THE GREAT GORMAN
Thomas P. Gorman loves hockey, racing and needling stuffed shirts. Championships follow him around—and often catch up
THOMAS PATRICK GORMAN a reddishhaired, twinkling-eyed Irishman who carries his 56 years as lightly as a pod of peas. He moves through life on the full gallop, his progress marked by shrill alarms, the clanging of distant bells, belly laughs and considerable excitement.
On those rare occasions when he slows down to a walk, he hides behind the prosaic title of General Manager of The ("anadian Arena Company. The title preseqts a singularly inadequate description of the man who bosses Montreal Canadiens, whose hockey teams have won The Stanley Cup a total of six times in three separate cities, who is hockey’s master ribber and whose genial double talk has caused his rivals and associates to experience much heartburn and many sleepless nigh ta.
Mr. Gorman com omes some of the characteristics of P. T. Barnum, Shirley Temple and a very shrewd banker. His hockey antagonists frequently regard him with chagrin, but Mr. Gorman can afford to chuckle at this discomfiturehe is the only surviving member of the four men who originally formed the National Hockey League.
Also, even if he had no other claim to fame, he would go down in history as the only former police reporter who had a chance to make a million dollars from a thoroughbred horse. However, he was the victim of a fate which can befall only an Irishman or a newspaperman the horse thoughtlessly took ill and died!
He started out as a page boy in the House of
Commons in his native Ottawa. The speed and enthusiasm he exhibited coursing through the musty halls of Parliament attracted the attention of Charlie Bishop (a newspaper reporter who now is Senator Charles Bishop), who promptly wangled Gorman a job on The Ottawa Citizen. After a brief whirl as police reporter he became the paper’s sports editor.
One morning in 1917, alarmed by the thought that he hadn’t met a single newspaperman who could afford to buy a Stanley Steamer, Gorman tipped his hat toward the publisher’s office and became publicity man for L. N. Bate, who owned the Ottawa Hockey Club.
A YEAR later, in partnership with Ted Day of the Ottawa Arena, he purchased the entire assets, human and otherwise, of the Ottawa Hockey Club for $2,500. The same year he sat in on the formation of the National Hockey League. His fellow negotiators were: Frank Calder, a newspaperman who was elected to the presidency; Mike Quinn, Quebec; and George Kendall of Montreal Canadiens. That was the meeting at which Big League Hockey was born—and Gorman is the only survivor of the original quartet.
In 1920 he managed the Ottawa Senators when on Toronto ice they defeated Seattle and won Gorman his first Stanley Cup. He had quite a team that year. Under present circumstances it would have cost several hundred thousand dollars to assemble, but Gorman had it for a paltry $2,500 plus salaries— which wouldn’t have caused a bank teller to squirm in envy. Players were Clint Benedict, Eddie Gerard, Sprague Cleghorn, George Boucher, Frank Nighbor, Punch Broad bent, Jack Darragh and Cy Dennenay. Those potent Senators won two more Stanley Cups for Gorman—in 1921 and 1923.
One morning—Jan. 24, 1925, to be exact — Gorman was
alarmed by the thought that Ottawa was exceeded in population by several other cities on the North American continent. So he sold the Ottawa Hockey Club to Frank Ahearn for $35,000, plus Ahearn’s stock in suburban Ottawa’s Connaught Jockey Club.
Two days later he was signed by Tex Rickard to manage the New York Americans, first American team to compete in the National Hockey League. Their home was Madison Square Garden. Never a gentleman to misjudge the company he was keeping, within a few days he had persuaded his new associates to pay $75,000 for the players owned by the Hamilton Tigers and take them to New York.
His mercurial temperament was exactly the ingredient necessary to make hockey the main winter sport of the new Garden, which at that time was the finest athletic arena in America. The opening game, on Dec. 15, 1925, was an event which outglamoured the debut of a Rockefeller heiress. The warmth of the mink and ermine wraps practically melted the ice, the jewels dazzled the referees and the pre-game ceremonies were as impressive as a presidential inauguration. There was only one important flaw—the Montreal Canadiens whacked the tar out of the Americans.
