Saturday, 28 September 2013

Snubbed by the Hall

Roger Maris 1960 (courtesy United States Public Domain)

Many of us wonder what’s the true criteria for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I sure do. Membership is supposed to be saved for those of integrity, sportsmanship, and character. Those who dominated in their era. To be inducted, 75% of the votes are needed. Some players who maybe shouldn’t be there are. Three players who should be there immediately come to mind. Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Jack Morris. So, what’s keeping these three out?

Recently, an article had appeared on the net entitled The 50 Most Overrated Players in Major League History. Maris is rated number two, with the writer’s reason being that outside of 1961, Maris’s career wasn’t much to write home about. Well…

I know, Roger Maris was a red-ass. We’ve heard the stories. He didn’t like the press and the press didn’t like him, even though some of them were  probably red-asses too. But his teammates and opponents didn’t have any problems with him. He won  American League back-to-back MVPs as a New York Yankee in 1960 and 1961. In his time, he was one of the best right-fielders in the game. Only Pirates Roberto Clemente and Tigers Al Kaline were in the same class. Maris was an excellent base-runner  with speed.  Not a big base stealer, but one who knew how and when to take an extra base. An alert, instinctive outfielder, he never threw to the wrong base and had a howitzer for an arm that was respected around both leagues.

The best display of his superior defensive talents was the seventh game of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, a diamond that one writer called, “That wind-blown tunnel down by the sea.” With 2 out, the bottom of the 9th, and the score a tight 1-0 for the  Yanks, Willie Mays approached the plate with the speedy Matty Alou on first. Mays hit a Ralph Terry offering to the right-field corner. Maris had the good sense on how to play the bounce properly in the unfamiliar (to American Leaguers) National League park. In a flash, he ran over, grabbed the ball and threw a perfect bullet to cut-off man second-baseman Bobby Richardson, who turned and threw his own bullet to home plate, thus holding Alou at third who would have been out by 10 feet had he tried for home. Now with runners on second and third and Willie McCovey approaching, Terry’s orders from manager Ralph Houk were to pitch to McCovey, instead of walking him to load the bases and facing another slugger  in Orlando Cepeda.  McCovey then lined out to Richardson, ending the game and giving the Yankees another World Championship. It was their last until 1977. If not for the Maris throw, the Giants could have been the champs instead.

The two back-to-back MVPs should speak volumes. In 1960, Maris hit .283, along with 39 homers (second to teammate Mickey Mantle’s 40). His .582 slugging average and 112 RBIs led the league. He also threw out 6 base runners who dared to run on him. In 1961, he exploded with his legendary 61 homers along with a league-leading 141 RBIs. He threw out 9 base-runners. For the last few months of the season, he was continually hounded by the press, something that would not happen today. The modern-day media has to adhere to more controlled press conferences. The following year, 1962, Maris was voted by baseball writers as “the biggest disappointment of the year” when he hit 33 homers, 100 RBIs and a .256 batting average. A few hundred players around the league would give anything for a disappointing year like that.

Sadly, one of the biggest knocks against Roger Maris’ election to the hallowed hall is his .260 lifetime batting average. Another is he only had 2 real quality years. The snubbers should consider certain one-dimensional players in the Hall now such as Hack Wilson (with his one good year in 1930), Bill Mazeroski, Phil Rizzuto, Red Schoendienst, and Richie Ashburn. A third knock on Maris is his 12-year career wasn’t long enough. Yeah, well, he did play on 7 pennant winners and 3 World Series winners, all in a span of 9 years on 2 different clubs?  According to his peers, players like Whitey Herzog, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron, he’s the best player not in Cooperstown. Since 1988, when Maris received 43.1 of the votes, he’s been hidden away on the Veterans Committee. Did Maris make an impact on the game? He sure did. He was a winner. He could hit, run, field and throw. What do you want?

The Dodgers’ Gil Hodges was a nice guy, much liked by teammates and the press, even by the opposition. The umps probably liked him too. Who wouldn’t? In his heyday of the 1950’s, this friendly giant with the huge hands was the dominant fielding first-baseman in the majors, posting a lifetime.992 fielding average and receiving 3 Golden Gloves. That in itself is amazing because he came up through the Dodgers organization as a catcher, but was quickly converted to a first-baseman--a position he hadn’t played before--when Roy Campanella made his appearance. One of Hodges’ knocks could be his play at the plate in the 1952 World Series when he went 0-for-21 in a 7-game losing cause to the Yankees. But he did recover by hitting .364, .292, .304 and .391 in the 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959 Fall Classics respectively. According to pitcher teammate Carl Erskine, Hodges (with his easy-going manner) played a major role in the acceptance of Jackie Robinson as a Dodger. The snubbers also don’t like the fact that Hodges never won a hitting category or even came close to receiving an MVP award. But…how could he with stars Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella overshadowing him? Decades prior, wasn’t another friendly first-baseman by the name of Lou Gehrig overshadowed by the great Babe Ruth?

