Bonus Features: Ontario’s hockey-star MP

Before diving into this post, check out my TVO article about Red Kelly’s political career.

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From the Toronto Star Archives at the Toronto Public Library comes this picture by Frank Grant of the Kellys entering Parliament in 1962. The description: “There’s overtime in this league. Parliamentary rookie Red Kelly, flanked by a pair of Mounties, discusses House opening with wife, the former skating star Andra McLaughlin, before entering Parliament. Leaf hockey star is M.P. for York West.”

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Toronto Star, May 19, 1962.

The roster of Liberal candidates in Metropolitan Toronto during the 1962 election campaign. Among those depicted here are three future finance ministers (Gordon, Macdonald, and Sharp), two defence ministers (Hellyer and Macdonald) and a minister of state for multiculturalism (Haidasz).

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Globe and Mail, May 5, 1962.

The Globe and Mail‘s editorial on Kelly’s candidacy. While the paper’s editorial page would continue to criticize Kelly for continuing his hockey career, its sports pages cheered him on. “Why all this criticism of a professional athlete working at his job?” sports editor Jim Vipond wrote in his January 9, 1963 column. “Is this to insinuate that the lawyers, doctors, insurance agents, brokers, farmers, teachers and representatives of a baker’s dozen other professions and businesses in the House of Commons completely submerge their private interests in the public welfare? It’s a lovely thought but outside the cabinet not a realistic one. A bit of an Alice in Wonderland touch.”

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Maclean’s, June 2, 1962

When a reporter told Pearson on election night that Kelly had won York West, the Liberal leader replied, “Yes, wait till I see [Maclean’s editor] Blair Fraser.”

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1962.

Here’s Kelly’s response to the Maclean’s piece.

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Sports Illustrated, December 3, 1962.

Sports Illustrated published a three-page profile of Kelly as he settled into his parliamentary duties. Writer Arlie W. Schardt asked Maple Leafs coach/general manager Punch Imlach if he questioned Kelly’s decision to balance hockey and politics. “Sure, I had my doubts,” Imlach replied. “My theory is that a man can’t serve two masters. Red’s getting old. I felt he needed every possible day of rest and training. Instead, he missed part of training camp, where all kinds of rookies were making a beeline for him, anyway. They figured they’d take his spot because an old man would injure easier. No respect for our MPs, you see.”

Lester B. Pearson playing baseball with Red Kelly at Coronation Park in Oakville

Lester B. Pearson playing baseball with Red Kelly at Coronation Park in Oakville, May 9, 1962. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 563, File 31, Item 1.

In his memoirs, Lester Pearson reflected on campaigning with Kelly during the 1963 election campaign:

While motoring from one meeting to another, we noticed some youngsters playing ball in a vacant lot. We both thought it would be fun, and might interest our press entourage, if we stopped for a few minutes to watch. We also stopped the game because Red was soon recognized, and was surrounded by excited youngsters clamoring for his autograph.

He was somewhat embarrassed that no one took any notice of me, and asked one small boy, happily contemplating Red’s signature: “Don’t you want Mr. Pearson’s too?” The reply put me in my place: “Mr. Pearson? Who’s he?”

Even as prime minister, I had to accept that in the autograph market it would take five “L.B. Pearsons” to get one “Red Kelly.” My sporting experience helped me to accept this evaluation.

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Toronto Star, April 9, 1963.

Throughout the 1962 and 1963 election campaigns, NDP candidate David Middleton constantly attacked Kelly for riding on his fame, being inexperienced, and not putting 100% of himself into his political duties. Middleton’s reaction to his second consecutive third place finish seems a little melodramatic. His 2010 obituary outlines an active life.

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Toronto Star, October 18, 1967.

During the 1963 federal election campaign, Alan Eagleson attacked Kelly for being an absentee MP. Later that year, he became an MPP for the provincial riding of Lakeshore. Based on this article, it seems Eagleson may have had his own attendance issues during the period in which he became the first director on the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

Based on Kelly’s account, Eagleson was not a gracious competitor during the 1963 race for York West. “I heard years later that Eagleson purposely sought the Conservative nomination in York West just to beat me!,” he recalled in The Red Kelly Story. “I never heard a peep from Eagleson that night, not a word. He never called, conceded, said congratulations, nothing.”

