montreal Maroon cage. And so Modere Bruneteau, clerk in a Winnipeg grain office, leaped to fame as the player who ended the longest game on professional hockey record.

Bruneteau
Story segment and advertisement from the Montreal Gazette, March 25, 1936.

But as of a few days ago, the game between the Maroons and Red Wings has lost its distinction as the longest in professional hockey history. Norwegian pro teams Storhamar Dragons and Sparta Warriors faced off in Hamar, Norway, at 6 pm on March 12 and didn’t have a winner until 2:32 am on Monday the 13th. After eight-and-a-half hours of hockey – 217:42 on the game clock – Joakim Jensen scored to give the Dragons a 2-1 victory in eight overtime periods. The win gave Storhamar a 3-2 lead in the series, but Sparta bounced back to take the series in seven.

Norway
Screen shots of the winning goal and celebration from Storhamar’s 2-1 overtime victory.

Still, as marathon hockey games go, the Maroons and Red Wings and Storhamar and Sparta have nothing on the gang of kids I grew up with on Argonne Crescent.

Kids
North York Mirror clips from Zweig family photo album. (That’s me inside the oval.)

Despite what the caption on the photo says – we got mentioned on the radio too – our goal was not to raise money for charity (although a few relatives did donate to the United Jewish Appeal in honour of our game). We wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records!

The story that accompanies the photo says that we’d been told the record for playing road hockey was 8 hours. I do remember that we thought it was … but I have no idea who told us, or why we believed it! As I recall, a few weeks later, there was a story about a group of college kids that played ball hockey in a gym for about 100 hours. But, hey, they had squads of players coming and going throughout those four days. We were just nine kids aged 7 to 11 who all had to go to school the next day.

We made it through 12 straight hours. Kept score and everything. The white team, including my brothers David and Jonathan, our cousin Bobby Freedman, Benji Rusonik and Jeffrey Kirsh, beat the Blue team of me, Alan Rusonik, Joel Kirsh and Howard Hamat 250-228.

As my brother Jonathan once said, “at least we didn’t fall asleep like Bobby and Cindy Brady trying to break the teeter-totter record … and if you look in the Guinness Book of Records you’ll find us there – under dumbest kids who ever thought they’d break a record.”

Rock and a Hard Place…

Right up front, let me say that I hope Tim Raines makes it on Wednesday when this year’s election results for the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced. All the early indications are that in his tenth and final year on the ballot (players used to get 15 years, but that’s no longer the case), Raines will finally top the 75 percent of votes needed for induction.

It’s a strange thing. After waiting the required five years to qualify for the Hall of Fame ballot, what suddenly makes a player worthy after being forced to wait another 10 years? Many are saying it’s a triumph of the new voting rules that have phased out older sportswriters who are no longer actively covering the game. The younger writers are more open to modern statistical interpretations.

Expos
Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, Tim Raines and Al Oliver at the 1982
All-Star Game in Montreal. Raines was only 5’8″ and 160 pounds, but his
solid physique earned him the nickname “Rock” at an Expos rookie camp.

For a player like Tim Raines, who didn’t reach the big milestones such as 3,000 hits, younger voters are more likely to be impressed by the fact that when Raines’ hit total of 2,605 is combined with his 1,330 walks, he actually reached base more often (3,935 to 3,931) than eight-time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn. (Gwynn’s lifetime batting average was .338 to Raines’ .294, but his on-base percentage is .388 to Raines’ .385) . And though Raines’ career total of 808 steals is well behind all-time leader Rickey Henderson’s 1,406, the fact that Raines was caught only 146 times to Henderson’s 335 means Raines’ success rate of 84.7 percent is better than Henderson’s (80.8). It’s also better than the only other players from the 20th Century who had more steals than Raines: Lou Brock (938 / 75.3%) and Ty Cobb (897 / incomplete data).