In 18 MLB years, Hodges hit .273, 370 homers (the record  then for right-handed hitters) and 1,274 RBIs in 2,017 games. He also slugged 100 RBIs in 7 straight years. He was an All Star 8 times. He had five 30-homer seasons, including 2 times in the  40-plus range. He once hit 4 homers in a game and at one time held the National League record for 14 grand slams. After helping the Dodgers to win 7 pennants and 2 World Series, he retired to managing, where he went on to guide the New York Mets to an upset World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He’s been condemned to the Veterans Committee since 1984, leaving people like Al Kaline, Tommy Lasorda, and Tom Seaver shaking their heads.  Hodges was another winner.

As for pitcher Jack Morris, he was the dominant pitcher on 3 different teams--Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto--that would not have won the World Series without him. An overall 254-186 won-loss mark and 2,478 strikeouts still wasn’t good enough for the 2013 voting. He fell short with 67.7% of the vote. He still has 2014, then he too suffers the  Veterans Committee banishment. One of the biggest complaints is his 3.90 ERA, which would be the highest ERA for anyone in the Hallowed Hall. On the surface, it may seem high, but during the time Morris played, the overall ERA in the American League was 0.40 higher than the National League because of the designated hitter. Also, Morris played in the era of the chopped mound after 1969.

Morris was a true blue winner. What does the ERA matter when you win?  He was the number one man on the staff of the 3 previously-mentioned teams. He was a 20-game winner three times, completing  175 games in the process, relying mostly on a fastball and slider that opposing batters couldn’t  touch with a boat battle when he was in a groove. As a Tiger, Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980’s with a 162-119 mark. As a Twin, he threw all 10 innings of a 1-0 seventh-game shutout over Atlanta  in the 1991 World Series. The next year, he won 21 games as a  Blue Jay, helping the team to win the World Series. Sure, his ERA was high at 4.04, but he won. Get it…HE WON!

All three—Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Jack Morris—would be a credit to the Hall of Fame. Good guy…red-ass…whatever. Who cares. Get them in there.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Edsel

1958 Edsel Pacer, 4-door sedan (courtesy:

Late 1957, the public caught the first glimpses of the Edsel, the new and revolutionary car in a series of flashy TV commercials. In one, the narrator spoke off-screen as different individuals drove up in each of the four new 1958 Edsel series for everyone to drool over. The occupants were smiling and carefree. There was the Citation, the Corsair, the Pacer, and the Ranger. In another commercial, the narrator was in the Edsel, pointing out the many new features of the car, such as the self-adjusting brakes, and the Teletouch Drive push-buttons on the steering wheel--where the horn normally is--that operated the automatic transmission. We also saw the space-age, rolling-dome speedometer, and, of course, the unique never-before grill design. Still another commercial spoke of the 3 different  station wagons, the  Bermuda, the Roundup, and the Villager. Other commercials bragged on about how the mere flick of a switch on the dash could open the trunk. Another switch opened the hood.  Dash lights would flash on when certain fluid levels were low. And the transmission would lock in “Park” until the ignition was turned. As part of the different Edsel series were 18 models, with 90 different colors to pick from.

Edsel sponsored the show, Wagon Train,  a popular western in the late 1950s. In one of the commercials, the show’s star Ward Bond drove an Edsel and with the camera position in the front seat talked about its handling and toughness over the dirt road he was driving on.  Many slogans came from all the above TV spots. “Driving an Edsel is an experience no man should miss…YOU can afford an Edsel.”  How about, “Owning an Edsel is like falling in love,” according to one attractive woman. And, “Edsel gives you more of everything,” stated one narrator, very boldly.

The Edsel hype started two years before in 1955, when Ford Motor Company decided they needed another line to compete with Chrysler and General Motors. Ford especially wanted parity with GM. “Beat GM” was Ford’s new in-house slogan. This car would be in the mid-range. It was designated the E-Car at first, which stood for Experimental Car. It would be a completely new division, as Lincoln and Mercury were, with its own retail organization, its own staff and its own dealers...over 1,000 dealers in all, bringing the total number of Ford dealers to about 10,000. GM at the time had about 16,000 dealers.