In the cold light of these 1946 mornings Gorman confesses that there were times when he viewed the New York scene with considerable misgivings. The New York Americans, despite the expenditure of large sums of coarse green notes, weren’t winning any championships. Furthermore the ownership of the Americans was in the hands of a group of uninhibited characters who, although they were splendid hosts to their athletic mercenaries, weren’t listed in New York’s Four Hundred. This unfortunate situation was intensified when the main proprietor of the club was tossed into the federal pogey at Atlanta, Ga., after a brief and unsuccessful tussle with the income tax authorities.
The sensitive Mr. Gorman, who, after all, was only
a few years out of Ottawa, was
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The Great Gorman
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wounded often about this time by comments from residents of the Garden gallery, who would greet him as he took his place on the American bench.
“Hey, Goiman,” they would shriek. “Have you had your instructions from Atlanta tonight?”
Despite the foibles of his associates he managed to sweat it out for four years. But perhaps his decision to leave New York was made one afternoon just before the Stanley Cup play-offs. The Americans, in some miraculous fashion, had struggled into a play-off berth and one of the proprietors of the club thought that it would he a simply splendid idea if the entire team was taken to his country estate to rest between the conclusion of the regular schedule and the opening of the playoffs. This gentleman had his own quaint conception of good healthful rest. He sent a fleet of his own cars to pick up the Americans for the trip. The first four cars were loaded with fluids which had been imported, at great trouble and expense, from the British Isles. The fifth car was loaded with the hockey players.
The gentleman in question not only was a patron of the interior decorating arts, he also dabbled more than lightly in the sport of kings. He had a flourishing thoroughbred horse farm on his estate, which also was equipped with a half-mile training track for his gallant steeds.
Upon arriving at this bucolic retreat the hockey players determined that the first manifestation of their period of restful training should consist of a rapid spin around the track aboard some of their host’s chargers. The star leftwinger of the club had been insisting for several days that he was an equestrian who, by comparison, would make Tom Mix look like a five-year-old riding a hobbyhorse. Accordingly he demanded the fastest and most spirited beast.
Uttering gay shouts the hockey players whipped their steeds away from the starting post and all went well until they reached the first, turn. At that juncture the star left-winger and his mount were leading the field by a comfortable margin. The horse made the customary turn to the left but, unfortunately, the left-winger neglected to go around the bend. He plowed through several acres of springtime air, and when they picked him up he was suffering from a fractured collarbone which under no conceivable circumstances could be patched together in time for the Stanley Cup play-offs.
It was a nice quiet afternoon. The sun was sinking slowly in the west as they carried the left-winger to his host’s mansion. Mr. Gorman doffed his hat and waved it at the setting sun—he waved it also at the Stanley Cup.
Under the circumstances Gorman could have been forgiven if thenceforth he had eschewed the thoroughbred horse. But the Gormans—like the Flahertys, the Caseys and the O’Tooles —are made of sturdy stuff, and Thomas still was of the opinion that a thoroughbred horse, if viewed in the proper perspective, is a noble, unassuming and courageous beast. When it comes to being man’s best friend, Gorman would rank the thoroughbred horse right up there with mothers and dogs. At that time Jim Crofton had just completed the new Agua Caliente race
track in Mexico and he offered Gorman a job as his assistant. After consulting the almanac, to assure himself that the tides and prevailing winds were propitious, Ottawa’s gift to the racing industry bade au revior to professional hockey and headed for Mexico.
He signed with Crofton on Dec. 25, 1928.
“Christmas Day always is an excellent time to do business,” he explains; “good will is in the air.”