In the New York Post recently, baseball writer and Hall of Fame voter Ken Davidoff said, “Raines’ admittance, if it happens, would serve as a triumph of facts and statistics over emotions and memories.” But, as Richard Griffin in the Toronto Star has written (and I’m paraphrasing), “if all you did was feed the numbers into a computer, it would be easy to decide who makes it in.” Obviously, statistics play a huge part in this, but I, for one, would hate to see memory discounted entirely.

1981

For example, I know that Jack Morris didn’t put up the career numbers of recent Hall of Fame pitching inductees like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But I watched him pitch his whole career; hating him as a Tiger, impressed by his one year as a Twin, and then amazed by his 1992 season in Toronto. Yes, he had a 4.04 ERA that year, but he was every bit as good as his 21-6 record indicates. When he needed to shut you down, he did. His complete-game, four-hitter 4-0 win over Boston on June 11, 1992, when he outpitched Roger Clemens (and yes, I remember it well … but I had to look up the date!) was a masterpiece. Though he never received more than 67 percent of the vote in his 15 years on the ballot between 2000 and 2014, for me, Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer.

As for Tim Raines, my thoughts are this… In the first 13 years of his career (basically 11 full seasons) with the Expos, he was definitely a Hall of Fame-calibre player. He was the kind of guy, like Roberto Alomar, that when he was at the plate, you expected something good to happen. But I’m not sure fans of the teams he spent his final 10 years with (mainly the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees) felt the same way. Sure, he was a good teammate and a good role player, but as a Blue Jays fan in those years, I don’t recall having any fear of him coming to the plate like the excitement I’d felt when he was batting for the Expos … although he did put up some pretty good numbers against Toronto in the 1993 American League Championship Series.

1982

All in all, I’d say for Tim Raines the good years outweigh the mediocre ones, but this has to be a big reason why his candidacy has gone right down to the wire. Another reason, so I’ve read, is that some writers have refused to vote for him because of his cocaine suspension. To me, that’s ridiculous. How can you hold it against someone who served his time, kicked the habit, and never relapsed?

Which brings us to Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others of the steroid era. If I had a vote, I’d vote for them.

Do I wish there was no such thing as drugs in sports? Yes. Still, I think the world has been pretty hypocritical about performance enhancing drugs. Athletes have been using whatever they could to get an advantage for a very long time. Caffeine to get up; nicotine to calm down; oxygen; cold medications; amphetamines. What is it that makes a guy a hero for taking a shot of cortisone and playing through the pain versus a guy taking a shot of something else?

1983

Yes, I know it’s illegal to use one without a prescription. So, that’s where we draw the line? But what makes something a medical miracle and something else an abomination? Why isn’t it cheating to take a tendon from a cadaver, or another part of your own body, and sew it into a pitcher’s elbow? What if doctors could figure out a way to do the same thing with muscles? Would THAT be cheating? We certainly don’t say pitchers can’t have Tommy John surgery because is wasn’t available in the old days. We don’t say today’s hockey players can’t have their knees scoped because they didn’t have that medical advancement in Bobby Orr’s day.

We’re pretty quick to jump on professional athletes who we perceive as not trying hard enough. But we seem to be even harder on the athletes who felt they had to take drugs to be the best they could be. What if Bobby Orr could have taken a shot of something and it saved his career? Would we look back on it as cheating … or would we see it as one of the greatest athletes of all time doing whatever it took to stay at the top of his game?

Reggie and Me…

I’m sure I’ll get into the World Cup of Hockey when it starts up for real in a few days. But September is for baseball and pennant races! Of course I wish that the Blue Jays were doing better than 3-and-8 this month, but I’m trying to remember that for years (decades!) before last season, all I wanted was meaningful games in September. And, well, we’ve certainly got that now.

I was at the Blue Jays-Red Sox game on Saturday (the good one, that we won 3-2) with my two brothers and my nephew. Jorey is 13 now, and pretty much exactly like his father and uncles were at that age. At one point during the game, he wondered if any of us knew who was likely to be the next player to reach 3,000 career hits early next season. We didn’t.