The Edsel is coming! The Edsel is coming!” The Detroit press and others across the country picked it up.  It looked like this car of the future was going to be the greatest achievement since sliced bread…or  the splitting of the atom! No one was allowed to see this new mystery car that everyone was talking about. People at Ford were sworn to secrecy. Dealers were told to keep the cars covered up until the national unveiling, or they would face losing their dealerships.

Then, finally, came E-Day on 4 September 1957 for the car that Ford spent $400 million on development costs. The public came out in record numbers—about 3 million--to the showrooms around North America to see what the excitement was all about. They went…they saw…but they didn’t buy. The public just didn’t want it. For one thing, the Edsel was too expensive for the mid-range line. While many press members were moderate at best with their printed opinions, others weren’t so accommodating. One reporter wrote that the Edsel (with its vertical grill design  that resembled a horse collar) looked like “an Oldsmobile sucking on a lemon.” Another said it was a “Pontiac pushing a toilet seat.” Jokes were out, many of them crude. For example, to some people, the grill looked like a giant vulva. No need to elaborate on that, except that one writer did say that Ford should call the car the “Ethel.” Another one said that Edsel stood for every-day-something-else-leaks. It was only the beginning of the Edsel fiasco that some called “the flop heard round the world.”

Thinking of a Yogi Berra-style phrase…Ford made too many wrong mistakes with the Edsel. To start off, the name Edsel should never have been used.   Edsel B Ford,  CEO of the Ford Motor Company from 1919-1943, was the only son of Henry Ford, who named his boy after a high-school friend named Edsel Ruddimen. Groomed to take over the family business,  Edsel Ford did so at the age of 25. He was a brilliant man with a keen mind. Cars were not only his vocation, but also his hobby. Designing, in particular, greatly appealed to him. Under his leadership, Ford purchased Lincoln, a car company going bankrupt in the early 1920s. Edsel turned it into his greatest achievement where it became a Ford division of prominence.  While Henry made the Model T the most popular vehicle on the road, Edsel made the Lincoln the best car on the road. Edsel later purchased Mercury, plus helped design the Model A, a roaring success when it came out in 1927 to replace the Model T. But his overbearing father who hated anything new never appreciated his talents and often embarrassed him in front of Ford associates. Henry wanted to stick to manufacturing one car and one car only, an old-fashioned idea that he took to his grave in 1947, while leaving his company losing almost $1 million a day and bordering on bankruptcy. Henry ran the show and Edsel was president in name only. “I have the responsibility,” he once said to friends. “But no power.” Due to company and family pressures that were co-related, Edsel developed cancerous ulcers.  He died in 1943 at age 49, way too early for a man of his talents.

When the name of Edsel was decided for this new car, Edsel’s family was dead set against it. His widowed wife, Eleanor, wouldn’t hear of it. One son, Bill, said no way. His brother, Benson, said, “Over my dead body.”  Henry Ford II, the Ford Company president from 1945-1960, who turned the firm around after his grandfather’s death, hated the idea of his father’s name attached to this new car too because he did not want his father’s good and decent name spinning around on thousands of hubcaps. That’s one story. Another is that Henry II said no at first, but eventually agreed by stating it was a great way to honor his father.  Nevertheless, the name may have been familiar within the family and inside the company, but the public knew nothing of the man, Edsel Ford.  Another executive added that by putting the name Edsel to the vehicle, “we just lost ourselves 200,000 in sales.”

By the time the Edsel was unveiled and put on the market in 1957, a serious recession hit North America. In the midst of this, Ford first released their more-expensive 1958 Edsel models in that mid-price range, while other car makers were discounting their unsold 1957 models in the same range. There were better buys around, 2 in particular. The compact Nash Rambler came out the year before and had sold 100,000 units in 1957, then double that in 1958. The Ford Fairlane was already on the market in 1956. There were also rumors within Ford that executive Robert McNamara, one of Henry II’s Whiz Kids brought in after the war to save the company after Henry’s death,  cared only for the Ford line and ignored the other divisions of Lincoln, Mercury, and Edsel.

