Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Secretariat Comes to Arlington

Secretariat (with Ron Turcotte up) at Arlington Park,
37 years ago today. Trainer Lucien Laurin (in gray coat)
and owner Penny Chenery Tweedy (with black purse)
are visible in the background. 

     In the 1973 Triple Crown races, a colt named Sham admirably demonstrated both talent and heart. He ran the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby faster than it had ever been run in the 99-year history of the race. Likewise, he covered the mile and three-sixteenths of the Preakness in record time. But he finished second in both races, beaten by two and a half lengths each time. In the Belmont Stakes, he battled gamely with the horse that had defeated him in the other two races. Finally, the strain of trying to keep up with the immortal Secretariat proved to be too much for Sham, who faded out of contention on the backstretch and eventually finished last. He never raced again.
     Having disposed of Sham, Secretariat continued to accelerate—though no other horse was in a position to challenge him. He was running now only against the limits of his own greatness. Jockey Ron Turcotte, who had been in the habit of restraining Secretariat at times to conserve his strength, let him go. “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine!” cried track announcer Chic Anderson.
     In the home stretch, Turcotte heard the cheering of the crowd, but he could hear no other horses. He turned around to look over his left shoulder and was astonished to discover that there were none in sight. Secretariat crossed the finish line 31 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer. When the timer showed 2:24 flat, trainer Lucien Laurin thought it had malfunctioned. But the time was correct: Secretariat had beaten the world record for the mile and a half by two full seconds—or about 10 lengths! The people who were fortunate enough to be at Belmont Park that day saw not only what they’d come hoping to see, the coronation of the first Triple Crown champion in a quarter century, but also the greatest race ever run.

     The Triple Crown series is a grueling ordeal, and most horses are given time off afterwards for rest and relaxation. But Secretariat wasn’t like most horses. Just three weeks after his brilliant victory in the Belmont, he was on the track at Arlington Park. Realizing that the horse had won with something in reserve despite the incredible time, Laurin advised owner Penny Chenery Tweedy to run Secretariat in the hastily arranged Arlington Invitational Stakes on June 30. Mrs. Tweedy agreed. She saw it as her duty to give something back to the sport, and she felt that fans in the Midwest deserved a chance to see her famous big red colt in the flesh.
     Only three other horses showed up at Arlington to challenge him, but 41,223 humans were on hand—and they were not disappointed.
     Secretariat was sent off at odds of 1-20. Though he was left behind at the gate, he wasted little time in overpowering his three adversaries. He assumed command shortly after entering the clubhouse turn, even with Turcotte keeping a tight hold on him. Once Secretariat got to the front, the race was over. He galloped to the finish line nine lengths ahead of My Gallant, a veteran of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont who was already familiar with the view of Secretariat from behind. The time was 1:47 for the mile and an eighth, only one-fifth of a second slower than the track record by Damascus.
     “I could have broken the track record if I wanted,” said Turcotte. “The horse was not quite on his feet when the gate was sprung. Rather than rush him, I let him settle himself. I kept him 10 to 12 feet off the rail all the way.”
     Track record or not, Secretariat gave Chicago-area racing fans a shining moment and almost single-handedly salvaged a profitable season for Arlington. “It was a wonderful thrill, the reception we got here,” Laurin said. “I’m glad we brought him.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Teams in One City


     When the White Sox visited Wrigley Field two weeks ago to open this year's crosstown series against the Cubs, they were seven games under .500. Like the Cubs, who were six under, they appeared to be going nowhere.
     We didn't know it at the time, but the South Siders had already turned the corner. Their wins over the Cubs on June 11 and June 12 were their third and fourth in succession. After losing 1-0 to Ted Lilly and the Cubs on June 13, the Sox reeled off 11 victories in a row to make it 15 out of 16. They've crept to within a game and a half of the division lead, and the remainder of the season now beckons promisingly.
     All of a sudden, no one is talking about the supposed feud between Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams, about the inflammatory tweets of Guillen's son Oney, or about whether the Sox insulted Guillen's other son Ozney by drafting him in the 22nd round. Side issues are placed to the side when a team is focused on winning.
     The Sox have employed excellent pitching, tight defense, and just enough offense to turn their season around. "They're playing good baseball," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Give them credit." The Sox are playing the way Guillen envisioned they would all along. "Whoever's surprised out there about what we do," Guillen declared, "they're crazy!"
     There is a long way to go, but if he continues at his current pace and the Sox keep winning, veteran first baseman and team captain Paul Konerko will be an MVP candidate. So far he has clouted 20 homers, knocked in 56 runs, and is batting over .300. "He gives it all he has every day," said Guillen. "A very quiet leader. When the game is on the line, he is more relaxed and more confident."

