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.

TFC

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 10 in total, as there were in Toronto – although it them took 13 years) the only time they both won in the same calender year was 1987. Toronto did it in 1945 and 1947.

Argos

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 Final 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 even 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.

Statue
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.

Pasadena
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.

Both
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.

Sun
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.”

UCLA
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!

Leon

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!

Parade
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.

Win
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.

Rally
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.

On This Day in History … Or That Day in History

For close to 90 years, the NHL noted the date of its creation as November 22, 1917. It’s easy enough to understand why. Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald long claimed to be the lone observer still on site at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal that day when the formative meetings wrapped up. Much of what is known about the formation of the NHL comes from stories he wrote about it over the years – and he always wrote November 22.

Gazette 22
From the Montreal Gazette, November 22, 1917.

More than just the word of Elmer Ferguson, we have the writings in the original Minute Book of [the] National Hockey League housed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Page 1 begins: “At a meeting of representatives of hockey clubs held at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, November 22, (the notation 1917 appears to have been written in later), the following present…” It then goes on to list those in attendance and the steps they took to form the National Hockey League as a replacement for the old National Hockey Association.

“It sounded both quick and congenial,” notes my friend Andrew Ross, author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, “but the minutes elided both time and space. Despite the evidence of the official records, newspaper reports suggest not all the decisions ascribed to the 22 November meeting were taken on that day.”

Indeed they were not.

Ott 23
This story from the Ottawa Journal on November 23, 1917,
indicates that nothing was done at the meeting on November 22.

When we at Dan Diamond and Associates published Total Hockey in 1998, Brian McFarlane noted of the November 22 meeting in his essay ‘The Founding of a New League’ that “no official report of their discussions was released.” He then added that the meeting was adjourned until November 24, “but was not actually held until November 26 at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. On that day it was formally announced that there would be a new hockey league – the National Hockey League.”

Ott 26
The Ottawa Journal, quoting from the Montreal Star on November 26, 1917.

So, clearly, the date of the actual announcement of the NHL was known to those who had searched for it, and yet the formation date of November 22, 1917, remained part of the league’s “official” history. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t begin to change until after the publication of Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey, by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth, in 2002.

TStar 26
This article from the Toronto Star on November 26 states that the meeting on November 24 was postponed and that plans for the new season would be announced that afternoon.

It’s long been said that the NHL was created to rid the others owners of Toronto’s meddlesome Eddie Livingstone. That appears truly to have been the case. In Deceptions, it’s stated that in the Ottawa Citizen on November 20, 1917, Tommy Gorman had made it known that the likely successor to the NHA would known as the National Hockey League. So, the name was already in the air, and it was expected that all would be worked out at the meeting in Montreal on November 22 … but it wasn’t. With Quebec dithering about whether or not to enter a team, no decisions were announced that day. It wasn’t until November 26 that Quebec officially opted out, and Toronto – under the stewardship of the owners of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street – was given a team instead.

Two Nov 27
These stories in Toronto’s Globe and the Ottawa Journal on November 27, 1917,
confirm that the NHL had come into existence the previous afternoon.

It wasn’t until the publication of the 2006 NHL Official Guide & Record Book in the fall of 2005 (after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season) that the NHL began to recognize the date of its organization as November 26, 1917. It seems to have slowly made its way into the world as the correct date since then.

This week, on Sunday, the NHL will officially mark the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the League on November 26, 2017. I’m certainly of the opinion they’ve got it right.

Remembering Roy

I wasn’t going to write about Roy Halladay. After all the tributes to him I’ve read since his death was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t really think I had anything to say. I’d already had a story in mind for today, but it didn’t feel right to write about something and not to mention Halladay at all. Or to just tack on a word of condolence to a different story. So, allow me a few moments to share some thoughts.

As many of you know, my entire family has been huge Blue Jays fans from the very beginning. We’ve had seasons tickets since the moment they went on sale prior to the first season in 1977. I worked on the ground crew for five years from 1981 to 1985 when the team literally went from worst to first, and although I don’t get to more than a game or two most seasons these days, I still watch or listen almost every day. The Blue Jays have meant a lot to me over the years. Probably more than they should.

