Articles

NOBODY’S too big for Ted Lindsay

Trent Frayne October 26 1957
Articles

NOBODY’S too big for Ted Lindsay

Trent Frayne October 26 1957

NOBODY’S too big for Ted Lindsay

Trent Frayne

Hockey’s scrappy little all-star leftwinger has battled the largest and roughest men on the ice. Now, as president of the new players’ union, he may be taking on his toughest opponents of all—the NHL owners

Straight ahead is the only direction Ted Lindsay has ever traveled in thirteen years in the National Hockey League. As a snarling, mocking, richly talented performer for the Detroit Red Wings from 1944 until he was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks last summer, he recognized no detours in becoming the highest-scoring leftwinger of all time, and one of the stormiest. Lean and scarred and built like a middleweight boxer, he has taken on defensemen who outweigh him by fifty pounds, and while they've cut him up and knocked him down they’ve never changed his mind. He.has publicly charged the president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell, with prejudice. He has fought on the ice with his own teammates and ofT it with fans, policemen and even his long-time employer, general manager Jack Adams. They stopped speaking to each other two years ago. For thirteen years Ted Lindsay has never backed down from anyone and now. this fall, in addition to moving to a new challenge with the lowly Hawks, he is taking on the largest order of them all—the men who run the league.

He'll do this as president of the National Hockey League Players' Association, a union formed by the ice-bound serfs in awesome secrecy during a three-month period last winter, with Lindsay as one of its principal instigators and organizers. When its existence was announced by Lindsay at a press conference in New York last February, the club owners and league executives expressed an astonishment matched only by that of most hockey fans. The sudden material-

ization of a players’ union was unexpected in itself: still more remarkable was the materialization as the players’ spokesman and president, their archenemy during working hours, the little hellion Lindsay.

Lindsay’s announcement on the formation of the players’ united front w;as made with studied understatement. “We have organized to promote and protect the best interests of the players,” he said. "We don’t intend to start a revolution. We aren't displeased continued on page 38

Continued from page 27

“I'm not sore at Adams — I pity a man like that”

or discontented about a single thing.”

But no owner was reassured by these seemingly innocuous words. Conn Smythe. of Toronto, was so moved by the idea of a union that he called his own team’s representative, Jimmy Thomson. “a traitor and a Quisling,” according to Thomson. Thomson, who joined the Leafs in 1945 and was with them for twelve seasons, then had his contract dispatched by Smythe to the farm club in Rochester. Six months later, Thomson was sold to Chicago.

Smythe speaks cautiously in public about the union, as do all the owners who, after their initial gasps of surprise, have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Adams, for example, said nothing publicly about Lindsay’s leading role in formation of the union, but Detroit sports writers were predicting as far back as March that it was the final incident in his disenchantment with Lindsay and that he would be traded to Chicago. The trade finally was announced last July 2-3.

There was a day when Adams loved Terrible Ted as a son. “Lindsay?” he beamed in 1952. “He’s my kind of hockey player.” Later, explaining why he had appointed him captain of the Red Wings, he said, “Lindsay is captain because Lindsay is a fighter and a leader. He’s a player who never quits himself and can stir his team up in the dressing room and on the ice.”

But two years ago, possibly because the maturing Lindsay was beginning to show a lively individuality in discussions with Adams, the passions faded. Independence of thought is not, Lindsay had concluded, a characteristic that is encouraged by NHL executives. “They don’t think we have minds of our own,” Lindsay says of the moguls. “They treat us like we were little babies.”

Whatever the reason, Adams removed the captain’s mantle from Lindsay’s shoulders, and then the two stopped speaking to each other. Through last season, while the player was enjoying his greatest year of thirteen in a Red Wings suit, Adams charged him in the newspapers with “complacency.” Once, undismayed by the number of penalties incurred annually by his tiger, Adams observed hatefully of Lindsay last midseason that “a man can’t score from the penalty box.” By the time the season ended, one in which Lindsay compiled his own all-time high of eighty-five scoring points and was named for an unprecedented eighth time as the NHL’s all-star leftwinger, the breach was complete: Adams announced that his one-time “untouchable”—his own word for a player who will not be sold or traded — was available for trade. Lindsay told newspapermen that if he was traded he’d quit hockey.