     As for the Cubs, what can you say? They are headed in the opposite direction as their crosstown rivals, having fallen to 10 games below .500 before (barely) salvaging yesterday's game against the Sox. Their problems include lack of any consistent offensive production (especially from erstwhile mainstays Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez), spotty defense, frequent mental lapses, and a general malaise.
     On Friday, the Cubs were coming off a 13-inning marathon the day before, and everyone knew that they needed starter Carlos Zambrano to give them some innings. Alas, Zambrano gave them just one (and a bad one at that, in which he yielded four runs) before a ridiculous tirade in the dugout earned him a suspension of indefinite length.
     It is certainly Piniella's and general manager Jim Hendry's fondest wish that Zambrano has already pitched his last game in a Cub uniform--but how eager will another club be to take him off their hands, given his exorbitant $18.75 million salary, his very unsatisfactory performance, and his increasingly intolerable behavior?
     The contrast between Zambrano and a real professional like Konerko is striking. It would be hard to imagine Zambrano's manager saying, "He gives it all he has every day." He gives what he wants when he wants. He has no shortage of talent, but he is woefully short in the categories of focus, discipline, and maturity. Unlike Konerko, who time and again has been at his best in clutch situations, Zambrano generally comes up empty when his team needs him the most. For Carlos, it is not about the team. It is always about Carlos.
     Harry Caray once pungently said of a certain pitcher (whose name unfortunately escapes me), "He has a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent brain." In Zambrano's case, the arm is valued at $18.75 million per year.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Damn Yankees

The New York Yankees won the American League pennant 14 times in 16 years between 1949 and 1964. Now that’s what you call a dynasty. Al Lopez took both of the pennants that escaped the Yankees’ grasp during this period, as manager of the 1954 Cleveland Indians and the 1959 White Sox. A four-game series that took place 51 years ago this weekend at old Comiskey Park proved that the ’59 Sox were for real.

     The White Sox entered the 1959 season as clearly a team on the rise. After five straight third-place finishes from 1952 through 1956, they’d moved up to second in 1957 and 1958. But standing between the Sox and their first American League championship since 1919 were the mighty New York Yankees, winners of four pennants in a row and nine in the past 10 years. The Yankees were managed by the legendary Casey Stengel, and their roster included future Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle. It was said that rooting for them was like rooting for that other fifties powerhouse, U.S. Steel.
     The U.S. Steel analogy was apt, for the Yankees and most teams played baseball with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The White Sox were the exception that proved the rule. In an era dominated by lead-footed sluggers who launched tape-measure home runs, the Sox excelled at “small ball”—they had solid pitching, played airtight defense, and led the league in stolen bases every year. They were a throwback to teams of 40 and 50 years earlier. “In modern baseball,” Sox owner Bill Veeck wrote, “the winning equation is Power + Pitching = Pennant. Teams like the White Sox which depend upon speed and defense delight the hearts of all old-timers and generally finish in the second division.”
     But Veeck’s manager was convinced that his club could beat the Yankees, and he said so. “I should have listened to Al Lopez,” wrote Veeck. “Al told me from the beginning that we were going to win it. ‘This,’ he kept telling me, ‘is my kind of team.’” Lopez’s opinion carried some weight. In eight seasons of managing, first with Cleveland and then with the Sox, he had never finished lower than second place, and he had guided the Indians to the flag in 1954 for the lone interruption in the Yankees’ decade of dominance.

