Category Archives: Sports History

Season’s Greetings

From the Vancouver Daily World, on Tuesday, December 24, 1912…

Xmas 2017

Who knows how “Extra” becomes “Wuxtry”? And, personally – not to be sexist or racist in this day and age! – I wish All Good Sportsmen AND Sportswomen a Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hanukkah, or best wishes for any holiday you celebrate at this time of year.

Thank you to everyone who takes a few minutes once a week or so to read these stories, and especially to those who offer comments; either by email or Facebook, or directly on the site.

All the best to everyone in 2018.

Toronto as Title Town

Not that long ago, Toronto was being mocked as the worst sports city in North America. Well, in recent years we’ve had two exciting Blue Jays playoff appearances (though I fear we won’t see that again for a while), a resurgence of the Raptors and a rebirth of the Maple Leafs. And now, within a two-week span from November 26 to December 9, a Grey Cup championship by the Toronto Argos and an MLS Cup win by Toronto FC.


Once upon a time, titles in Toronto weren’t so rare. In fact, there was a time when it seemed like the Argos and Maple Leafs would never lose. In an eight-year span from 1945 to 1952, the Argos won the Grey Cup five times and the Leafs won the Stanley Cup five times. That’s got to have been a pretty wonderful time to have been a Toronto sports fan! During those eight years, there was never more than 18 months between championships, and often as few as six months:

  • April 22, 1945: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • December 1, 1945: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • November 3, 1946: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 19, 1947: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 29, 1947: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 14, 1948: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • April 16, 1949: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 25, 1950: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 21, 1951: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 29, 1952: Toronto wins Grey Cup

This was when my parents grew up. I know it made a big impact on my father, and I’m sure it’s a big reason why sports still runs so deep in my immediate family. I mean, there’s never really been another run like it in all of Canadian sports. Even when the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers were winning all those championships between 1978 and 1990 (and there were 11 in total – although it took them 13 years to do it) the only time they both won in the same calender year was 1987. Toronto did it in 1945 and 1947.


Montreal comes out on top in terms of twin NHL and CFL titles, although even with their 24 hockey championships dating back to 1916, the only years in which the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup and a Montreal football won the Grey Cup in the same season are 1931, 1944 and 1977. Ottawa almost joins the list of twin wins with Grey Cup victories in 1925 and 1926 and the Stanley Cup in 1927.

American cities have had their multiple champions too, but not very often. In 1927, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants football team were both champions, although the NFL did not have a championship game yet. In 1928, the New York Rangers and Yankees were both champs and in 1969 the New York Jets and New York Mets both won titles too. (The New York Knicks added an NBA title in 1970.) In Pittsburgh, Super Bowl championships by the Steelers in January of 1979 and 1980 bookended a World Series win by the Pirates in October of 1979. And way back in 1935, the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions won the World Series and the NFL championship within two months of each other. (Detroit’s Joe Louis was boxing’s Heavyweight Champion of the World at the time, and the Red Wings would add Stanley Cup titles in 1936 and 1937.)

In terms of timing, the ultimate back-to-back championships would be to win the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals in the same season, given that they have often wrapped up within a week or two of each other. No one city has ever accomplished that double feat. But in past years Toronto has crowned multiple hockey champions in a timeline often tighter than the 13 days between this year’s Argos and TFC titles. Have a look…

  • March 22, 1922: Toronto Granites win Allan Cup
    March 28, 1922: Toronto St. Pats win Stanley Cup
  • April 6, 1932: Toronto Nationals win Allan Cup
    April 9, 1932: Toronto Maple Leafs win Stanley Cup
  • April 22, 1945: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    April 23, 1945: St. Mikes wins Memorial Cup
  • April 19, 1947: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    April 22, 1947: St. Mikes wins Memorial Cup
  • April 15, 1964: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    May 9, 1964: Marlies win Memorial Cup
  • May 2, 1967: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    May 14, 1967: Marlies win Memorial Cup

Toronto doesn’t have a monopoly on this. Montreal has done it too, but not nearly as often.

  • March 30, 1930: Montreal AAA wins Allan Cup
    April 3, 1930: Montreal Canadiens win Stanley Cup
  • May 4, 1969: Montreal Canadiens win Stanley Cup
    May 5, 1969: Montreal Junior Canadians win Memorial Cup

Once again Ottawa comes pretty close, with the Senators clinching the Stanley Cup as champions of the Eastern Canada Hockey Association on March 3, 1909 and the Cliffsides being awarded the inaugural Allan Cup on March 6, 1909 only to lose it to Queen’s University in the first challenge match nine days later.