The Saga of the Maple Leafs’ Futility (Part One)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 2, 2012.

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Globe and Mail, May 3, 1967.

Forty-five years ago today, the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in a six-game series. Few could have imagined that nearly half a century later, fans would still be waiting to see the team hoist the trophy again.

Over the next two days Torontoist will look at the good and bad moves the team has made since 1967, without resorting to cries like “Leafs suck!”

Until his death in April 1990, many of the franchise’s faults could be blamed on one man: Harold Edwin Ballard. From the time he entered the Leafs’ ownership as part of a triumvirate with John Bassett and Stafford Smythe in 1961, Ballard seemed driven less by a love of the game and more by greed and a near-pathological need for attention. The same year the Leafs won their last cup, that greed appeared to drive the decision to sell their top farm teams in Rochester, NY and Victoria, BC for just under $1 million. The move robbed the Leafs of 45 players, many of NHL calibre. The combination of the sale, the expansion draft to stock six new teams in 1967, changes to player development rules that denied the team the use of the junior Marlboros as a feeder team, and aging stars thinned the Leafs’ depth pool, which led to a last place finish during the 1969/70 season.

Following Bassett’s decision to sell and Smythe’s death in 1971, it quickly became clear that Ballard, not the players, intended to be the Leafs’ star attraction. A year-long stint in prison for defrauding the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens provided a temporary break, during which the Leafs became the second NHL team to dip into the emerging European talent pool. Unfortunately, the experiment ended after the signings of Inge Hammarstrom and Borje Salming due to Ballard’s seeming xenophobia, which caused future European stars to sign elsewhere.

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Darryl Sittler and Rosemarie for March of Dimes Put Yourself in the Picture campaign, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1970s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4256.

Despite the team’s slow but steady improvement during the mid-1970s with young talent like Salming, Darryl Sittler, and Lanny McDonald, the omnipresent Ballard (who lived in an apartment in the Gardens by this point) loved denouncing players after bad nights. He was especially annoying during playoff runs—when Ballard boasted that the Leafs would defeat defending Stanley Cup champions the Philadelphia Flyers during the first round of the 1976 playoffs, ratcheting up the pressure on players considerably. Coach Red Kelly tried to distract the team by latching onto the “pyramid power” fad (basic idea: if you placed pyramids around a room, it was felt they would have supernatural powers). Kelly’s amateur psychology seemed to work when Sittler scored five goals in one game, but the Leafs lost the series in seven games.

When Roger Neilson replaced Kelly in 1977, Ballard faced a new problem: a coach who preferred improving the team over hanging out with the owner. Players raved about Neilson’s unconventional coaching methods, while the media dubbed him “Captain Video” for his use of videotape to analyze the team’s performance. An envious Ballard devised unsuccessful attempts to embarrass Neilson, such as distracting his video review sessions on the road by sending a prostitute to his hotel room. Despite taking the team to the semi-finals during the 1978 playoffs, Ballard was eager to dispose of Neilson. The situation devolved into farce when, after retracting a March 1979 firing attempt when he couldn’t secure a replacement, Ballard tried to convince Neilson to approach the bench with a paper bag over his head. Neilson refused to go along.

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Left: 1959/60 Parkhurst hockey card of Punch Imlach. Right: 1974/75 O-Pee-Chee hockey card of Lanny McDonald, sans trademark moustache.

After finally firing Neilson and general manager Jim Gregory following the 1978/79 season, Ballard initially considered Don Cherry and Scotty Bowman as their respective replacements. Instead, he rehired Punch Imlach, who had guided the Leafs to their last Stanley Cup. It was one of the most catastrophic moves in franchise history. Imlach was an old-school disciplinarian who expected his orders to be followed without question. His hard-nosed approach destroyed a team that had developed cohesiveness, leadership, and pride. Most of his wrath was directed at captain Darryl Sittler, initially for defying his request not to participate in a Hockey Night in Canada intermission skills competition program. The team failed to receive a court injunction to block Sittler’s appearance, despite contracts that obligated the team to participate in the program. Relations deteriorated between Imlach and Sittler, who was backed by his teammates. Out of spite, and because Sittler had a no-trade clause in his contract, Imlach unloaded the captain’s closest friends on the team. A series of bad trades ensued, the worst sending Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville to the Colorado Rockies in December 1979. A demoralized Sittler had the “C” removed from his sweater. The only swap that worked in the Leafs’ favour saw fan-favourite enforcer Tiger Williams sent to the Vancouver Canucks for goal scorers Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive.