Other stories came out. In some cases, hood ornaments flew off at 70 miles per hour. Oil pans fell off, trunks and hoods stuck, and doors wouldn’t close. On many occasions, when a driver wanted to use the horn, he’d panic and forget that the steering hub had the automatic transmission buttons and would hit one, sometimes the reverse button. By the way, the Edsel horn was a button on the dash.  Ford technicians designed special V-8 engines for the Edsel…the E-400 which had 361 cubic inches and 303 horsepower at 4600 RPM, and the bigger E-475 which had 410 cubic inches and 345 horsepower at 4600 RPM. (Note: the “E” in the engine designation stood for foot-pounds of torque.) They were powerful engines, but awful gas guzzlers in city traffic. In the Edsel’s second year, a 223 cubic-inch, six-cylinder option was made available, a motor so gutless that with all that weight it couldn’t tear the peel off a grape.

Above all, the Edsel was hit by bad workmanship. Edsel may have been a new division, but it did not have its own manufacturing plant, as any division should have. Every 61st car on the Ford and Mercury assembly lines had to be an Edsel, forcing the workers to suddenly switch and reach for separate parts in separate bins. Workers soon became annoyed with having to change to an Edsel in mid-stream during the day after building several Fords or Mercurys, then switching back to the vehicles they were more use to. To them, there was no pride in assembling “someone else’s car,” almost as if it was a Chevy or a Chrysler. Sometimes there were not enough Edsel parts. In other cases, they weren’t attached and sent to the dealers with the parts in the trunk, along with instructions for the local mechanics on how to put them on. Some dealers didn’t even get the parts. The result was pissed off dealers and equally-pissed off buyers.

Early 1958 marked the beginning of the end, when only 63,000 Edsels sold in the US, and almost 5,000 in Canada, far below the 200,000 North American expectations. The next year, even worse…45,000 in the US and 2,500 in Canada. By 1960, sales didn’t even reach 3,000 vehicles. Ford decided half-way through production that 1960 would be the last year. All told, these 110,000-plus sales  in the Edsel’s 3-year existence was less than half of the financial break-even point. When they did the math, Ford lost $350 million (over 2.5 billion in today’s dollars) on the project. The name Edsel soon became synonymous with  failure. Contrary to some stories, Ford did not face bankruptcy when the Edsel failed. In fact, Ford stock stayed strong, helped along by the inexpensive and compact Falcon coming out in 1959, then later the Galaxy 500 LTD and super-popular Mustang in the mid-1960s, all in the Ford division line. The company had the right ideas then. These cars were not only affordable, but stylish and dependable.

Edsel was back in the news this past February 2013, when Roy Brown Jr, the chief designer of the Edsel, died in Michigan at the age of 96.  Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he moved with his parents as a teenager to Detroit where his father worked for Chrysler as an engineer. After the Edsel flop, Brown was banished to England, where he helped create one of Ford’s greatest successes, the Cortina, in 1962. He returned to Detroit in the late 1960s, where he designed Thunderbirds and Econoline vans until his retirement in 1979. To his dying day, he loved the Edsel, and drove one into his 90s.

As a kid in the 1960s, I remember seeing the occasional Edsel, a couple or so in Regina, and one particular gold-and-white one when we visited family in Lethbridge, Alberta. They stood out, like you wouldn’t believe. Back then, an Edsel owner was laughed around the block. In addition, my friends and I used to make fun of Ford products. To us, Ford stood for fix-or-repair-daily. But, here I am all these years later having driven 2 Taurus wagons back-to-back since 1997, simply because they have been the most dependable cars I’ve ever owned. My son drives an Escape, and my wife a Fusion. They like them too. All have superior styling and are nice handling.

There’s another side to the Edsel story. Since researching for this article, I did find stories on the internet about a few owners who were quite happy with their 1960 Edsel purchases. The car no longer had the toilet-bowl grill or the Teletouch Drive, and it looked more like a Pontiac. It appeared that Ford was building a pretty decent Edsel by then, but the damage had been done years before. One owner bought a new 1960 model in the fall of 1959 and drove it for 12 years! He said it was one of the best cars he had ever owned.

Today, about 2,000 Edsels are road-worthy, with another 5,000 or so waiting restoration. They’re collectible items now.  It’s not unheard of to see a mint Edsel  ragtop  fetching at least  $100,000 at an auction…toilet-bowl grill and all.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

1967…The Last Leaf Cup

Terry Sawchuk (courtesy
 NHL training camps opened a few days ago, so why not have a hockey story…

Let’s look at
Canada’s Centennial year in 1967. We were one hundred years a nation then. Who better to win the Stanley Cup than a Canadian NHL team? The Montreal Canadiens had won the two previous campaigns. Going into the 1966-67 season, this would be the last for the six-team NHL. Expansion was around the corner. Six new teams. Two divisions. A new era next season. 

he Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t expected to go far in 1966-67. Age was catching up to them, with eleven regulars 30 or over.  At training camp, goalie Johnny Bower  was the oldest at 41, followed by Allan Stanley at 40,  Red Kelly at 39,and  Tim Horton at 37. Terry Sawchuk, Marcel  Pronovost and George Armstrong were all 36.  Bobby Baun, Bob Pulford, and Kent Douglas had all hit the magic 30. The joke was the Leafs needed wheelchairs to get around, not skates. But coach Punch Imlach stated boldly he was going to stick with his boys, although he did have concerns about the outside interests of a few players. Baun was a chef, Mahovlich was running a travel agency, Kelly had taken a shot at politics, and Horton was the donut and coffee king, which so many of us reap the benefits of today, I might add. 

was the last season of the 70-game schedule. Imagine, meeting each team 14 times, 7 home and 7 away.  It was also the first year of Bruins great Bobby Orr, an 18-year-old defenseman, straight up from the OHA Junior Oshawa Generals where he scored 38 goals and 56 assists in only 47 games, and another 12 goals and 24 assists in only 12 playoff games. Players were starting to be more keen to their surroundings by then. They were also more educated than the players the decade before. Alan Eagleson’s new Players’ Association was gaining a foothold in the NHL, although teams like the Leafs--especially Punch Imlach--were doing their best to resist this organized labor movement.  

1966 was the first year we
saw color TV in Canada, third in the world behind Japan and the US. With this advent of color, all six NHL teams had to brighten their arenas for the cameras to pick up the play-by-play properly. The players found it far too bright at first, with some players resorting to black smudges below their eyelids, as some football players still do today. Years ago, I remember seeing one such on-ice 1966 photo of  Leafs defenseman Kent Douglas. When Johnny Bower took to the same smudges, Punch Imlach told his goalie he looked like “a damn raccoon. Then, out of the blue, after a mere few weeks, the players had gotten used to the lights. When Habs captain Jean Beliveau was asked about it by a reporter, he said, grinning, “I can’t believe we played in such darkness all those years.” Others all over the league agreed 

The season started out s
o-so for the Leafs. At different times, both goalies, Bower and Sawchuk, were sidelined with injuries, forcing Imlach to bring up Gary Smith and Bruce Gamble. Smith, a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder, a character if there ever was one, had a deep, burning ambition to score a goal in the NHL. So much so that during one game against the Habs, he took off with the puck and skated over center ice. Then  J.C. Tremblay flattened him with a stiff body check. Luckily, the Canadiens didn’t score as Smith scrambled back to the net, flopping around like a fish out of water, while both teams, the fans, and TV announcer Danny Gallivan got a big charge out of the show.  Across the ice, Imlach just wanted to crawl under the bench.  

Canadiens stumbled out of the gate early, and for a time lagged in fifth place. Although coach Toe Blake insisted they needed scoring, GM Sam Pollock called up 21-year-old goalie Rogatien Vachon from Houston in February to fill in for regulars Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge.  Just one year before, Vachon was minding the nets for the Junior B Thetford Mines team in Quebec, a piece of info  that Imlach quickly used to his advantage by announcing to reporters, “What’s Blake doing playing a Junior B goaltender.”  

came a horrific 10-game losing streak that started in mid-January. Imlach tried everything…juggling  lines, benching certain players, and driving all the players even harder than he normally did at practices. It all forced him to be hospitalized  for three weeks under doctor care for stress, while his team  struggled to even reach .500. In the meantime, the Leafs went on a 7-game winning streak with assistant King Clancy at the helm. When Imlach returned behind the bench in early March, the Leafs improved to 3 games above .500, and he was a new man ready to finish the season and take the Leafs into the playoffs. In his way were the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, the favorites to win it all, and the team the Leafs would have to face in the first round.  The Hawks finished the season with a 41-17-12 record and whopping 264 goals scored, 17 points ahead of second-place Montreal, and 19 points up on the Leafs, who finished third  at 32-27-11. The Hawks also took individual honors with Vezina Trophy winners  Denis DeJordy and Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull leading the league in goals with 52, and Stan Mikita setting a new points record with 97. Hull and Mikita also had those wicked banana blades that turned every 100-mile-per-hour slapshot into a knuckleball  missile. Keep in mind that most goalies did not wear masks that season. Yikes! 