Us

Once upon a time, I’m sure I would have known that immediately. These days, of course, I could look it up with a few taps and swipes on my phone (which I’ve since done – though on my laptop). It’s funny how, now that it’s so easy to know this stuff if you want to, I don’t know it anymore. Back in the old days, when I had to study the all-time lists in the annual preseason Street & Smith’s Baseball Magazine and then, basically, keep it in my head all season, I pretty much did. Now I don’t.

So, any idea who, as of last night’s game, got his 2,926th hit (and 443 home run, by the way)? I’ll put the answer in at the bottom of this story … and I’ll be curious to hear from anybody who can tell me they honestly knew it without looking it up!

Jorey also asked us who, in 40 seasons as Blue Jays fans, is the greatest player we’ve ever seen. We threw out a lot of names, and then finally decided it was probably Ken Griffey Jr. But good as he was, Griffey never really won anything. So I was wondering if, maybe, given all he did on the largest stage, the greatest player was Reggie Jackson. All those “Mr. October” moments definitely made an impression on me when I was Jorey’s age.

That being said, I never liked Reggie Jackson. (I know I’m not alone there.) He was just too pompous and arrogant. But I do have one good Reggie Jackson story from my days on the Blue Jays ground crew.

During the early summer of 1983, when the Jays were first becoming contenders, the California Angels were in town. On this Saturday (June 18), Jim Clancy had pitched seven strong innings but surrendered our tight, 3-2 lead when he gave up back-to-back doubles leading off the top of the eighth. Joey McLaughlin came in, put a couple more guys on, but got out of trouble. The Jays then took back the lead with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a two-run home run from Lloyd Moseby.

Me

But the Angels weren’t done. Bobby Grich led off the ninth with a homer and then, with two out, Rod Carew and Juan Beniquez singled, bringing Reggie Jackson to the plate. Bobby Cox went to the bullpen for a lefty – rookie Stan Clarke, who’d made his Major League debut just 11 days before. Clarke quickly jumped ahead 0-2.

“I wanted that situation bad,” Clarke told reporters after the game. “I wanted to strike him out. That’s all I wanted to do.”

In my memory, you could literally see Clarke shaking with the excitement of it. Almost laughing that he’d actually gotten Reggie Jackson to foul off a couple of pitches and was going to strike him out and save the game.

“I stepped back off the mound, and I told myself: ‘Relax and throw your best pitch.’ But it didn’t work out that way.”

Reggie slugged the next pitch for a three-run homer, and glared at Clarke as he rounded the bases. He’d seen the young lefty shaking too.

“I just wondered what he was doing when he was pounding his glove and jumping up and down after the first two strikes,” said Reggie after the game.

Globe

There was still the bottom of the ninth to come, but you just knew it was over. “The Blue Jays had no chance to recover,” wrote Allison Gordon in The Toronto Star. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Now it was me who was practically shaking, but with anger. Anybody who knows me (and especially those who knew me then) will have no trouble envisioning me stomping around flailing my arms, muttering, “Stupid Reggie! Stupid Blue Jays! Stupid Game! How Could They Blow It!” Which is what I was doing when I fell down the steep flight of stairs that was practically a ladder after taking down the flags from atop the press box a short time later. (I threw down the flags as I was slipping and managed to grab onto the railing and break my fall.)

Getting back to what is sort of the point of this story, because I knew all the stats in those days, I knew that Reggie’s 476th career homer moved him past Stan Musial and Willie Stargell on the all-time list. So, the next day, when I happened to find myself standing beside the cage before the game while Reggie was awaiting his turn for batting practice, I said to him, “Congratulations on passing Stan and Willie, but I’m sure you understand why I’m mad at you.”

CNE Stadium
I was up there near the lower part of the red square when I fell …
but I would only have fallen as far as the bottom red line.

He didn’t say anything. Just nodded and smiled a self-satisfied smile. Stupid Reggie!

Oh, and the answer to Jorey’s question: It’s Adrian Beltre.