The first meetingEit fabulous Caliente in Tiajuana county, opened three days later. Racing had been banned from California for many years and motion picture stars and other flamboyant Californians who were overburdened with money in that period of lush prosperity beat a trail across the Mexican border to the new race track. Messrs. Crofton and Gorman greeted them with opened Firms. Mr. Crofton made every effort to provide accommodation — including facilities for numerous git mes of chance—in which the visitors could spend their money as speedily and painlessly as possible.
It was a successful pEirtnership. The Agua Caliente Jockey Club’s revenues from one single day of hysteria— March 30, 1930—totalled $450,000
In 1932 a huge Australian gelding arrived in America and set the turf world by the ears. The horse’s name was Phar Lap. He was six years old, and was owned by a group of rather unbusinesslike Australians. When he galloped to it ridiculously easy triumph in the Agutí Caliente Handicap, his admirers clamorously demanded that he should be sent East to compete against America’s finest. Mr. Gorman, conscious of the interest in Phar Lap, had contracted to ta ke the horse on a tour of North American tracks—a tour from which his rather startling contract would allow him to Like most of the earnings. To this day he maintains that Phar Lap would have earned him a million dollars. His assessment of the possible financial returns may have been excessive, but at any rate he had omitted one slight detail—he had neglect«! to consult Phar Lap about the trip.
Just when Gorman was buying the train fares Phar Lap decided to lie down to die. In far-off Australia there were cries that t heir champion had been poisoned. An autopsy was ordered, and the distraught Gorman lurked on the outer fringe of the white-coated veterinariansnot to ascertain whether Phar Lap had been poisoned but to assure himself that the horse really was dead.
Back to Hockey
Gorman WEIS still reeling but recovering gamely from this blow when disaster struck again. The California legislature legalized racing in that state and the sportive Hollywoodians no longer found it necessary to cross the Mexican border to lose their money. The Agua Caliente Jockey Club blew up with EI resounding bang.
The explosion tossed Gorman high in the siir, but after executing a few spectacular cart wheels he landed, as usual, on his feet. Major Frederic McLaughlin hired him to be vicepresident and general manager of the Chicago Black Hawks, who had been struggling ineffectually in the National Hockey League.
The Hawks staggered through the 1932-33 season in hit-and-miss fashion. Then Gorman hired Lionel Conacher away from the Montreal Maroons. Conacher, often described as Canada’s best all-round athlete, had played for Gorman in New York. The next season Hawks surprised everyone except themselves by winning the Stanley Cup.
Gorman didn’t press his luck in Chicago. The following year saw him in charge of the Montreal Maroons, with Conacher back at his old sttmd on the Montreal defense. The combination clicked again; the Maroons swashbuckled their way to a Stanley Cup victory in the spring, and when 1936 rolled around Senator Donat Raymond rewarded his beaming Ottawan by making him general manager of the Canadian Arena Company. The association has lasted for 10 yeEirs, and the Senator and his previously footloose major-domo have found it mutually beneficial.
They experienced some heavy weather during the depression and decided that Montreal no longer could support two professional teams. Accordingly they consigned the Maroons to a fiowerless grave and eventually took over operation of Les Canadiens, the French-CanadiEin team which for years had been a tenant of the Canadian Arena Company’s building, The Forum.
Gorman signed Dick Irvin, a quiet but extremely efficient fellow, to coach Canadiens. Irvin was the right man for the right job—just as Conacher had been the right man on two previous occasions. They built carefully and their efforts were rewarded in 1943, when the Canadiens—downtrodden for a decade—sped to a spectacular Stanley Cup win. Because it had been such a monumental rebuilding job, Gorman calls that one his sweetest triumph of the six Stanley Cups he has helped to win.