On their end, Montreal took ca
re of things early by sweeping the New York Rangers in a quick 4 games. Then they sat back and waited, while the Leafs and Hawks split the first four games. Game Five is still talked about today by those who remember it…like me, as if it were yesterday. Held in Chicago on a warm, muggy day, the Hawks scored twice in the first period on goalie Johnny Bower, who looked a little shaky. At the end of the period, Imlach asked Bower how he felt, to which he replied, “Put in Ukey.”  In came Sawbuck to face the Chicago sharpshooters. Early in the second period, he took a Bobby Hull slapshot on the shoulder that knocked him out cold. After coming to with the help of smelling salts administered by the  trainer, Sawchuk  looked up  just in time to see Stan Mikita skate by and say, “Stay down, Ukey.”  Sawchuk uttered a few choice words and got up, ready and mad. Over the next two periods, Sawchuk stopped shot after shot, many of them sure goals, as his teammates mounted a comeback one goal at a time 

With five minutes to go, the Hawks, according to Red Kelly, had given up. “
You could see it. They literally gave up…these guys aren’t champions…when we saw that, we knew we had won.” Leaf winger Ron Ellis added, “I can still see him [Sawchuk] standing on his head, challenging Hull. He was so courageous. I’ll never forget it.”  Sawchuk stopped a total of 37 shots in two periods. By game’s end, The Hawks had outshot the Leafs 49 to 31. But the Leafs won 4-2. In addition to being, perhaps,  Sawchuk’s finest hour, his two periods of superb play was probably the turning point in the  series and the  Leaf season.  Back to Maple Leaf Gardens for Game Six, the Leafs took the set with Sawchuk between the pipes, turning aside 35 shots and winning 3-1.  

I was living in Regina
at the time and I watched Game 5 on my parents black-and-white TV. No color for us yet. Too expensive. Besides, all the reds, yellows, and oranges used to run together anyway. Remember the early color technology? Simply put, Sawchuk stonewalled the Hawks. To this day, that was the greatest goaltending performance I have ever witnessed. In my opinion, nothing else compares to it. It was the Sawchuk of old, back when he first broke into the league with the Red Wings in 1950. I could feel for Sawchuk because I was a goalie myself, reaching Tier II Junior at 18 in 1970. It was like being with him on every one of those saves.  

Prior to the start of the final round, as the story goes, Leafs forward Jim
Pappin met up with someone he knew b
y the name of Jimmy Black, who had bet $2000 on the Leafs to take the Cup even before the Chicago series began. At that time the odds were 15-to-1. Black then told Pappin that should the Leafs win, he’d install an inground pool for Pappinfor nothing! 

Inspired by the first round of the playoffs, Toronto went on to beat Montreal in 6 games. 
And…Pappin got his pool. After the Leafs upsetting the Hawks, the finals to me seemed anti-climactic. “It was the toughest series I ever lost,” Habs coach Toe Blake said to the press after. Jean Beliveau later admitted that the Canadiens might have won if Blake had stuck with his veteran goalies, Charlie Hodge and Gump Worsley, and not used Vachon . It forced the team to be more concerned about holding back and protecting their rookie goalie, instead of going out and scoring. On that note, Imlach outsmarted Blake with his “Junior B goalie” comments, forcing Blake to use Vachon almost out of spite. It was the only Stanley Cup final series that Blake lost in his coaching career. Think of it, had Montreal won in 1967, it would have been another 5-year Stanley Cup run (as was 1956-1960) for them, because they won the Stanley Cup the next 2 years, too, until Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins put it into high gear and took over the early 1970s 

A winner of 7 C
ups up to and including our Centennial year, Blake won one more the next season, then retired.  The Leafs fired Imlach in the spring of 1969, only minutes after the Bruins swept the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.  

I watched the 6
th game of the Stanley Cup finals at my friend’s house that spring of 1967. Carl Berger was his name. Both huge Leaf fans, we saw George Armstrong score into the Habs empty net with a minute to go to clinch the game, the series, and the Stanley Cup. Expansion was coming next season. The new, much talked-about era.  Leaving Carl’s house to head back home, I was certain I’d see more Leaf Stanley Cups in the future. After the big win, the Leafs Dave Keon was made MVP of the playoffs, although I always thought it should have been Sawchuk. A month later, major news hit the hockey world when Alan Eagleson’s NHL Players’ Association was officially certified, changing hockey forever. Perhaps as a stab at Imlach and his owners, the first NHLPA president was a Leaf…Bob Pulford!

As we all know, the Leafs haven’t won
a league championship since 1967. Not even close. But they do make money. Lots of it. And that’s another story.