     Throughout the first half of the season, Cleveland set a rather leisurely pace with the White Sox close behind. Even the lowly Kansas City A’s and Washington Senators remained within 10 games of the front. It was a case of “man bites dog” on May 20, when the Yankees found themselves in last place. They soon climbed out of the cellar but continued to flirt with the .500 mark. Nonetheless, many fans assumed that it was just a matter of time before the Yankees took up residence at the top of the standings.
     When New York invaded Comiskey Park for a four-game series on the last weekend of June, the race was starting to take shape. The Indians clung to a one-game lead over the White Sox, with the surprising Baltimore Orioles a game and a half out, and the resurgent Yankees only two games back. On Friday night, June 26, Sox center fielder Jim Landis went four-for-four to no avail, as New York won 8-4 to draw even with Chicago at 36-32.
     On Saturday, though, the Sox bounced back in dramatic fashion. They trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Nellie Fox walked with two outs and nobody on. First baseman Earl Torgeson followed with a single, and catcher Sherm Lollar walked to load the bases. Then Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, a seldom-used outfielder, lofted a wind-aided grand slam off the upper-deck railing in right field. New York’s Norm Siebern and Bill “Moose” Skowron clouted back-to-back homers to open the ninth, but the Sox held on for a nerve-wracking 5-4 win that moved them into a second-place tie with Baltimore.
     Sunday belonged to the White Sox, who swept a doubleheader by scores of 9-2 and 4-2. In the first game, Early Wynn bested Whitey Ford. “If I had to win one game,” Stengel remarked, “I’d have to say I’d want Wynn to go. He knows just about all there is to know about pitching.” In the second game, Dick Donovan surrendered only one hit through the first seven innings and only five altogether before he began to falter in the ninth. Turk Lown retired the last two Yankees to preserve the win.
     The White Sox’ three-out-of-four weekend left them only a game out of first place and dropped New York to four games out. More importantly, it damaged the Yankees’ aura of invincibility in the minds of the Sox players. The Sox were on their way.

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brian Piccolo


     My Dad took me to my first Bears game on November 9, 1969, at Wrigley Field. I was eight years old. The Bears throttled the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-7 for what proved to be their only victory of the season. The Chicago defense held Pittsburgh to 31 yards rushing and also recorded eight sacks, including two in the end zone (by Ed O'Bradovich and Dick Butkus). On offense, the great Gale Sayers rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Bobby Douglass rushed for 72 yards. Running back Brian Piccolo notched the Bears' first touchdown on a 25-yard pass reception from Douglass.
     The victory turned out to be a mixed blessing for the Bears. When the Steelers also finished 1-13, they got the first pick in the next year's NFL draft by virtue of having lost to the Bears. The Steelers selected quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and they won four Super Bowls in the next ten years.
     Back to Sayers and Piccolo. Both had joined the Bears as rookies in 1965, Sayers as a first-round draft pick (fourth overall) out of Kansas and Piccolo as an undrafted free agent from Wake Forest. They'd been best friends ever since. Sayers had been a superstar all along, while Piccolo was still in the process of establishing himself. His touchdown against the Steelers was just the fourth of his career, whereas Sayers had tallied six in one game as a rookie and totaled 52 for his career to this point.
     The Bears traveled to Atlanta the next Sunday, November 16, and lost to the Falcons 48-31. Sayers scored the Bears' first touchdown on a 10-yard gallop, and Piccolo scored the last on a one-yard plunge.
     Piccolo never played football again. He had not been feeling well for some time and was suffering frequent coughing spells. When the Bears returned to Chicago after the Atlanta game, he was sent to the doctor for tests and soon diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of lung cancer.
     Piccolo died at the tender age of 26 on June 16, 1970, seven months to the day after his final game for the Bears. He was survived by his wife Joy and their three young daughters.
     It has now been 40 years (last Wednesday, to be exact) since Piccolo's passing, but he has not been forgotten. Both the Bears and the Atlantic Coast Conference present annual awards named for Piccolo, honoring players judged to have been the most courageous. And, of course, his legacy has been preserved by Brian's Song, the 1971 film that explores the close relationship between Piccolo (played by James Caan) and Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams).
     Brian's Song is probably the greatest Chicago sports movie of all time. Film critic Leonard Maltin called it "a milestone of excellence." If you haven't seen Brian's Song for a while, it's a good time to give it another look. Don't forget the Kleenex; Michel Legrand's music score alone is enough to set off the waterworks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bailey Sets Cigar Alight


Have you heard of Zenyatta? If the answer is no, you're not alone—for today’s thoroughbred champions are not nearly as famous as their predecessors of decades past. As it happens, Zenyatta is a six-year-old mare who is undefeated for her career, who last year became the first of her gender to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and whose victory in last Saturday’s Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park was her 17th in succession, breaking the record set by Citation 60 years ago and equaled by Cigar in 1996 at Arlington Park. Below is a remembrance of the latter, who (fyi) was named not after a tobacco product but after an aviation checkpoint.