Strange thing is, I’ve never been a “favourite player” type of guy. I like the team; I like the game; I like being a fan … but I’ve never had a jersey for the Blue Jays or the Maple Leafs with a name and a number on the back. That’s just not me. If forced to pick, I’d agree with the general consensus that Roberto Alomar was the best Blue Jay ever. But my own personal favourite would be a toss up between Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. I do like good pitching.

Me
Roy Halladay posed for this picture with me at Spring Training circa 2006.

I was there on the final day of the 1998 season when Halladay had a no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth inning of his second career start. (I read in a newspaper yesterday that it was a perfect game, but although Halladay hadn’t walked anyone, second baseman Felipe Crespo had made an error in the fifth inning to allow a baserunner.) It was an exciting game, but I can’t honestly say that I felt like I was watching the birth of baseball’s next great pitcher.

And, indeed, Halladay struggled until pitching coach Mel Queen famously helped him to overhaul his mechanics and his mental approach to the game when he was sent back to the minors after spring training in 2001. When Halladay returned to Toronto that July, he struggled briefly … and then was brilliant. He had only a 5-3 record that season, but his 3.16 ERA was impressive and I remember clearly believing that he should have won at least eight games, not just five.

From then on, Halladay was the player I wanted to see. I admired his skill, and I admired his dedication. If I didn’t have access to our family’s season tickets (and we were sharing them around pretty widely by those years), I’d still happily pay for a cheap seat to get into the park when Halladay was pitching.

Ball
My mother-in-law had the picture reproduced on a ball, which Halladay signed the next year.

I remember late in the 2003 season. The Jays weren’t horrible that year, but were hopelessly behind the Yankees and Red Sox (as they always were in those day!) and not in contention for the wild card either. Now a Cy Young favourite, Halladay had won his 20th and 21st games on the road, and was pitching back at home on a Monday night, September 23. I wanted to be there to see him win his 22nd game and set a new team record. I took our daughter Amanda and bought a pair of seats, the two of us sitting among a fairly sparse crowd of just under 23,000 people in the 50,000-seat stadium.

There had a been a bit of bad blood recently between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devils Rays, and – apparently – warnings had been issued to both teams before the game, although no one had told Halladay. In the sixth inning, after giving up a lead-off homer to put the Jays down 1-0, followed by a single, the third batter was hit by pitch … and Halladay was ejected. The crowd was pretty angry. I was incensed!

“I don’t know where it came from,” Halladay said after the game. “But in … a 1-0 game and a man on base, that run is important to me. I’m just trying to get out of the inning, I can’t see why they would think I’m trying to hit someone.”

To make matters worse, reliever Dan Reichert (who?!?) promptly gave up a walk and two straight hits to allow both of Halladay’s base-runners to score. Yet another hit put us down 5-0. The Jays lost 5-2.

“Doc’s out there trying to win a Cy Young and he gets charged with three earned runs without having the chance to get them off the field,” said Jays GM J.P. Riccardi. “Maybe common sense could have been used, you know?”

I wasn’t there when Halladay won his 22nd game on the final Saturday of the season. And, of course, he did win the Cy Young Award that year.

Such was Halladay’s skill and dedication, that almost no one in Toronto held it against him when he asked to be traded to a contender after the 2009 season. My brothers and I often joke that when anyone gets traded away, “we wish them nothing but the worst” with their new team. Not Halladay. I was pleased to watch his success in Philadelphia at a distance, and thrilled to have been watching on television when he threw a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance in 2010. He was just that good.

Celebrity deaths don’t usually affect me, but the death of Roy Halladay has been hard.

Pictures and Publicity For My Latest Book

My newest book, the Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History is in stores now. Here are a few images from our recent launch at The Sport Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District…

 Launch
The cover of the book, and the front entrance to The Sport Gallery.

Launch 1
My brothers and I were suitably attired!

Launch 2
The author with his proud mother.

And from my signing at Manticore Books in Orillia.

Launch 3
The front window of a very charming book store.

Launch 4
Me with many of my books, both old and new.

If you’re up for even more, you can check out the recent column by Andrew Armitage in the Owen Sound Sun-Times or my in-studio interview with Bill Murdoch on CFOS in Owen Sound. I was on with him for the full hour, which was a lot of fun for me but if that’s too much Eric Zweig for you, you can check out this much shorter phone interview on CFOS with Fred Wallace.