Your Guide to the NHL

The National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book will be shipped from the printer’s this week. That means it’ll be showing up in bookstores later this month. (If you’re a customer who prefers to purchase it directly from our office, it’s time to send in your email order or click this link to the dda.nhl eBay site.) If you’re a media person who receives The Guide from the NHL, or from Dan Diamond & Associates, you should be getting your copy soon.

National
The National Cover

This year marks the 85th edition of The Guide & Record Book, which is pretty impressive – especially when you consider that this season marks the NHL’s 99th anniversary. All of us are certainly hoping to have the opportunity next summer of working on The Guide for the NHL’s 100th anniversary. (For something of a “behind the scenes” story, please have a look at Howard Berger’s photo essay and interview with Dan Diamond published yesterday on Howard’s web site Between the Posts. Scroll down from his top story about the Leafs’ quiet summer.)

As I said in my own story about The Guide last year,  we can’t match the up-to-the-minute aspect of the many sports web sites out there these days, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any one site on the Internet that can give you all the information we provide as neatly and concisely as what’s contained in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. And I dare say you’ll have an even harder time finding one that does so with such attention to detail!

Rangers
New York Rangers custom cover

In my story last year, I provided a brief history of the NHL Guide and my role with it. I also wrote about how Connor McDavid’s father had helped me to make sure we had Connor’s minor hockey stats correct. Nothing quite as impressive as that this year, but as usual, there were some 40+ people I contacted to make sure we got the stats for some 150 or so new North American Draft choices as accurate as possible. Many of these people have helped out year after year. Others I encountered for the first time this summer.

Among my favourite stories this year involves Adam Vay. Vay wasn’t drafted, but was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild in May. He’s from Budapest, Hungary, and is currently the only Hungarian in The Guide. (The Edmonton Oilers drafted Tamas Groschl of Budapest – who was still playing in Europe last year, although he never made it to the NHL – back in 1999).

Calgary
Calgary Flames custom cover

Our International Editor and European expert, Igor Kuperman, was able to confirm the overseas stats for Vay that can be found on many web sites, but I wanted to track down the numbers for the two seasons he spent playing junior hockey – in Texas! – with the El Paso Rhinos of the Western States Hockey League. (Vay, by the way, is one of two players in the Guide to come out of the WSHL; the other being Jeremy Langlois – pronounced LANG-LOYS, not LAN-GWAH because he’s from Tempe, Arizona, not Canada. You’ve probably never heard of Langlois, but he spent the last three seasons in the San Jose Sharks’ system.)

Anyway, the Minnesota Wild did seem to have detailed numbers for Vay in their press release when they announced his signing – but nobody else did. I always like to be able to confirm such things and for whatever reason, a lot of the web sites that are great for minor and junior hockey stats aren’t very good for goalies. They seem to be set up mainly to track goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes, and often only show games and goals-against average for goalies. That was certainly the case with Vay, and the correct Pointstreak site that should have had the full numbers for the Western States Hockey League from past seasons was proving difficult to find.

LA Kings
Los Angeles Kings custom cover

It’s not always easy to get a hold of hockey people in the summer. That’s often a frustration in our job. So, I can’t say I was expecting much when, late on a Monday afternoon in early August, I called the office of the El Paso Rhinos. Much to my surprise, a young woman (who can’t possibly be as young as she sounded!) answered the phone. She’s the team’s Assistant Director of Hockey Operations, and was able to direct me to exactly where I needed to go to find Vay’s complete stats for his two seasons with the team. (The Wild had it right, by the way!)

“How does a kid from Budapest find his way to El Paso?” I asked.

“We have scouts all over Europe,” she said.

Who knew?!?

Adam Vay
Adam Vay in action with the El Paso Rhinos. For more on his story, click here.

Vay’s not likely to make the kind of impact in Minnesota this season that Connor McDavid has made in Edmonton. In fact, after spending last year back in Hungary, he may well find himself with the Wild’s American Hockey League farm club in Des Moines, Iowa, or even their ECHL team in Moline, Illinois. But I’ll certainly be watching to see if and when he makes it to the NHL!