The 1980s marked the dark ages for the franchise. Following Imlach’s dismissal after a heart attack in 1981 (the second he had suffered during his tenure), Gerry McNamara led the team to six losing seasons. A veteran scout before becoming GM, McNamara seemed as interested in battling the media as building a competitive team. When McNamara attempted to prove he had suffered brain damage following a car accident, the jokes flowed. McNamara had to work within Ballard’s increasing stinginess with funds, which resulted in the Leafs having only three full-time scouts, rarely pursuing free agents or participating in the waiver draft, and filling key roles with people already in the organization. Prospects were often rushed to the NHL far sooner than they should have been, though promising players like Wendel ClarkRuss CourtnallVincent DamphousseAl Iafrate, and Gary Nylund emerged.

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Harold Ballard with Miss Tiger Cat and Miss Blue Bomber, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2409.

By the end of the 1980s, Ballard’s declining health muddied personnel matters. After an interregnum, 30-year old Gord Stellick was hired as McNamara’s replacement in 1988. He made one colossally bad trade (Courtnall for John Kordic), found himself saddled with a coach forced into the position by Ballard (George Armstrong), and was left virtually powerless during the next amateur draft. As sportswriter William Houston observed, “Everything seemed out of control. At the top was a feeble and ailing owner, who refused to give his general manager any real control. The coach didn’t want to coach. And many of the players didn’t seem to want to play.” The situation was such that Maple Leaf Gardens’ stock rose whenever Ballard entered the hospital. According to one investor, “We know he had diabetes. We know he doesn’t follow his diet. We know he’s eighty-three. That’s why I started buying stock.”

But the last season of the decade showed signs of hope. After Stellick resigned, new GM Floyd Smith and coach Doug Carpenter guided the 1989/90 Leafs to the team’s first .500 season since 1978/79. It helped that Ballard had grown too infirm to meddle. Wendel Clark delivered one of the best lines following Ballard’s death on April 11, 1990: “I wish him well—wherever he goes.”

Things were looking up for the 1990s.

Additional material from Leafs AbomiNation by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange (Toronto: Random House, 2009), Maple Leaf Blues by William Houston (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990), and Why The Leafs Suck And How They Can Be Fixed by Al Strachan (Toronto: Collins, 2009).

UPDATE

Part two of this series was written by another author and may be found here.

The Leafs’ Stanley Cup drought now stretches over half-a-century. Will spring 2018 change that? Stay tuned…

Vintage Toronto Ads: Tracking the Maple Leafs, 1970s Style

Originally published on Torontoist on April 3, 2012.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #93, February-March 1977.

How we imagine this magnetic hockey scoreboard was used: depending on newspaper delivery time, a dedicated young fan grabbed the sports section while drinking rich, chocolatey Ovaltine for breakfast, or after school. He flipped to the standings, noted any changes, then rushed over to the fridge to update his beloved board. Once the magnets had been moved, he retired to his room to read his comic books.

Producing a magnet set and standings board for the 1976/77 NHL season would have been a last-minute scramble, thanks to two off-season franchise shifts. While one move had already been resolved when today’s ad went to press (the California Golden Seals became the Cleveland Barons), the fate of the Kansas City Scouts was still “undetermined.” The magnet designer may have had insider information or great prognostication skills, as the Scouts utilized a triangle-shaped logo in their new guise as the Colorado Rockies.

Also accurately predicted was the Maple Leafs’ resting spot for 1976/77: third place in the Adams Division, with a regular-season record just over the .500 mark (33 wins, 32 losses, 15 ties). For the second season in a row, the Leafs fell in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals to the Philadelphia Flyers. (Unlike the previous season, coach Red Kelly didn’t use “pyramid power” to rally his players.) Kelly’s contract ran out following the team’s playoff exit, and his fate was unresolved for two months. That he aggravated old neck and back injuries prior to the playoffs and sat in traction for part of the post-season muddied matters. Ultimately he was not rehired and Roger Neilson assumed coaching duties.