And if you’re in the Owen Sound area, I hope you’ll join us at The Ginger Press on Wednesday November 22 at 7 pm for some hockey-and-book talk. Should be a fun evening! There’ll also be a signing at Book Lore in Orangeville beginning at 11 am on December 2.

Launching Books With World Series Winners

Just in case I haven’t hit you over the head with it enough times already, here’s another reminder that I have a new book that just came out. Hopefully we’ll see many of you this Saturday for the Toronto launch. Others, perhaps, may be able to stop by at upcoming events in Orillia, Owen Sound, and Orangeville. (And yes, it IS an odd coincidence that everything arranged so far is in an Ontario town that begin with O.)

2017

I’ve also got some new children’s books coming out a little later this month, which will push my official book count above 40. It all began 25 years ago right about now with the publication of my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. That capped a pretty amazing stretch of days for me and my family.

The fun began on October 24, 1992, when the Blue Jays won their first World Series … and Barbara and I made our first official appearance as a couple. (Belated happy anniversary, Greg and Anne!)

Jays

Anyone who knew my family then – and, let’s face it, knows my family now – knows we’re pretty crazy about the Blue Jays. The World Series celebration had barely subsided when, just a few days later, a box of books arrived at our family home…

92

…followed, just a few days after that, by our first launch party 25 years ago today.

Hockey Night

This time around, my teen-favourite Astros are going to game seven of the World Series against my mother’s childhood favourite Dodgers. It’s been an amazing series so far, but matter who wins, it won’t be the same for us as 1992. Still, it’ll be a fun time on Saturday. We look forward to seeing you.

 

Blue Monday

The World Series started last night. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 3-1 in the quickest World Series contest since Game 4 in 1992 … which happens to be the first Word Series game I ever attended. Yesterday also marked 25 years since the Blue Jays wrapped up the 1992 World Series in Game 6 in Atlanta. That will tie into a story I’m planning for next week. Today, I’m using the Los Angeles victory over Houston to reminisce about my visit to Montreal during the Dodgers-Expos National League Championship Series in 1981. But first, a bit of back-story…

Blue 1
YouTube clip showing the fateful moment of impact on Blue Monday.

As I’ve posted on Facebook a couple of times recently, teenaged me was an Astros fan. Among my gang of friends at the time, we all quickly came to love the expansion Blue Jays. My guess is, none of us (I know I wasn’t) had been big baseball fans before the Blue Jays started in 1977 … but very soon we needed pennant contenders to follow too. I suppose we also needed a reason to boast that “my team is better than your team!”

Blue 2
In case you’re wondering, I’m the one on the right!

I can’t say that it was a conscious choice to steer clear of the American League, but our “other” teams were all in the National League. David became a Pirates fan in 1978 when they made a late run to battle the Phillies in the NL East. By 1979, they were World Series champions, and David has remained a Pirates fan to this day. Steve became a fan of the San Francisco Giants in 1978. They battled the Dodgers for the NL West that summer, but faded down the stretch. Jody and Rob were Dodgers fans because, well … the Dodgers were the Dodgers. They were the best team in the National League and I think Rob and Jody both saw themselves living in Los Angeles some day. (Jody lives in San Diego now.)

I liked the Astros. Yes, the garish, colourful uniforms were part of it, but I liked J.R. Richard. He was 6’8”, threw 100 mile per hour, and he struck out 303 batters in 1978 and 313 in 1979. The funny thing is, I don’t remember a single game I ever saw him pitch! I never saw the Astros live, and there was only one Game of the Week on television, and Houston didn’t get many of those. I must have seen him on This Week in Baseball, and I clearly remember the photograph of him holding eight baseballs in one hand.

Blue 3

By 1981, we’re all huge baseball fans, and all of us – except Pirates fan David – also like the Expos. And, of course, Montreal is a lot closer to Toronto than Houston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. I don’t remember which of us decided we should go, but Rob’s family had connections in Montreal and he could get us tickets for Saturday and Sunday. So off we went.