Olympic Memories

I wasn’t that excited this year before the Olympics started. Probably all the negative reports about conditions in Rio. I don’t know. But then, once it got going, there I was, tuning in every night. I’m sure the strong Canadian performance had a lot to do with it. Penny Oleksiak and the rest of the swimmers; Andre De Grasse and the Canadian track team. But it wasn’t just the Canadians. Watching the young Brazilian duel with the French champion in men’s pole vault was amazingly exciting. Who knew?

Shatto MunichMy earliest Olympic memories are from Munich in 1972. I was still only eight years old; a little under two months away from my ninth birthday. I can’t really remember how much I saw. I was certainly aware of the hostage-taking and eventual murder of the Israeli athletes. And I knew Mark Spitz won seven gold medals. Pretty sure I saw at least one of his races. Probably on Channel 7, ABC from Buffalo, with Jim McKay hosting.

The Munich Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. My grandfather died that August 26. Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. All three of those incidents seem so separate and distinct to me. Funny how our memories work.

Shatto McNaughtonI used to have an infallible memory. Never forgot a thing! Not so any longer now that I’m on the other side of 50. I’m still pretty good, but there’s just way too much, “You know… That guy… With the thing… We saw him in that movie the other night…” (Strange thing is, when I heard that a Canadian won a gold medal in the high jump at Rio, I knew right away that the last Canadian to win it was Duncan McNaughton in 1932, but without looking it up, I honestly can’t tell you the name of this year’s guy!)

It’s funny what I remember about the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Yes, I know Nadia Comaneci was the star with those perfect 10s in gymnastics, but I’m not sure I ever saw her perform. Pretty sure I did see Greg Joy win silver in the high jump, but I may be mixing that up with how many times I’ve seen it since! Then again, I have very distinct memories of U.S. gold medalist Dwight Stones, so I must have been watching. I also remember Lasse Viren winning double gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters (which he had done previously in Munich). But what I remember best from Montreal in 1976 is Cindy Shatto in platform diving.

Shatto Head ShotI’m not sure why. It may be because she was the daughter of Toronto Argos legend Dick Shatto … but he had retired long before I started watching football. It could be because she was 19 and pretty and I was a 12-year-old boy. (Legendary Vancouver sportswriter Jim Taylor once wrote, “the Canadian diving championships caper was a bonanza for girl-watchers because when Cindy Shatto walked by, you had to book space to fall into the pool.”)

Shatto finished fifth and out of the medals in platform diving at Montreal in 1976. Our whole family was watching (or at least, my dad and I were) and I remember fans booing the judges as she fell out of second place in the second half of the competition. I expected to see a lot more about that when I looked up the stories from that night. The Gazette in Montreal said nothing about the controversy, quoting Shatto as saying: “I feel all right. Just about what I expected.”

Fifth
Montreal Gazette, July 26, 1976.

The Globe and Mail in Toronto had even less to say about it. It was almost enough to make me doubt my memories, but the Toronto Star told it the way I recall. “Shatto had been second at the half-way mark of the eight-dive contest,” wrote Len Coates, “but slipped back on some questionable decisions by judges, who were loudly booed by a crowd estimated at 5,000.

Some of it was good, some was terrible,” said Shatto of the judging. “Some dives I saw got way more than they deserved and some got way less… [but] fifth in the world isn’t too bad. I can’t complain.

Diving

Shatto was more open about her feelings in Paul Patton’s Where Are They Now Column in the Globe and Mail in 1987. Back in 1976, countries with divers in the finals also were allowed to have judges handling the scoring. “There was a lot of controversy about that and they changed the rules after,” Shatto said. “It was won by a Soviet but they say I should have gotten a bronze or a silver. Finishing fifth was a disappointment. I had worked so hard for the Olympics. I was peaking at the right time. This meant everything to me and I had put my whole life into diving.

I didn’t know it until I was writing this story, but Cindy Shatto died of lung cancer back in 2011. She was only 54.