He changed his mind in a series of discussions with James D Norris, the Chicago owner. At first he was adamant in his decision to retire. Then two things changed his mind. “The Chicago club gave me an opportunity that I can’t afford to pass up,” he says. This followed what Lindsay calls “derogatory statements” by Adams about him and his family. He doesn’t want to expand on the subject. “I’m not going to get into a name-calling exchange with Adams," he says. **I want the whole thing to blow over. I think Chicago has an up-andcoming club. I’m not sore at Adams. I pity a man like that.”

Adams, unwittingly or otherwise, revealed the crux of his final disenchantment while Lindsay was weighing his decision to retire. He was asked if he thought Lindsay would. “Where else can

he get twenty-two thousand dollars a year—presiding over the Players’ Association?” scoffed the Red Wing ruler.

Opposition from the game’s executives is not likely to faze Lindsay in the committee rooms because he’s been overcoming opposition, some of it unbelievably violent, ever since he broke into the league. Early in his career he got involved with Butch Bouchard, a Montreal defenseman who is six to eight inches taller and fifty pounds heavier. Bouchard swung his stick as Lindsay started to skate away and he ducked his head be-

fore he realized that Bouchard’s stick was swung low. Instead of hitting him on the thigh or the hip it caught him across the temple. He went to hospital with a concussion and was under observation for four days. He says now it was an accident. “I shouldn’t have ducked.”

At other times in his tempestuous career Lindsay suffered a fractured check bone, two shoulder separations, so many broken noses that he has lost count, two broken hands, and assorted other lumps, sprains and bruises. He estimates that he carries the imprint of two hundred

and seventy stitches, so many of them in his face that his nickname around the league is Little Scarface.

He’s dished out his share of hemstitching, too. Bill Ezinicki, a solid rock of a rightwinger for Boston in 1951, was cooling people out with impassive violence after two straight seasons with Toronto as the league’s penalty leader. Lindsay and Ezinicki exchanged a few brisk taps with their sticks during a lull in the play and then their tempers burst and they began wood-chopping each other. Then they threw down their

sticks and gloves and the carnage was incredible. Ezinicki needed eleven stitches to close a stick cut from eyebrow to hairline. He raised four stitches on the side of his head. He needed four more on the inside of his mouth, and he had one tooth broken off. Lindsay required only one stitch but, not altogether unexpectedly, needed treatment for a scarred and bruised right hand.

Just last February l.indsay became involved in a tangle with Gerry Toppazzini, of Boston, in which Toppazzini's face was so battered that he refused to let photographers take his picture in the hospital. “I don’t want my family to see me looking like this,” he mumbled through swollen lips. Sixteen stitches were required to close cuts about his right eye, across his nose, which was broken, and around his mouth.

Lindsay insists the injuries were accidentally inflicted. “It was the kind of play that happens dozens of times a season,” he says. “We didn’t see each other until the last possible second. Then I threw up my hands to protect myself. Somehow my stick hit his face."

Toppazzini, visited by Lindsay in hospital, bears out this version. “It was entirely an accident,” he says. “I told Ted that. It could have been him.”

Lindsay, who confesses that he hates anybody on the other team once a game starts, has even fought a teammate. This was a rookie named Red Eye Hay who was playing against Ted in an intra-squad exhibition game in Sault Ste. Marie in 1953. Lindsay says he took exception to the manner in which Hay was “throwing his weight around against one of our kids,” so the two of them went at it. Afterward, in the penalty box, a fan began badgering Lindsay and another fight ensued. Lindsay fell down a flight of stairs and when a policeman grabbed him Lindsay started swinging at the arm of the law, too.