We were all in Grade 13 (a foreign concept, I know, to any Americans reading this, and even to any younger Canadians) but we skipped the day of school on Friday and piled into Steve’s car. I don’t remember much about the drive, except that as we got to the end, the fact that Pie IX is pronounced like “Pee-Neuve” led to some problems getting to Olympic Stadium. But we did get there and we picked up our tickets.

I don’t think any of us ever considered getting a hotel room. Rob’s family had friends that he and Jody stayed with, and I asked a cousin-in-law of mine if Steve and I could stay with relatives she still had in Montreal. No problems for Rob and Jody, but when Steve and I showed up, it was clear this family we were staying with had only been expecting me … and they certainly weren’t prepared to feed dinner to the two of us! Steve and I found somewhere cheap nearby, then met up with Rob and Jody so – even though only Steve and Jody were actually of legal drinking age – we could go downtown and watch the Friday game in a bar.

The Dodgers and Expos had split the first two games of the series in Los Angeles. The Expos won game three in Montreal that night 4-1 on the strength of a complete game pitching performance from Steve Rogers and a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth by light-hitting Jerry White. I do remember the excitement in the bar … but what I remember even more was our waitress throwing back the change we had left her as a tip on our first round of drinks!

Blue 4

Game 4 was on Saturday afternoon. It was close, and tense … until the Dodgers blew it open with two runs in the eighth and four in the ninth for a 7-1 victory. It was cold and dank, but for me (and I’ve been to at least one postseason game every time the Blue Jays have made the playoffs) this was still the single best fan experience I’ve ever had at a game! The joint was jumpin’, and singing along to The Happy Wanderer (“Valder-ee, Valder-ah, Valder-EEEE, Valder-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”) was a blast! Even the loss wasn’t so bad, because now we could be at the fifth and final game on Sunday.

Only it rained on Sunday, and the game was cancelled.

We’d already skipped school on Friday, so Jody, Rob and Steve decided we should go home. I was beyond angry. I don’t think I spoke a word to any of them for the first few hours on the drive back to Toronto. So, we weren’t there for Blue Monday when Rick Monday took Steve Rogers deep in the top of the ninth to give the Dodgers a 2-1 series-winning victory. Of course I watched it all on television … but when all is said and done, I think I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Toronto and Montreal: Forever Rivals

With the team off to a great start, invitations to the Toronto launch of my new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, went out by email earlier this week. If you didn’t receive one, and you’d like to come, I’d love to see you! A copy of the invitation is included at the end of this story.

The Leafs were pretty much at the worst of their recent struggles when I began working on this book. Still, the only real direction offered by my editor was “give me lots!” I took that pretty literally. We always knew that the book was going to be 10 chapters long, but when I finished the first draft of Chapter 1, I was already over 25,000 words! By the time all 10 chapters were complete, I delivered a manuscript of almost 170,000 words. We’re talking 100 years of history here, but clearly that was going to be too much. During the editorial process, we got it down to about 140,000 words. With pictures, that still came out to a book of 450 pages!

Some pretty interesting stories didn’t make the final cut. Here’s one, presented in the “oral” style of the book, highlighting the rough, early days of the Toronto-Montreal NHL rivalry:

1

Before Toronto qualified for the playoffs (by winning the second half of the split-season schedule), Charlie Querrie and George Kennedy of the Canadiens had expressed differing opinions on the style of play the Torontos employed, particularly when they were at home.

“The Toronto team, according to the Canadien players, are a dangerous outfit. Dangerous in more ways than one, for in their own city they play a brand of hockey not attempted by any other club in the league. Any other team who tried it would land up in jail. In Toronto, however, the blue shirts get away with it themselves, but woe to any other foreign player who attempts to retaliate. It is the bench at once, and the presence of a burly policeman behind the penalty box is a grim reminder that the jail awaits all unruly hockey players in Toronto – who do not belong to the home team.”

– The Montreal Star, December 29, 1917.

“Manager George Kennedy of the Canadiens has had his bluff called. George, the wise one, spread a lot of false reports when he returned to Montreal after his two beatings here. Kennedy told the Montreal newspaper men that the Torontos did not play hockey, but just cut his players down. Manager Querrie of the blue shirts has gone Kennedy one better, and wants the sporting scribes of Montreal and the Peasoup public at large to know that every team that visits Toronto is given a fair shake.