If anyone’s aware of any twin wins I’ve missed, please let me know!

Jack of All Trades Was a Master Too

I thought this story would be quick and easy. But I was wrong.

A week ago, on November 29, a statue of Jackie Robinson was unveiled at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. What makes this new statue different from others commemorating the man who broke modern baseball’s racial barrier is that this one honours Jackie Robinson’s contributions to football in Southern California where he grew up.

Jackie Robinson wearing the #55 he sported while starring at Pasadena Junior College.

Robinson was a four-sport star, excelling at football, baseball, basketball and track, at Pasadena Junior College in 1937 and 1938 and then at UCLA in 1939 and 1940. The stories I saw about the unveiling of the football statue mentioned that Robinson played many games at the Rose Bowl and that his 104-yard kickoff return there is still thought to be the longest touchdown run in the history of the storied stadium.

I thought it would be fun to find a newspaper clipping about that run and set out to hunt one down. Generally speaking, the many books and articles written about Robinson over the years seemed to agree that the play happened during the final game of Pasadena’s perfect 11-and-0 season in 1938.

Jackie Robinson and teammates with he Pasadena Junior College baseball team.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

Jackie Robinson was a remarkable athlete, and football may well have been his best sport. He played quarterback and safety at Pasadena Junior College and during that undefeated season in 1938 he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Older sources say he scored 17 touchdowns, but newer research claims he had 18. Robinson also threw seven touchdown passes, kicked one field goal and converted many of his team’s touchdowns too. In all, he scored 131 of his team’s 369 points.

So, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find evidence of a 104-yard touchdown run. Then again, Robinson was playing at a Junior College in an area of the United States with more universities than anywhere else. His games did get covered in many of the California newspapers I can find online, but there’s not always a lot of detail.

There’s likely more in a Pasadena paper hiding in a library somewhere, but I couldn’t find much from the 39-6 win over lowly Cal Tech on Wednesday night, November 23, 1938. There’s nothing about a 104-yard touchdown, and though I’ve seen stories and books putting the attendance anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000 that night, the newspapers I’ve found show only 3,500.

United Press stories on the Cal Tech game from newspapers in Berkley and Bakersfield.

As I expanded my search, I found several references over the years saying that Jackie Robinson had run for “only” a 99-yard touchdown in the Cal Tech game. However, in the description I found for the 1939 Junior College Annual of Pasadena City College available online at Abebooks (you can buy it for US$540 if you choose!), there’s a very detailed account of the 1938 football season. Of the game in question, it says: “Jack Robinson and 16 other seniors rang down the curtain on their Pasadena football careers as they walloped cross town rival Cal Tech 39-6…. Robinson’s closing chapter was a 104-yard run to the touchdown, climaxing the greatest individual career in jaysee history.”

Beyond that, the next mention I could find of Robinson running for a 104-yard touchdown doesn’t appear until an April 12, 1977, story in the Los Angeles Times marking the upcoming 30th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The season ended,” wrote Shav Glick of Robinson’s 1938 Pasadena football campaign, “with Cal Tech and another 30,000 in the Rose Bowl and Robinson’s final contribution was a 104-yard kickoff return.”

Shav Glick knew Robinson personally. They both attended Pasadena Junior College together. Glick first started reporting sports in Pasadena as a 14-year-old in 1935 and wrote his final column for the Los Angeles Times in January of 2006 at the age of 85. He was likely at the Cal Tech game, and may have been writing from memory, or from old newspaper stories he himself had written and saved. He may well have written that recap from 1939.

Brief coverage of the Cal Tech game in the San Bernadino County Sun.

Interviewed for a 1997 story in the New York Daily News, Glick said of Robinson’s football skills, “He was so spectacular. In a game against Cal Tech, Robinson returned a kickoff 104 yards and collapsed in the end zone.” Added Hank Ives, longtime publisher of JC Grid-Wire and the foremost authority on Junior College football: “He must have run 200-plus yards. He reversed his field twice, running back and forth.”

Ives was born in Southern California in 1926, so perhaps he was at the game that night too. And yet…

Many of the biographies of Jackie Robinson mention his 104-yard touchdown run. Most note that it was a kickoff return. But not all. In his 1997 biography of Jackie Robinson, Arnold Rampersad wrote of that 39-6 win over Cal Tech: “In the next game, his last as a Bulldog, Jack said farewell with a masterpiece. Setting up behind his own goal line in punt formation, he gathered in the hiked ball, then raced 104 yards for a touchdown against a muddle of disbelieving Cal Tech players.”