Ben Johnson Owes Me $200

Very exciting to watch the Men’s 100-meter final on Sunday night. Nice to see Andre De Grasse come through on the big stage. Gotta like his chances for gold in 2020 … although a lot can happen in four years.

sportExciting as this race was, let’s face it. If you’re old enough to remember, it was nothing like the thrill of Friday night, September 23, 1988. Ben Johnson’s win over Carl Lewis seemed like one of those defining “where were you when” moments we’d always remember. I guess it still is – but not for the right reasons.

I watched the race late that night Friday night in the basement of a friend’s house. When I woke up on Saturday, still buzzing with the excitement of it, I wrote a story about the history of Canadian sprinters (Bobby Kerr, Percy Williams, Harry Jerome) that I then submitted to the Toronto Star.

There was no email in those days, and I wish I could remember for sure, but I must have driven down to the Toronto Star building later that day, or some time on Sunday, to deliver my story. What I do remember for certain was calling Gerry Hall, the Toronto Star sports editor, on Monday. Did he like the story? Was he interested?

Wins
Toronto Star stories on Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, 1988.

Yes, and yes! But then he told me that they’d just gotten word that someone in Seoul had tested positive for steroids. When it turned out to be Ben Johnson, well … let’s just say there was no longer any interest in my story.

Loses
Front page of the Toronto Star, September 27, 1988.

Killaloe Kids BookFest

On May 26 and 27, I visited the Ottawa Valley communities of Barry’s Bay, Wilno and Killaloe to take part in the very first Killaloe Kids BookFest. I had a great time, and it seemed like everyone else did too!

These pictures are all from my visit to Killaloe Public School, who were also hosting older grades from St. Andrews.

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If you’d like to bring me to your school or library, please click on the Speaking link at the top of this page for more information.

90 Years Ago This Week…

For a building I never set foot in (the team played its last game there shortly before I turned four) and can’t even remember seeing (it was torn down just a few months later), Maple Leaf Stadium has had a big impact on my life. It’s the place that helped create the love of sports in my mother and father (and my aunts, uncles, and older cousins) that’s been passed down to me and my brothers and on to a new generation.

Certainly my parents saw a lot more baseball games at Maple Leaf Stadium than they ever saw hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens. I know my father’s childhood heroes were Teeder Kennedy and Max Bentley, but he was a big baseball fan too. And my mother LOVED the baseball Maple Leafs (in particular Ed Stevens during the mid 1950s). She still loves baseball and she’s the reason we still have the season’s tickets to the Blue Jays we’ve had since the moment they went on sale before the first season in 1977.

Family
My father, grandfather, and aunt in the mid 1940s. I’ve been told this
is Maple Leaf Stadium (but I think it might be Varsity Stadium)
.

The Blue Jays are celebrating their 40th season this year, but it was 90 years ago this week that Maple Leaf Stadium opened. Previously (since 1897), the baseball Maple Leafs had played at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands. Babe Ruth hit his first pro home run there, but it wasn’t the easiest place to get to.

“After years of hope deferred,” wrote Toronto Globe Sports Editor Frederick Wilson on September 5, 1925, “the baseball fans of Toronto are to see their dreams come true, and next season the Leafs will play their games in a magnificent $300,000 stadium on the mainland at the foot of Bathurst Street.” The geographic center of the city at the time, explained Wilson, was “at a point on Harbord Street, about one hundred feet west of Bathurst,” so – forgive me if you don’t know Toronto geography! – the new site was certainly more accessible than the Island.

Globe
This was the front page of an 18-page supplement The Globe ran on April 28, 1926.

Work on the grounds at Bathurst and Fleet Street (very close to what is now the Tip Top Tailor lofts near the Canadian National Exhibition grounds) began in October of 1925, and construction on the stadium began in earnest on December 2. Though it wouldn’t be completely finished at the time, Opening Day was scheduled for April 28, 1926, after the team had spent the first two weeks of the season on the road.