     Cigar’s early career gave little indication that he was destined for greatness. He never raced at age two, and he won just two of his first 13 starts—11 of these on the grass, which his breeding suggested he should prefer. With nothing to lose, trainer Bill Mott moved Cigar back to the dirt late in his four-year-old season—and the rest, as they say, is history. Cigar won his last two starts of 1994, then went 10-for-10 in 1995. That year, he became the oldest horse to have a perfect season and earned a record $4,819,800.
     Rather than retire Cigar after his sensational 1995 campaign, owner Allen Paulson decided to keep him in training for another year so as to give the racing game a much-needed shot in the arm. Cigar won his first three races in 1996 to extend his winning streak to 15, one short of the mark established by Citation between 1948 and 1950. When a minor injury prevented Cigar from making his next scheduled start, in the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30, Arlington Park chairman Dick Duchossois stepped into the breach. Working with Paulson’s cooperation, he scheduled the Arlington Citation Challenge for July 13, rounding up a field of nine challengers to face Cigar at a mile and an eighth for a purse of $1,050,000.
     Cigar was given a police escort from O’Hare Airport to Arlington. Mott participated in a question-and-answer session with fans on the morning of the race, and jockey Jerry Bailey signed autographs for more than an hour in the afternoon. Eighty-nine-year-old Jimmy Jones, Citation’s trainer, was on hand as well. That the weather was perfect only added to the impression that the event was more a carnival than an athletic contest in which the outcome might not suit people’s expectations.
     Cigar had drawn the outermost post position, No. 10. He had also been assigned to carry 130 pounds, thus conceding between eight and 14 pounds to each of his rivals. The crowd of 34,223 gave him a standing ovation when he appeared in the paddock to be saddled, when he stepped onto the racetrack, and when he entered the starting gate. “He really seems to enjoy it,” Mott said of the hubbub surrounding his champion, “and I’m not so sure he doesn’t know this great crowd is for him.”
     Cigar broke leisurely and was five wide around the first turn, about six lengths behind the front-running Honour and Glory. With Bailey content to remain wide and stay out of traffic trouble, Cigar gradually advanced along the backstretch. On the far turn, Dramatic Gold threatened the leader while Cigar moved into striking range, only a length from the front. “And now Jerry Bailey sets Cigar alight!” track announcer Michael Wrona exclaimed as Honour and Glory, Dramatic Gold, and Cigar passed the quarter pole virtually three abreast.
     Honour and Glory soon called it a day, but Dramatic Gold stubbornly refused to give in. By the eighth pole, though, Cigar had finally managed to get in front by half a length, and from then on he continued driving to draw off by three lengths at the wire. Bailey held his cap aloft to acknowledge the tumult of cheers as he guided Cigar back to the winner’s circle for the 16th consecutive time. “I can’t put into words how proud I am of Cigar,” he said.
     It was a thrilling day for Chicago racing fans (and one that took on added significance when Cigar ran second in his next start, thus failing to break the record he had tied at Arlington). When Paulson said that it had been an honor to bring Cigar to Chicago, racing writer Sharon Smith gently took issue with him: “It was a gracious thought,” she wrote, “but inaccurate. It was the tracks and the sport itself who were honored by Mr. Paulson’s horse in 1996, not the other way around.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recalling Ken Holtzman