Jackie Robinson wore #28 while playing football at UCLA.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

That seems rather incredible. Perhaps even foolhardy, although no doubt the Pasadena team felt they could crush Cal Tech even if this gamble turned over the ball so close to their own goal line. And there’s a little corroborating evidence too. Jules Tygiel made no mention of it in his 1983 book The Great Experiment, but wrote of Robinson’s touchdown prowess in Pasadena in an article for the Los Angeles Times in 2006, “the last [came on] a 104-yard dash on a fake punt.”

At this point, it seems impossible to know for sure, but I’m leaning towards the fake punt rather than a kickoff return. If anyone knows of a detailed, first-hand account of the game, I’d love to see it.

Leon’s Revenge!

I’ve written before about how Canadian Football runs deep in my family. I’d say the Argos, much more than the Maple Leafs, were my first favorite team. I saw my first Leafs game in December of 1970 when I was seven years old. They were only 3 1/2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup victory. I was 3 1/2 when that happened … and I have absolutely no memory of it. It’s ancient history to me. I saw my first Argos game a few months later, in the summer of 1971. They had not won the Grey Cup since 1952 and were coming off pretty close to two decades of misery. But I had no idea about that either. It was also ancient history.

In my first season of Argos fandom, the team went 10-4 and won the East Division … only to lose the Grey Cup to Calgary. Leon McQuay’s fumble wasn’t the only reason they lost that game, but perhaps the 109-yard fumble return for a touchdown that was the key to this year’s Argonauts victory over the Stampeders was Leon’s revenge!


I am certainly not the Argos fan that I once was. I worshiped Joe Theismann when I was young. I had his Quarterbacking book and tried to run the plays he diagramed with my brother David. It was tough to do with just the two of us! Jonathan was never much of a football fan, but he did have an inflatable Argos souvenir player we used to call Leon. We all played a little too rough with Leon, and the seams in his ankle gave way. My father would try to patch him for us, but our Leon always had a slow leak, which made him look kind of sad.

In my second season of Argos fandom in 1972, Joe Theismann broke his ankle. (It’s a much less famous injury than his career-ender with the Washington Redskins in 1985.) I broke my wrist around the same time. No, I was not trying to emulate my hero … but I did get to meet him at a game a week or two later. Theismann hobbled by my father and me on his crutches as the rest of the team was making its way to the field to start the game. I was too shy, but my father asked him to sign my cast.

“Well, kid,” said Theismann, “signing casts isn’t exactly my bag…” But he was smiling when he said it, and he did sign it for me. I kept it until it virtually crumbled into dust!

Toronto Star coverage of the 1983 Grey Cup Parade.

For a while after the Blue Jays came to town, we held on to our Argos season tickets, but like many in Toronto, our family’s football loyalty faded. I’ve always continued to follow the team, and we’ve often (though we didn’t this year) made it a point to at least attend any home playoff games. But really, my last great Argos enthusiasm dates back to 1983.

The year before, Toronto had hosted the 1982 Grey Cup. On either the Friday night or the Saturday before the game, my friends and I (all in first year at university at the time) headed downtown on the subway. Someone had told one of us there was a better chance of getting into the best parties if you were well dressed, so we were all in suits and ties … but I don’t recall us getting into any place special.

The Argos celebrate after a thrilling 27-24 come-from-behind
victory over Calgary on a snowy evening in Ottawa.

The Argos lost to Edmonton that year (the last of five straight for that great dynasty), but the next year, Toronto returned to the Grey Cup and defeated the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. This was the first time in my memory that my hometown team had won a championship. Given how long it had taken the Argos since their last Grey Cup, how poor the Leafs had become, and how relatively little the Blue Jays had accomplished yet, I had no idea if I’d ever see one again! So, I did everything you’re supposed to do to celebrate. I went out to the airport to welcome the team home (there was a pretty big crowd there!) and I went to the championship parade. It was all a lot of fun, but I guess the excitement didn’t really last for me.

The weather was much nicer yesterday for the Grey Cup rally at City Hall in Toronto.

The Argos were founded in 1874, which makes them the oldest team in North American professional sports. It’s a shame to see how far out of favor Canadian football has fallen in the country’s largest city. I hope this year’s championship gives the team a real boost … but I know I’m not the only one who has his doubts about that.

Little Jeff

Last week, I caught some of The Prizefighter and the Lady on Turner Classic Movies. It stars Max Baer, who was a top heavyweight contender at the time, in his first movie role as the Prizefighter, and Myrna Loy as the Lady. It was made in 1933 and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Story. Generally speaking, it still gets good reviews. Admittedly, I didn’t see that much of it, but from what I did see, it seemed much more interesting now as a piece of history than it did as a movie.