Sadly, it seems, the weather has not been very cooperative for the opening of Toronto baseball stadiums. The Blue Jays played at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977, despite snow and freezing temperatures, and while the elements weren’t a factor in the first game at SkyDome on June 5, 1989, it was pouring rain during the official opening gala two nights earlier when organizers insisted on opening the roof anyway!

Postcard
Wikipedia claims this photo is in the public domain!
Credit is to the Bibliotheque et Archives nationals du Quebec, P547,S1,SS1,SSS8,D1.

Many dignitaries were in Toronto for the 1926 opener, including baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was given a pregame tour of the facility. “Absolutely nothing forgotten over overlooked,” Frederick Wilson quoted him as saying. “[It’s] as near perfection as it is possible to have a baseball park.” But unlike the SkyDome/Rogers Centre, it didn’t have a roof! Cold temperatures and heavy rains postponed the opener.

Torontonians of a certain age will recall Joe Crysdale on the radio, broadcasting the home games from Maple Leaf Stadium and re-creating them with telegraphed reports and sound effects when the team was on the road. For the opener in 1926, Foster Hewitt was set to call the game on Toronto Star radio station CFCA. It’s unclear whether he was there or not a day later, on April 29, 1926, when they got the game in despite a constant drizzle. Only 12,781 fans were on hand as the Maple Leafs fell behind Reading 5-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Those who stuck around where rewarded when Toronto rallied for five runs to tie the score, and then won the game 6-5 on a squeeze play in the bottom of the tenth. (The game, by the way, was complete in 2 hours and 15 minutes!)

Cartoon
From The Globe , Toronto, April 30, 1926.

The come-from-behind victory was a good omen. Baltimore had won the International League pennant every year from 1919 to 1925, but in 1926, Toronto had a record of 109-57 to take the league title. They then swept five straight games from Louisville of the American Association to win the best-of-nine Junior World Series. (Oh, and the weather was much nicer for the opener in 1927, and a large crowd was on hand to honor the champions, as this newsreel film shows.)

When it was built in 1925-26, state-of-the-art Maple Leaf Stadium was constructed with an eye towards housing a future Major League team. By the 1960s, Jack Kent Cooke – who then owned the baseball Maple Leafs – felt a brand new park was needed to attract the Majors, but he couldn’t convince City Council to cover the costs. The end was near. Attendance was awful despite championship seasons in 1965 and 1966, and the team was sold and transferred to Louisville after the 1967 season. The Stadium was torn down in the spring of 1968. Only the memories remain – even for those of us who inherited them.

Gut-Check Time…

My recent adventure (as some of you know) began on Friday night, February 26, with an apparently simple case of minor stomach flu. Over the weekend, things got worse. By 7:30 on Monday evening (Feb. 29), Barbara and I made our second trip to the emergency room. This time, a small obstruction was found in my lower abdomen and I was admitted to hospital. Further tests on Tuesday pinpointed a tangle in my small intestine. When the one possible “non-invasive” technique changed nothing, I was rushed into surgery around 11:00 am on Wednesday morning, March 2. Warned of several dire possibilities, when I awoke in the recovery room at exactly 12 noon, I knew it had gone as well as it possibly could. Even so, there were eight more days in hospital before I finally arrived home yesterday (March 10) at noon.

The usual causes for an abdominal obstruction are tumors, scars from prior surgery, or a lingering stomach injury. I have none of those. So, what happened is a mystery. But the take-away, for both Barbara and me, is that if something feels wrong, get it checked out! Untreated (and we were supposed to go away on a small vacation the day we went to the hospital instead), this could have killed me. I am tremendously grateful for the wonderful work of the doctors, nurses, and support staff of the hospital here in Owen Sound.

Weak as a kitten, and very tired, I’ll mostly be taking it easy for the next little while. So stories might appear a little less frequently, or be a lot more “show” and a little less “tell” for a couple of weeks. Still, like Maurice Richard recovered from his charley horse in 1951, I’m back in the saddle again!

Richard cartoon