     Last Saturday afternoon, Carlos Silva lost to Mark Buehrle and the White Sox; he thus failed to become the first Cub to start a season 9-0 since Ken Holtzman in 1967. On Sunday night, Ted Lilly pitched eight hitless innings but yielded a leadoff single in the ninth; he thus failed to become the first Cub lefthander to toss a no-hitter since Holtzman in 1971.
     So it seems to be a good time to recall Holtzman, a mainstay of the Cub teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
     Holtzman pitched four innings for the Cubs in 1965, at the age of 19. The following year, he went 11-16, just about par for the course considering that the Cubs lost 103 games. By making 33 starts and logging 220 innings, Holtzman demonstrated the durability that was a consistent feature of his career from that point forward. On September 25, he outdueled Sandy Koufax 2-1 at Wrigley Field in one of the last outings of the Dodger great's career.
     Holtzman was sometimes wishfully referred to as "the next Koufax," but there were few similarities except that both happened to be Jewish and lefthanded. Koufax was a flamethrower whose motion was pure power; he drove off the rubber with his left knee scraping the ground. Holtzman's specialty was a looping roundhouse curveball, and he had a somewhat funky delivery that often ended with him spinning off the rubber toward third base.
     In 1967, Holtzman's duties in the National Guard made him unavailable for most of the time. He was superb in his 12 starts, going 9-0 with a 2.53 earned run average. From then on, he was never quite as good as people--particularly manager Leo Durocher--thought he should be. "Leo didn’t think Holtzman had enough aggressiveness to be a winner in the major leagues," said Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. At his best, Holtzman was brilliant. But his record was only 54-53 from 1968 through 1971.
     After the Cubs dispatched him to Oakland for outfielder Rick Monday, Holtzman immediately became the pitcher everyone had expected him to be all along. He won 19, 21, and 19 games in 1972, 1973, and 1974 as the A's became the only club other than the Yankees to win three consecutive world championships. He also went 4-1 in World Series games, winning Games 1 and 7 in 1973.
     Holtzman rejoined the Cubs in 1978 and retired at the end of the following season. For Cub fans, the first of his two no-hitters for the North Siders still resonates. Holtzman's 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on August 19, 1969, put the Cubs 32 games over .500 and eight games ahead of the second-place New York Mets. Holtzman's gem was another in a series of highlights in what had been a storybook year for the Cubs. A quarter of the season remained.

Monday, June 14, 2010

An Empty Cup


     Managers Lou Piniella of the Cubs and Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox officially unveiled the BP Crosstown Cup Friday at Wrigley Field. The cup is to be awarded to whichever club wins the annual six-game interleague series between them. (If the teams split the six games, the winner of the final game will get the Cup.)
     When the creation of this meaningless trophy was announced in April, both organizations claimed to be thrilled. “Cubs and Sox fans have always been passionate about this rivalry,” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. “The BP Crosstown Cup recognizes the excitement of winning the crosstown series.”
     White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf expressed similar sentiments. “Thanks to Chicago’s baseball fans, this city is such a passionate baseball town, particularly when it comes to the White Sox vs. Cubs in interleague play,” he said. “We think the creation of the Crosstown Cup, made possible through this unique, two-team, one-city partnership with our friends at BP, will elevate Chicago’s summer baseball rivalry to a new level for fans on both sides of town.”
     Well, press releases are one thing, and reality is another.
     The timing of the trophy's first appearance in public could not have been worse. First, BP is the same company that had one of its drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico explode, killing 11 workers and fouling the gulf and its beaches with 39 million gallons of oil (so far). Second, the Cubs and Sox are headed nowhere fast, standing at a combined 13 games under .500 when the series opened. Third, the Crosstown Cup appeared the very same day that the venerated Stanley Cup--a trophy that really means something--was being paraded through the streets before a crowd estimated by city officials at two million.
     At Sunday night’s Cubs-Sox game, the Stanley Cup was actually in the house, along with the entire Blackhawks team.
     Cubs and White Sox fans don't see eye-to-eye on much of anything, but they agreed on at least two things this weekend. They joined together in celebrating the Blackhawks’ championship and in vociferously booing the Crosstown Cup.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Etched in Time