He says no man can last in the NHL who backs away from a fight. “The first thing they find out in this business is if you can take it,” he says. “A little guy has to have plenty of self-confidence, maybe even seem cocky. 1 had the idea that I should beat up every player I tangled with, and I’m still not convinced it wasn’t a good idea. What are you going to do when some guy starts giving it to you—skate away? You wouldn't last five games.”

l.indsay has lasted thirteen years to this point, and no other performer in hockey history has so successfully melded so much skulduggery with so much skill. Even Maurice Richard, the game's greatest scorer, who has grown familiar with all the splinters on all the penalty benches in a tempestuous career, has not spent as much time in the league’s coolers in fifteen seasons as Lindsay has in thirteen. Their comparative total sentences are 1,250 minutes to 1,175. Nor has the great Richard outdistanced Lindsay in winning a berth on the league's all-star teams: they’ve been named eight times each, leading all players. Lindsay, who has scored 321 goals, is now fourth in the all-time scoring list behind Richard, Gordie Howe, of Detroit, and Neis Stewart, a former great who scored 323 goals in fifteen seasons. They arc the only players in hockey history to score more than 300 goals; indeed, no one else has scored more than 270.

His skill and his combativeness, his scars, his visit to Toppazzini after their crash, his refusal to blame big Bouchard for giving him a concussion, and his refusal to back away from a fight — all these things are keys to the character of the volcanic l.indsay. an unexpectedly calm, personable and even gentle person

away from the battle pits. Being a comparatively small man of five-feet-eight and weighing between 163 and 168 pounds, he has the small man's compulsion to prove he belongs. He claims he hasn't started more than half the brawls he’s been embroiled in, an appraisal which, in the words of veteran defenseman Jim Thomson, “is maybe a little high, just a little too high.”

"He’s sneaky,” says Thomson. “You’ve got to keep your eyes open all the time or he'll cut your heart out. He can be a fine friendly fellow off the ice, but once they drop that puck, look out. He loves to win.”

Put differently, it could be said that Lindsay just can’t stand losing. His wife Pat, a beautiful black-haired blue-eyed Detroit girl, says he can't even stand to lose a game of cards. They play gin rummy and cribbage occasionally, and Pat says it just isn't worth it to win. “He gets polity,” she smiles.

Fifteen years ago. when Lindsay, Thomson, Gus Mortson of the Chicago Black Hawks, and a centre player named Bobby Schnurr were playing for the Toronto St. Mike's juniors, they used to while away occasional afternoons playing hearts, a card game in which the object is to win as few heart tricks as possible and to avoid taking the queen of spades. Lindsay was tossed the queen six times during one game and although they were playing for only a fiftieth of a cent a point he leaped to his feet the sixth time he got the queen, grabbed the deck and threw the cards out the window.

"Something wells up inside me”

He has carried that insatiable will to win through his hockey career. He was so determined to prove his worth when manager Jack Adams made him captain of the Red Wings that he set an all-time NHL record for penalties in a single game — thirty minutes. That was against Toronto on Oct. 12, 1952, when he roamed all over the ice to stand up for his teammates. He even rushed to the aid of Gordie Howe, who is four inches taller and thirty pounds heavier and a man who has never needed help in a fight. Howe was enjoying a routine little scrap with Ted Kennedy, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, when Lindsay charged across the ice to take over Howe’s role and earn himself a major penalty. Then he got another major for fighting with a scrappy little Leaf player, Gordie Hannigan. The two majors brought an automatic misconduct penalty and a twenty-five-dollar fine. When this was announced over the public-address system, Lindsay leaped from the penalty box to scorch referee Bill Chadwick, who promptly slapped on a match misconduct penalty while his ears were still burning.

“Something wells up inside me,” Lindsay says in trying to explain these heavy involvements. “I can’t stand somebody trying to show me up.”