I won’t go into the plot, but it builds towards a big fight scene at the end where Baer’s character (Steve Morgan) fights the real heavyweight champion of the time, Primo Carnera. (In real life, Baer would beat Carnera for the title a year later.) In the film, the fight is promoted and also refereed by Jack Dempsey playing himself, and before the bout begins Dempsey is joined in the ring by other legendary heavyweight champions of the past, Jess Willard and James J. “Jim” Jeffries. I recognized Jeffries right away from his strong resemblance to hockey legend Cyclone Taylor!

Movie poster plus the hand and footprints of William Powell and Myrna Loy at the
Chinese Theater in Hollywood. W.S. Van Dyke, who directed The Prizefighter and the Lady, would later direct Powell and Loy in the first of “The Thin Man” movies.

I first learned of Cyclone Taylor’s resemblance to Jim Jeffries in Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend. (Reading that book, and then Whitehead’s biography of Frank and Lester Patrick, inspired me to write my first book, the historical fiction novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.) Whitehead writes of hockey fans in New York City taking to Taylor because of his skill and because of his resemblance to the former heavyweight champ. He says they called him “Little Jeff.”

While I couldn’t find any newspaper references to that specifically, Jeffries was actually in New York at the same time as Taylor and the Ottawa Senators were there to face Art Ross and the Montreal Wanderers in a postseason series in March of 1909. Jeffries was very much in the news, with fight promoters offering him huge money for the time – $50,000 and up – to come out of retirement to fight Jack Johnson. (Jeffries would be the first “Great White Hope” to fight the controversial Black heavyweight champion when he lost to him on July 4, 1910.)

The clipping below doesn’t use the nickname “Little Jeff” but does come pretty close to confirming Whitehead’s account by referring to Cyclone as “Jeffries” Taylor…

TribArticle in The New York Daily Tribune on March 18, 1910, when Taylor
returned to New York as a member of the Renfrew Millionaires.

And while you wouldn’t exactly confuse one for the other (especially considering that Jeffries was about 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds in his prime while Taylor was 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds), there definitely is a resemblance…




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!

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.”

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.


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?

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.

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

Of Pucks and Pilots…

In his 1944 autobiography Winged Peace (a follow-up to his 1918 Winged Warfare), Billy Bishop wrote about the interview process when he wished to transfer from the Canadian Cavalry to Britain’s Royal Flying Corps in 1915.

“Can you ride a horse?” Bishop was asked.

He pointed out that he was a cavalry officer.

“Do you ski?”

Bishop heard, “Do you she?” and only later realized what had really been asked. “Yes,” he answered, although he didn’t understand the question … and he didn’t ski. (He did enjoy the company of women, which he thought might be what had been asked of him.)

Bishop books

“How well can you drive a motor car?”

Bishop had never driven a car before. “Very well,” he lied.

“How well can you skate?”

Here was another question he could answer truthfully, although he exaggerated somewhat. “Very well,” he said.

“Did you go in for sports at school–running?”

Bishop was a crack shot with a rifle, but had never been much of an athlete otherwise. Still, he reasoned that the RFC wasn’t going to take the time to check on his records back in Owen Sound. “Yes,” he said, “a great deal.”

The future flying ace was beginning to wonder just how much running, skiing and skating he might be called upon to do, but in 1915 it was believed that people with good balance made good pilots. An ability to withstand cold temperatures was thought to be an asset too. No wonder so many hockey players who enlisted in the First World War found their way into the Air Force. Among them were Hockey Hall of Famers Harry Watson, Frank Fredrickson (both of whom were mentioned in a story recently) and Conn Smythe – as well as the first American-born hockey superstar, Hobey Baker.

For more on Baker (who died with his orders to return home in his jacket pocket while taking “one last flight” five weeks after the Armistice), you can read his entry on Wikipedia, or the One-On-One Spotlight at the Hockey Hall of Fame, or see the web site for the Hobey Baker Award. But for now, I share with you some newspaper clippings. Most of these were printed 98 years ago this month as Hobey Baker took to the skies over the Western Front.

Hobey 2 Hun
American Hobey Baker was big news in Canada too.

Hobey 2 Pro
The story on the left appeared in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1918.
The story on the right had been in the
Vancouver Daily World on December 27, 1915,
confirming at least one flattering Canadian offer for Baker to go pro.

Hobey Cartoon 1
From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, January 20, 1918.

Hobey Cartoon 2
The cartoon appeared in the Washington Herald on January 18, 1918.
The poem had been in the same newspaper on January 13.

Hobey Story Click to enlarge.