     What are the most coveted sports trophies in the world? The Olympic gold medal, soccer’s World Cup, and the Masters’ green jacket, among others. For North American team sports, the Stanley Cup is tops. The World Series, the Super Bowl, and the NBA Finals—as compelling as they are—don’t offer a trophy to compare with the Cup, which is truly sacred among hockey people.
     One of the Stanley Cup's unique features is that the names of players, coaches, and officials of the winning team are engraved on the trophy. The names will remain there long after the people they represent are gone. The 2010 Blackhawks will soon have their names etched in time, joining their forebears of 1934, 1938, and 1961.
     In 1934, Chuck Gardiner became the first and last goaltender to captain a Stanley Cup championship club. A rules change in 1948 prohibited goalies from serving as captains.
     In 1938, four names were included in the original engraving (players Paul Goodman, Virgil Johnson, and Alfie Moore, and trainer Eddie Froelich), but disappeared when the Cup was refurbished in the late 1950s.
     Seven Blackhawk names are on the Cup twice, from the 1934 and 1938 championships—players Johnny Gottselig, Roger Jenkins, Mush March, Doc Romnes, Paul Thompson, and Louis Trudel, and owner Major Frederic McLaughlin. Gottselig narrowly missed getting his name on the Cup a third time. As the Hawks’ publicity director in 1961, he was included in the official team photo but left off the Cup.
     Also in 1961, two players who had not played a single game for the Hawks got their names on the Cup. Thanks to the durability of starting goalie Glenn Hall, rookie backups Denis DeJordy and Allan “Roy” Edwards never saw action during the regular season or the playoffs. DeJordy made his debut for the Hawks the following season, but Edwards didn’t appear in an NHL game until 1967 (with Detroit).
     Following is a list of the names on the Stanley Cup from the Hawks’ three previous championships. (Player names, aside from the captain, are listed alphabetically, not in the order in which they appear on the Cup.)

Chuck Gardiner (Captain)
Clarence “Taffy” Abel
Lionel Conacher
Tom Cook
Art Coulter
Rosario Couture
Leroy Goldsworthy
Johnny Gottselig
Roger Jenkins
Bill Kendall
Jack Leswick
Harold “Mush” March
Don McFadyen
Elwyn “Doc” Romnes
John Sheppard
Joe Starke
Paul Thompson
Louis Trudel
Tommy Gorman (Manager/Coach)
Frederic McLaughlin (President/Owner)
Eddie Froelich (Trainer)

Johnny Gottselig (Captain)
Carol “Cully” Dahlstrom
Roger Jenkins
Mike Karakas
Bill MacKenzie
Harold “Mush” March
Pete Palangio
Elwyn “Doc” Romnes
Jack Shill
Earl Seibert
Paul Thompson
Louis Trudel
Carl Voss
Art Wiebe
Bill Stewart (Manager/Coach)
Frederic McLaughlin (President/Owner)
Bill Tobin (Vice President)
Thorne Donnelley (Secretary/Treasurer)

Ed Litzenberger (Captain)
Ron Murphy (Alternate Captain)
Pierre Pilote (Alternate Captain)
Al Arbour
Earl Balfour
Murray Balfour
Denis DeJordy
Allan “Roy” Edwards
Jack Evans
Reggie Fleming
Glenn Hall
Bill Hay
Wayne Hicks
Wayne Hillman
Bobby Hull
Ronald “Chico” Maki
Alvin “Ab” McDonald
Stan Mikita
Eric Nesterenko
Dollard St. Laurent
Tod Sloan
Elmer “Moose” Vasko
Ken Wharram
Rudy Pilous (Coach)
Arthur Wirtz, Sr. (President)
Arthur Wirtz, Jr. (Vice President)
James D. Norris, Jr. (Chairman)
Tommy Ivan (General Manager)
Nick Garen (Trainer)
Walter Humeniuk (Trainer)

Below: a photo of the 1961 Blackhawks' names as they appear on the Stanley Cup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Gardiner's Finest Hour

