SPORTS WATCH

Nuggets from a year in sports

The madcap Williams throws a terrible pitch. Low and inside, the ball might have hit Carter if his bat doesn’t swat it away.

TRENT FRAYNE January 10 1994
SPORTS WATCH

Nuggets from a year in sports

The madcap Williams throws a terrible pitch. Low and inside, the ball might have hit Carter if his bat doesn’t swat it away.

TRENT FRAYNE January 10 1994

Nuggets from a year in sports

SPORTS WATCH

The madcap Williams throws a terrible pitch. Low and inside, the ball might have hit Carter if his bat doesn’t swat it away.

TRENT FRAYNE

Three thoughts for the New Year, past, present and future. For 90 years, Canadian sports scribes and even learned historians have snoozed over the weirdest and, in some ways, most wonderful chapter in the long story of the Stanley Cup. Nearly a century late, here comes an American field-service engineer showing us our folly.

Don Reddick is a 39-year-old Bostonian who has written a novel based on the Dawson City Nuggets, surely the worst and most heart-warming assortment ever to play for hockey’s most exalted trophy. Of course, most of us knew about these Klondike madmen, about their 6,000-km, 25-day ordeal from the Yukon to Ottawa, about their twogame Stanley Cup challenge to the reigning Ottawa Silver Seven, about their losses by 9-2 in the opening game and 23-2 in the next one.

But as far as Reddick knows, no one before him went to the Yukon for the sole purpose of researching and writing a book about the epic journey that the Yukon Gold Rush prospectors undertook in -32° C weather on Dec. 19, 1904. They left Dawson City by dog team and even on bicycles, but were forced by weather to walk most of the 516 km to Whitehorse in just under 13 days. Reddick writes: “At 4:45 p.m. on Jan. 11, 1905, after 25 days of continual movement through the trails of the Yukon, the yanking narrowgauge railway from Whitehorse to Skagway, the tossing and gut-turning of the sea passage (to Vancouver), and then five days of train travel across Canada, the Dawson City Seven stumbled from the train into Ottawa’s Union Station.”

Reddick uses the actual names of the Nugget players in his novel, Dawson City Seven, a tale he constructed from conversations with relatives of the players and from his own research. He has done a nice service to hockey fans.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, what I did,” Joe Carter said just the other day, two months af-

ter the home run that ended the World Series, the one that should never have been hit. No, Joe should never have obtained the kind of immortality that baseball bestows upon its heroes. One of those thinking managers from the National League, Jim Fregosi, handed it to him.

Joe’s blow was the biggest hit in sports during 1993, and it made the Toronto Blue Jays the World Series champions for the second season in succession. Happily for them, another deep-thinking National League manager, Bobby Cox, had donated the tools for victory in 1992, too. You remember 1992, the 11th inning, the sixth game, two out, the score tied 2-2, the Blue Jays shading Atlanta three games to two. Now, Blue Jays runners are at first and second, and Dave Winfield is at the plate. It has been a sad series for Dave. Though his imposing character and loud bat carried the Blue Jays through the season, he has been largely silent in the World Series. Still, at six feet, six inches and carrying a big stick, he is no automatic out.

In the circumstances, did Cox go to the bullpen for a right-hander? No, the thinkingman’s manager left in the left-handed Charlie Leibrandt, 36 and visibly tiring. Also, Cox had

his third baseman, Terry Pendleton, shaded towards shortstop, a late-inning no-no leaving the foul line unguarded against an extra-base hit into the left-field corner. Result? A double down the line past Pendleton for the victory.

Now, a year later, here is Fregosi, brain afire in the Phillies dugout, leading 6-5, Blue Jays runners at first and second, and up comes Carter at the plate, a guy who’ll jar a hip out of joint reaching for and missing outside sliders from right-handers. But Fregosi does not feed him a right-hander, unhinging a hip. Instead, here is the madcap reliever, Mitch Williams, a left-hander of course, who throws a terrible pitch on a 2-2 count. Low and inside, the ball might have hit Carter on the shins if his bat doesn’t swat it away. The National League is the thinking man’s league? Bah, humbug.

They’ll still wonder why they have to turn the wrong way, but race horses from Europe are going to love the new turf track at Toronto’s Woodbine, the most international of Canada’s tracks. So are the two-legged racegoers rushing to the betting windows from a peek at a racing strip unique in North America—an uninterrupted mile and a half of grass.

Assuredly, there are other grass courses on the continent. Santa Anita has one in California. Belmont has one in New York. Indeed, almost everywhere that thoroughbred racing is taken seriously, there are courses deep in grass. But none stretches a full and classic mile and a half, and a few are crossed by the dirt tracks that border them.

So Woodbine is likely to become the leading North American track for transoceanic horse racing, attracting the turf stars from the big tracks of France and England and Ireland, where all racing is on long, undulating, even hillside grass tracks. Over there, unlike here, most races are run clockwise, but apart from a need to adjust their strides, overseas horses will find Woodbine familiar even to the point of rolling stretches through wooded areas, not too unlike Longchamp in Paris or Epsom outside London. The track is part of a new look at Woodbine, a renovation that cost close to $14 million before its unveiling on Jan. 1. The three new racing strips include the new grass course, a newly laid one-mile dirt track and (yipe!) an inner seven-eighths stone-dust track for trotting horses.

Trotters at princely Woodbine? Indeed, a whole new concept as the onetime bucolic breed moves into the domain of the top-hatted, swallowtailed purveyors of the Queen’s Plate. One of the track’s directors was heard to mutter that Edward Plunkett Taylor would be spinning in his grave, but that’s a bum rap. It was Taylor’s foresight and energy that made Canadian racing world class, particularly through the unequalled prowess of the terror of the breeding barns, Northern Dancer. But it was also Taylor’s fine hand that lifted trotting racing from country backwaters to bright lights. The marriage of the two breeds at Woodbine is a nice conclusion to what E. P. might have had percolating under the grey topper all along.