THINGS ARE LOOKING BRIGHT FOR A HOGTOWN NINE SOME DAY
THINGS ARE LOOKING BRIGHT FOR A HOGTOWN NINE SOME DAY
Ever since Montreal won a major league baseball franchise in 1969, Toronto—like a spoiled younger brother—has been clamoring to get one too. Now, after halfa-dozen abortive bids, the city may finally lure a team—perhaps in time for the 1976 season. The franchise: Horace Stoneham’s ailing San Francisco Giants. The would-be owners: Labatt’s Breweries of London, Ontario, and/or R. Howard Webster, chairman of the Globe and Mail.
Stoneham’s price tag is said to be $16 million, including four million dollars to retire the Giants’ 18-year lease at Candlestick Park—a price generally considered too steep. (A group headed by baseball maverick Bill Veeck recently purchased the Chicago White Sox for an estimated $12 million—60% of what owner John Allyn had been asking.) But, says Labatt executive Dave Cashen, “We’ve had more than just preliminary talks, and Stoneham has talked readily.”
Curiously, the Webster interests are being actively promoted by Montreal city
councillor Gerry Snyder, the man w ho engineered the Expo franchise. Snyder— Mayor Jean Drapeau’s sports consultant— will be negotiating contracts between the city and future tenants (principally the Expos) of the new Olympic stadium. The current rumor is that Expos president John McHale asked National League owners to postpone any decision on the Toronto franchise, pending agreement on the contract. “Give Toronto a team now,” says one baseball authority, “and you take away the Expos’ bargaining power with Montreal. They won’t be able to threaten moving to Upper Canada.” Conversely, if Snyder completes a deal for Webster and Labatt’s, Drapeaudome negotiations become advantageous for the city. Even if he succeeds, however. National League governors would have to ratify the sale at the annual meetings in December.
But the real hurdle is not so much the Expos as it is Stoneham’s asking price. Punned one insider: “He just wants too much. You can lead a Horace to water, but you can’t give him mink.” BOB DUNN
When it stops being fun ...
Robin Sadler had the kind of summer most junior hockey players would envy. In June, the 20-year-old defenseman was the firstround draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens—a singular honor. (He was also drafted second by the WHA’S Denver Spurs.) In mid-August, he and attorney Alan Eagleson negotiated a three-year contract with the Canadiens, worth an estimated $250,000. In early September he reported to training camp—in the heady company of previous first-round choices Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey—and quickly impressed coach Scotty Bowman with his puck-handling ability. And while Sadler was probably destined to spend an apprentice season with Montreal’s farm team in Halifax, he could safely look forward to a long, lucrative career in the NHL and a very comfortable future. But one week into camp, to the amazement of coaches and players alike, Robin Sadler quit, flew home to Vancouver and applied for a fireman’s job at $962 a month. “Ed been thinking about it for over a year,” said Sadler recently. “I was good enough to keep going. People push you into it. Then you start thinking: whose life is this?”
Sadler wasn’t the only player giving pro hockey second thoughts. Toronto Maple Leaf veteran Ron Ellis and rookie Billy Hassard likewise abandoned the game— Ellis in favor of a pen distribution company, Hassard for a milk route in rural Ontario. And each of them implicitly confirmed what some Canadian sports fans have long since come to believe: that professional hockey, with its violence ethic, had ceased to be a game. “If that’s the way they want it, okay,” said Sadler, a husky, six-foot-two 190-pounder. “But I don’t need it. It’s supposed to be a sport, but if they want boxing they should go into boxing.” The offensive-minded Sadler (32 goals and 61 assists last season with the Western Junior League’s Edmonton Oil Kings) wanted a life with less pressure, “an easier pace. “I keep seeing where Gordie Howe says that when it stops being fun, he’ll quit. Well, it’s always been a job for me.”