“Manager Querrie despatched the following letters to Montreal yesterday, and they speak for themselves:

“Mayor Martin, Montreal: Dear Sir, – On behalf of the Toronto Hockey Club, I wish to extend to you a cordial invitation to attend the Canadien-Toronto game at the Arena Gardens here on Monday, Jan. 28. Reports have been sent broadcast thru the medium of the Montreal press to the effect that the Canadien team has suffered from intimidation and interference from the police of this city, and we would be delighted to have you attend the fixture and see for yourself if this is true or otherwise

“We will reserve a box for yourself and party, and trust that you will be able to be in attendance.”

“George Kennedy, Montreal: Dear Sir, – As you have repeatedly made excuses for your club’s defeats at the hands of the Toronto hockey team at our Arena, claiming roughness and intimidation, we would advise you to extend an invitation to the sporting writers of Montreal to attend our next fixture here, on Monday, Jan. 28. We will place every facility within our power at their disposal to see for themselves how visiting teams are treated at the Arena. In view of the fact that you have claimed that your club has been defeated here by unfair tactics, this will be an excellent opportunity for you to show the Montreal scribes just how badly your team is treated in the Queen City.”

“Mr. F. Calder, President National Hockey League: Dear Sir, – Our club would be pleased if you would attend the game here on Monday, 28th January with the Canadiens.

“During the past few weeks Manager Kennedy of the Canadien Club has stated thru the press that his players are roughly used here, and also intimidated by the police.

“To judge for yourself, and in the best interests of hockey, we would be pleased to have you in attendance.”

– The Toronto World, January 25, 1918.

It’s unclear if Kennedy or Calder were in attendance on January 28. Toronto won the game, 5–1.

“All the goals were scored in the opening period. Toronto started off with a rush and in the first five minutes counted twice. When the period was finished Toronto had five goals to one for Canadiens. There was no further scoring.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

But the score of the game was not the biggest story that night.

2

“‘Bad’ Joe Hall of the Canadiens and Alf Skinner of the Toronto team are under arrest as the result of an assault and counter-assault which occurred in last night’s game between the two teams at the Arena. Toronto defeated the Canadiens by a score of 5 to 1 in a game in which there was an under-current of feelings that was responsible for many minor outbreaks throughout the contest. The collision which resulted in the arrest of the two players occurred shortly after the start of the final period. Skinner took the puck down the ice and was checked by Hall. He dropped to the ice and as he did made a pass with his stick at Hall, who was standing over him. Hall raised his stick and brought it down upon Skinner’s head and the latter was carried from the ice unconscious.

“Hall was immediately penalized and left the ice, holding his hand to his mouth, while blood stream down the side of his face. The police visited the dressing-room a few moments later and placed both men under arrest. They were later admitted to bail, and will appear in the Police Court to-day on a charge of disorderly conduct.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

“Both players were put under arrest by Plainclothesmen Ward and Scott and taken to No. 2 police station. Manager Querrie later bailed them out. The charge was common assault.”

– The Toronto World, January 29, 1918.

3

“Like a blessed peacemaker, more prone to pity than to punish, Squire Ellis to-day remanded for sentence Alfred Skinner and Joseph Hall, the two hockey players, members respectively of the Torontos and the Canadiens, who were arrested for disorderly conduct after the game at the Arena Gardens last night. ‘As the matter has apparently been settled to the satisfaction of all parties out of court, there will be no punishment here,’ remarked his Worship. The two erstwhile opponents who had whacked each other over the heads with hockey sticks in the heat of contest, smiled like brothers as they entered a plea of guilty. ‘They are the best of friends to-day,’ said their counsel, W. Hoskins, adding later that hockey games could not be played without a rap or two being given. Sergt. McKinney made an eloquent plea for clean sport. ‘Fracases like this are going to ruin sport,’ said he. ‘The public don’t want to see slugging matches.’ The sergeant further stated that Hall was the aggressor.

“Manager Querrie, who had been an attentive listener, informed the court that both men had already been fined $15 by the league. Apparently satisfied that they had been sufficiently punished, Squire Ellis forthwith bade them depart in peace, but not before he had said that the conduct of some hockey players was enough to disgust the public.”

– The Toronto Daily Star, January 29, 1918.

 

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