Fans in out-of-town rinks often become inflamed by Lindsay's provocative attitude, his fights with the hometown players and, of course, his ability to put the puck in the home net. Consequently, he is one of the most often booed players in the game, a fact that causes him no concern whatever.

“As long as the fans don’t boo you at home you don't have to worry,” he says. “If they boo you on the road you must be doing something to help your own club. As for other players, I'd like them all to be my friends—off the ice.”

Thus, Lindsay, a player who has engaged in violence with Rocket Richard and blistered that volatile player's ears with taunts, has tremendous off-the-ice

respect for the Rocket's talents. "He's a master at pacing himself,” says Lindsay. "One minute he seems to be skating around aimlessly, and then he gets an opening and he strikes and you're dead. Beautiful!"

Thus, too. this terrible-tempered Mr. Bang of the ice lanes is a softie around the house. His wife Pat recalls that he always got up in the middle of the night when their youngsters Blake, now three, and the little girl Lynn, now two, were months-old babies crying in the night. “He'd change them and soothe them,"

Pat says, “and even now he still brings me my orange juice in bed. And 1 used to hate him!"

That was prior to 1952 when Pat occasionally went to games in the Detroit Olympia. She was a Red Wings fan all right, but she recalls that “he irritated me on the ice.” They met through a mutual friend. “I found, as so many people have, that he's a real Jekyll-Hyde kind of person," she relates. “1 found him delightful.”

The Lindsays live in Birmingham, a residential suburb of Detroit. Their L-

shaped grey-brick house overlooks the Oakland Hills Country Club's golf course and has nine rooms and three bathrooms, with a green slate floor and Tennessee ledge-rock fireplace in the recreation room. They drive two cars, a Ford station wagon and an Oldsmobile hardtop convertible.

Such baubles of splendor were not part of the Lindsay menage in Renfrew, Ont., back on July 29, 1925, when the ninth and. as it turned out, last child was born to Mr. and Mrs. Bert Lindsay. Bert Lindsay, who had played hockey in

Victoria and Renfrew with men like Lester Patrick, Cyclone Taylor and Newsy Lalonde, worked for a trucking firm. When it failed in 1933 he went to Kirkland Lake in the gold-mining area of northern Ontario and got a job as manager of the rink. He moved his six boys and three girls north, including the baby who had been christened Robert Blake Lindsay. The Blake was in honor of a favorite uncle, Blake Johnston, nicknamed Ted. and thus little Robert Blake Lindsay became Ted, too. Later the boy grew weary of explaining that Ted was a nickname and added Theodore to his list of Christian names.

Lindsay got his first pair of skates when he was nine, given to him by a neighbor named Mrs. Brady. He recalls he wore out the sides of the boots on unsteady ankles long before the ' skates had outlived their usefulness. Even before he learned to skate he acquired the first in his long list of injuries. He was out one day on an open-air rink in thirtydegree-below-zero weather with his hands stuffed in his pockets, trying to bring the reluctant skates into line. The severe cold caused a long crack in the ice, which the unsteady boy was unable to avoid. He fell face down, his hands still pinned in his pockets, and broke off two front teeth.

Fearing his mother would forbid his skating excursions he didn’t mention the broken teeth and perfected a method of smiling, when necessary, without moving his upper lip from his teeth. But after three weeks, the teeth became infected and he had to have three removed, and a permanent plate installed.

He was small as a boy and so learned early to use guile and pugnacity to keep even with the bigger kids. He played hockey for the Holy Name school, won a couple of all-Ontario championships, and then turned down offers from the Galt and St. Catharines junior teams because they couldn’t guarantee he’d be able to keep up his schooling. He entered St. Michael’s school in Toronto.