The evidence suggests that Sadler isn’t kidding. Three times he attended the Oil Kings’ training camp. The first year he left to complete high school. The second time, “I just said, ‘That’s not for me. It’s too serious.’ ” Last year he stayed. And shortly after the draft, recalls defenseman John Phillips, who chummed with Sadler, “he seemed really excited about pro hockey. He saw a new life, new experiences, and of course, the money.”
It wasn’t enough. “I suppose there are a few players in it just for the money,” says Sadler, son of a prosperous Vancouver real estate agent. “Eve got nothing against money, but I think it would be a waste of time for myself and the team.” True to his instincts, Sadler even refused to accept his signing bonus—about $75,000. Said Eagleson: “He was legally entitled to it, but he didn’t think it would be ethical to take it. You have to respect him for his decision.”
Now, awaiting word on his fireman’s application, Sadler is working for a delivery service, and is even considering playing hockey again this winter—with his old team, the Nor-Wes Caps. “There’s no pressure there. You play for fun. I can go out and really enjoy it.”
As proud as Punch
Punch Imlach could have been excused a gloat or two last week, as professional hockey opened its biggest season ever (1,300 games). For one thing, his Buffalo Sabres are bona fide contenders in the National Hockey League. For another, general manager Imlach tutored as players no less than six of the NHL’S 18 coaches. In addition to Floyd Smith of Imlach’s own Sabres, AÍ Arbour (New York Islanders), Bob Pulford (Los Angeles Kings), Ron Stewart (New York Rangers) and Red Kelly (Toronto Maple Leafs) are alumni of Imlach’s championship Toronto teams of the Sixties. Don Cherry, coach of the Boston Bruins, played for him in the minors. Says Imlach, 57, “I guess they were listening to what I said after all.”
The upstart World Hockey Association also has its Imlach disciples, including irascible Bob Baun behind the Toronto Toros’ bench. The 14-team WHA, after four years of musical franchises, lawsuits, empty arenas and an entirely justified inferiority complex, is retrenching. A schedule reshuffle to accommodate the new Denver Spurs and Cincinnati Stingers, has one of the league’s three divisions made up entirely of Canadian teams—Quebec, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary (née Vancouver)—a move designed to cut travel expenses and, it is rumored, interest the senior NHL in some sort of future hookup of the two leagues. The WHA has recruiting problems, however. The prestige of the NHL still beats megabucks in the eyes of Saskatchewan farm boys fresh out of junior. Meanwhile, the league is training and losing good young players (Toros’ Wayne Dillon and Pat Hickey to the NHL’S Rangers, and Vancouver’s Pat Price to the Islanders), and providing semi-retirement for such veterans as Dave Keon and Norm Ullman.
The biggest talent pool for the pros is still college and junior leagues, but Europe is not far behind. In fact, there may be nights when Winnipeg Jets’ coach Bobby Kromm needs Berlitz more than hockey experience to run his team. The Jets have added two more Swedes to last year’s three and picked up two Finns besides. But such is hockey now that in addition to a Swede or Finn it also helps to have a millionaire on the bench. Winnipeg’s Bobby Hull makes his team a perennial threat and the oldest hockey millionaire, Houston Aeros’ team president, 47-year-old Gordie Howe, has decided to spend more time with his family by playing another year alongside the two Aeros he fathered, Mark and Marty.
In the NHL’S fifty-ninth season, Philadelphia, Montreal, Buffalo and the Rangers should be front-runners. Despite its own resident millionaire, Bobby Orr, Boston has problems. Orr and Phil Esposito effectively run the team, leaving Coach Don Cherry to open the gate and change the lines. At any rate, Orr’s wonky knee will keep him out of action for the next month.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the NHL recognizes ex-Toros Dillon and Hickey as rookies when choosing the top frosh. Hitherto, the NHL has refused to consider the WHA an equal; the WHA, for its part, officially refers to the NHL as “the other league.” Such an attitude may provide delightful irony: Minnesota Fighting Saints’ 35-year-old Dave Keon, easily the best recruit in the league, could become the WHA’S rookie-of-the-year, an award he won in “the other league” some 15 seasons ago. WAYNE LILLEY
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