Many persons would consider his present job to be a fairly fitting climax to a promotorial career, but Cornum, who apparently luis WEiters from the fountain of youth piped directly into his office, simply took a deep breath and plunged straight ahead. Quietly he took over full control of the Conmiught Park race track and he acquired control of the Ottawa Auditorium. He also bossed the Quebec Racing Association for several years but recently cut himself adrift from that organization, which is regarded fretfully by the governors of organized racing EIS being a bit undignified. He is frank in his admission that by divorcing himself from the Quebec circuit he hopes to re-establish Connaught Park as ii profitable unit in the powerful Incorporated Canadian Racing Association, which runs racing in Ontario.
His own colorful personality has been publicized to such a degree that the charming Mrs. Gorman and two adult sons and a daughter sometimes are overlooked. Elder son, Frank, is managing the Ottawa Auditorium this year, while Joe is acting as publicist for the same organization, which operates a team in the Quebec Senior Group. This league operates under amateur guise but actually many of its players are paid more than they would receive in minor professional leagues.
It may be only a coincidence that Ottawa’s club this year is very good. In their first year of operation the Gormans are making more money out of amateur hockey than ever was made in the best year during which the old professional Ottawa club operated in the Auditorium.
Mr. CormEin’s natural Celtic ebullience, his shrewd employment of publicity and his manipulations of the Quebec Senior Group are viewed unhappily by his rivals in the National Hockey League. They do not love him. His sense of humor enables him to overlook this startling defect in the social conduct of his colleagues—he doesn’t love them, either, but he delights in making them uncomfortable.
There was a National Hockey League meeting several years ago during which Lester Patrick, of the New York Rangers, and Art Ross, of the Boston Bruins, were wrangling over the ownership of a certain player. The player belonged to the Rangers but Patrick accused Ross of advising the player not to sign a contract with the New York team. As the crowning proof of Ross’ perfidy Patrick, with a flourish, threatened to produce a copy of a letter allegedly written by Ross to the player.
As the combatants eyed each other tensely the pregnant silence was broken by a stage whisper croaked by Gorman in mock horror: “Why did he write a letter—why didn’t he use the longdistance telephone?”
This spirit of levity is deplored by the hockey moguls, some of whom would feel very happy in stuffed shirts. Similarly Gorman outraged his rivals, old-time hockey players and newspapermen, when, after the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1943, he proclaimed that they were the greatest team in history (which he doesn’t believe). The next year he said that Maurice Richard, of Canadiens, is the greatest right-winger in history (which he doesn’t believe either).
However, both his statements had the desired effect—they inspired fistbrandishing controversy and he retired, chuckling, to the sidelines while the debaters forgot who had started the whole fuss.
It was this same carefully cultivated instinct for doing the wrong thing at the right time which impelled him to insert a special clause in Maurice Richard’s contract this year. Ever conscious of Montreal-Toronto jealousies he agreed to give Richard a special bonus of $100 for each game that the Canadiens won on Toronto ice. Then, surreptitiously, he made certain that news of the bonus leaked into the newspapers. Good fun—and not excessively expensive!
There appears to be no limit to the enjoyment which this whimsical extrovert derives from his fish bowl life. Despite the fact that many years have passed since he pulled the hood over that typewriter in the office of the Ottawa Citizen, he favors the personal treatment in publicizing his numerous ventures. He writes a good many of his own releases, and if a weary newspaperman falls by the wayside he can count upon Gorman performing his stint for him —particularly if a Gorman promotion is in need of a favorable press notice.
Thus it was that one day, when he was managing the Chicago Black Hawks, he strode into the lobby of the Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal. Paul Thompson, then a Black Hawk leftwinger, was sitting in the lobby, reading the sports page of a Montreal paper. As Gorman approached, Thompson lowered the paper and with new respect in his voice said: “They certainly like you in this town, boss. A story in this paper says that you are a fine fellow and undoubtedly one of the greatest hockey coaches in the history of the game.
“Well, I’m not surprised that the story expresses such a fine appreciation of my talents,” said Mr. Gorman amiably. “After all, I wrote that particular story myself!”
We should always be as generous with a man as we are with a picture, which we always give the benefit of the best possible light.—Emerson.