Except for an injury he’d probably have become a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A fan recommended “a kid playing the wing for St. Mike's” to Leaf coach Hap Day, who asked the team’s assistant manager, Frank Selke, now managing director of the Canadiens, to take a look. But Lindsay had been speared in the calf by a skate point and was hospitalized for two weeks. When Selke watched St. Mike’s he saw a wingman named Joe Sadler make several good moves and assumed that this was the player in whom Day was interested.

When Lindsay returned to St. Mike's line-up he was spotted by the late Carson Cooper. Detroit’s chief scout, who followed him for a couple of games. When he saw Lindsay win two fights and score a goal he put his name on the Detroit list.

In the spring, with the Oshawa Generals in the Memorial Cup finals, coach Charlie Conacher selected Lindsay as a replacement for an injured player and Lindsay helped the Generals win the national junior championship in 1944. Conacher, former star of the Maple Leafs and later coach of the Chicago Black Hawks, has never changed his high opinion of Lindsay. Not long ago he named him the greatest leftwinger he’d ever seen. “He’s like Ted Williams,” says Conacher. “He can do everything, does it with a flourish, and has a mind of his own.”

Certainly Lindsay has never been a conformist, from the instant he jumped straight to the Red Wings from St. Mike’s as a nineteen-year-old until the February day in 1957 when he an-

nounced that the players had formed an association, with himself as president. He reels that one incident illustrating the need for a union is the case of Jim Thomson, who was shipped off to the minors by his outspoken employer, Conn Smythe, and was on the minor-league roster all summer until his sale in August to Chicago. “It doesn’t seem fair lhat after twelve years in the big league a player can be shipped off like that." he says. "There ought to be greater recognition of a man who has proven himself. He ought to become a free agent and allowed to make a deal for himself.”

What happens now in a case like Thomson's is that the player’s name is placed on a waiver list. Each of the other five NHL clubs has an opportunity lo buy him for fifteen thousand dollars. If nobody claims him, the team holding his contract can ship him anywhere. Lindsay insists that the price tag deters an NHL club from claiming a veteran player because, in addition to the purchase price, there is still the matter of »alary that might range between ten and fifteen thousand dollars.

“That means a club must gamble between twenty-five and thirty thousand dollars on a player who might only last another year,” he says. "If he could make a deal for himself, the club's gamble would be cut in half, and he d get another season, at least, in the NHL."

Last August, Chicago decided to take that gamble on Thomson. If the Hawks hadn't. Thomson would have had to stay on the Rochester roster. As far as Lindsay is concerned, the principle is still valid.

The players also feel the owners could contribute more to the players' pension fund than the administrative costs they now bear. As of now. fund money comes from the players, each of whom contributes nine hundred dollars a season, from a twenty-five-cent surtax imposed on tickets for playoff games, and from two thirds of the annual all-star game s gate receipts.

No money from television networks goes to the fund. Last season the Columbia Broadcasting System paid the clubs a hundred thousand dollars for permission to carry ten games across the United States. This year the American network will carry twenty-one games, reportedly at an increased fee that might mean three hundred thousand dollars or more. Lindsay feels a portion of this money might well be allocated to the pension fund.

It isn’t the snarling stick-flicking Lindsay who talks of these things, a scarred thirty-two-year-old veteran of a hundred hockey wars. It's the other Lindsay, a calm young business executive, neatly dressed, and controlled. This is the Lindsay who is a partner in two firms in Detroit supplying automotive accessories to the vast automobile industry. An executive who does business with him predicts “he's going places—he’s hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year material if I ever saw it." This Lindsay declines to talk publicly about his fallout with general manager Jack Adams, beyond terming it “a conflict in personalities.”

Such earthy diplomacy couched in such lofty terms helps explain why his fellow players elected Lindsay their first president even while fingering the scars he'd inflicted. As one of them observed cheerfully, "It’s nice to have the little rat on our side for a change.”

it would appear, then, that this Lindsay—the one with the velvet glove—will prove quite as formidable as the other — the one who climbed to the top carrying a big stick and never backed down from anyone. ★