Price Check

I wish the Blue Jays had signed David Price. I’d love to have him back. Still, $217 million over seven years seems like too much money for too long a time. So, I’d like to take Mark Shapiro at his word that the $31 million per season will be better spent filling the various spots that still need addressing. It’s not that I doubt Shapiro’s integrity … but I don’t trust Rogers. My guess is they learned nothing from last season – “If you build it, they will come”, not “If everything goes perfectly, we might win” – and will put most of that money into their pockets while jacking up ticket prices (which they’ve already done!) and cable rates.

I admit I’m conflicted by the huge salaries in sports. On the one hand, if there really is that kind of money to be made, I like to see the players getting their share. On the other hand, the older I get the harder it is for me to cheer for people making five times as much money for every single game they play (and starting pitchers like Price watch four out of every five of those games!) as I’m earning in an entire year. But the truth is, no matter how much money is involved, fans and/or the media have always been angered by player salaries since the days they started getting paid.

Professional baseball in the United States dates all the way back to the mid 1860s. Pro hockey in Canada didn’t get started until the winter of 1906-07 when two of the country’s top leagues decided they would allow professional athletes play alongside of amateurs. This was quite the controversy in its day, and by the 1907-08 season people were already expressing amazement, if not quite outrage, at what the top stars were earning.

Price Phillips

On December 15, 1908, a story in the Vancouver World discussed the lucrative offer Tom Phillips had recently turned down to return to the Ottawa Senators for the 1908-09 season. “Two hundred dollars a game for ten games of hockey!” the story started. “How would you like to be offered that amount? Would you refuse $2000 for practically two months work? There are few men who would; yet that is just what was declined with thanks the other day by Tom Phillips, the celebrated Ottawa hockey player, who is now in Vancouver.”

The story then went on to explain how Phillips, longtime captain of the Kenora Thistles who’d led them to the Stanley Cup in January of 1907, had received a salary of $1,600 to play in Ottawa during the 1907-08 season, but that wasn’t all. “Ottawa paid Tom Phillips $1600 cash,” the story said, “with a $60 a month job [which is a pretty fair indication that a yearly salary of $720 was not a bad bit of money for a working man in 1908] and all living expenses last winter, for approximately two months’ hockey, which figured out at ten league games.”

In all, Phillips earned about $1,800 for a little more than two months, and the paper compared his take to the $7,500 Napoleon Lajoie had been paid to play for the Cleveland Indians for a season of five months numbering approximately 154 games. “Getting down to real figures, Lajoie received about $49 every time he went on the diamond. Phillips practically cost his club … $180 ever time he went out to play a league game.” The hockey star, it was said, “would have received the stupendous sum of $17,720” if his season had as many games as a baseball season.

But the numbers were about to become even more outrageous!


On the same day the Vancouver paper reported that Phillips had turned down the $2,000 offer from Ottawa came news that he had agreed to join Edmonton for its two-game, preseason Stanley Cup series against the Montreal Wanderers at the end of December, 1908. It was soon learned that Phillips was promised $300 per game plus a bonus of $200 if the challengers beat the defending champions.

If Edmonton wins the Stanley Cup,” the Vancouver World trumpeted on December 29, “Tom Phillips will receive: $800 for two games, or $400 an hour, or $6.66 a minute, or $0.11 a second. A man is supposed to involuntarily wink about a dozen times a minute. Therefore every time Phillips bats an eyelash it costs the Edmonton club about 50 cents.”

The paper went on to explain that the highest-paid person in Canada was the Governor-General (by coincidence, Lord Grey, whom I wrote about two weeks ago) with an annual stipend of $50,000. That was broken down as $5.80 per hour for every hour of every day for an entire year … which meant Tom Phillips was to be paid more per minute by Edmonton to play hockey than Lord Grey made in an hour. Sixty-nine times more to be exact. At that rate, the World reported that he would make just over $3.4 million in a year. “Pierpont Morgan, John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie had better look out,” the paper mocked.

As it happened, Edmonton lost the Stanley Cup series. Phillips played the entire 60 minutes of the first game despite breaking his ankle partway through it. He had to sit out game two. It’s unclear if he actually received the full $600 or just $300 for his one game.

Burns Johnson

Whatever Phillips got, it paled in comparison to what another Canadian athlete earned at virtually the same time. On December 26, 1908, world heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Burns of Hanover, Ontario, was paid $30,000 to fight Jack Johnson in Sydney, Australia. The fight lasted 40 minutes, meaning Burns earned almost as much as per minute ($750) as Phillips could have potentially made in both games for Edmonton. Johnson – the controversial African-American whom many other white boxers refused to face – was paid $5,000 and won the fight.