     The 1934 Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings would be a real test for the Blackhawks and their star goalie Chuck Gardiner. Not only had the Hawks finished second to the Wings in the regular season, but they hadn’t won a game in Detroit in more than four years—and the first two games of the best-of-five series were to be played in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium.
     In the first game, Gardiner and Wings goalie Wilf Cude both performed brilliantly. The game was deadlocked 1-1 after regulation play and remained so through an entire sudden-death period. Had Gardiner allowed another goal, the Wings would have had all the momentum—as well as further proof that the Hawks couldn’t win at Detroit. But at 1:05 of double overtime, Paul Thompson scored the game-winner for the Hawks. In the second game, Gardiner completely stymied Detroit as the Hawks gained a 4-1 victory. The Hawks needed to win just one more game to secure the Stanley Cup.
     Showing some grit of their own, however, the Red Wings won the third game 5-2 at the Stadium. Another heroic effort by Wilf Cude made the difference. Cude turned aside 42 shots, despite sustaining a broken nose in a nasty collision with the Hawks’ Rosario Couture midway through the second period. Although they outshot the Wings 44-36, the Hawks were beaten convincingly. Gardiner and forward Johnny Gottselig, close friends off the ice, almost came to blows late in the game. “Everything was breaking against us in those last few minutes and their nerves blew up,” Hawks coach Tommy Gorman explained to the press. “After the game was over they shook hands, and the incident is completely forgotten.”
     Hawks owner Major Frederic McLaughlin deduced that Gardiner was suffering from “nervous exhaustion” and packed him off to Wisconsin for two days of rest and relaxation. Gardiner returned in time for the fourth game of the series, but teammates wondered if he would be able to play effectively—if at all.
     He played. It was April 10, 1934, and a throng of almost 18,000 at the Stadium was treated to one of the most dramatic, tension-filled contests imaginable. Again Gardiner and Cude were superb under the most intense pressure. While the crowd grew progressively more anxious, the game remained scoreless for three periods. Then the first 20-minute overtime session came and went.
     The big break came halfway through the second overtime when Detroit defenseman Ebbie Goodfellow was sent off for tripping. The Hawks’ top forward line of Doc Romnes, Thompson, and Mush March had peppered Cude all night to no avail, but now they had a man advantage. Their first two rushes up ice were thwarted by the Red Wings. On the third try Romnes surged over the blue line and slid the puck to March. Though he was knocked offstride by a Detroit defender, March still managed to fire a low wrist shot from about 20 feet out. Cude got a piece of it with his right leg, but the puck spun into the net behind him. The Stadium erupted. March—all five-foot-five and 140 pounds of him—dove into the net to retrieve the puck for a souvenir. The Hawks were Stanley Cup champions.
     Gardiner had played his best game when it counted most, stopping 40 shots in 90 minutes of play. In eight playoff games, he had lost only once. In the seven winning games, he had allowed a total of seven goals. He had recorded two shutouts. “He’s the greatest goalie that ever donned the pads,” said Gorman. “He won the title for the Blackhawks. Without him, we wouldn’t have made it.”
     The next day, Gardiner collected on an early-season bet he had made with defenseman Roger Jenkins. Because the Hawks had won the championship, Jenkins owed Gardiner a wheelbarrow ride around downtown Chicago. Flourishing a bouquet of roses presented by Lionel Conacher, Gardiner was carted through the streets of the Loop while teammates and bystanders cheered.

     Only two months after his greatest triumph, Chuck Gardiner was dead. On June 10, 1934, he collapsed in Winnipeg and fell into a coma. As was not uncommon at the time, Gardiner was initially treated at home, but when his condition worsened he was moved to a hospital. Blackhawks general manager Bill Tobin wired Mrs. Gardiner offering to send specialists from Chicago, but it was too late. On June 13, only a few hours after entering the hospital, Gardiner died. He was 29 years old.
     An autopsy determined that a brain tumor was the cause of Gardiner’s death. Only now did Tommy Gorman and others reveal that Gardiner had experienced severe headaches and nausea during the latter part of the regular season and throughout the playoffs. It turned out that he had been ill for months, yet he had not missed a single minute of play. He had, in fact, played more determinedly even as his symptoms became more ominous.
     “Gardiner was loved by everybody who knew him,” said Tobin. “He was hockey’s greatest goaltender. His loss is going to be a terrible hardship to the team.”
     Gardiner remains the only goalie to captain the Hawks and the only goalie to captain a Stanley Cup championship club.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blackhawks Honor Roll

     No member of the Blackhawks has ever won the Conn Smythe Trophy, emblematic of the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The award was introduced in 1965, and (of course) the Hawks haven't won the Cup since 1961.
     Below is a recap of the many honors that the Hawks have won. We're hoping that 2010 will mark the Hawks' fourth Stanley Cup championship, their first Conn Smythe Trophy, and maybe a few other additions to the lists below.

Blackhawks retired numbers:
  1 - Glenn Hall
  3 - Keith Magnuson
  3 - Pierre Pilote
  9 - Bobby Hull
18 - Denis Savard
21 - Stan Mikita
35 - Tony Esposito

Stanley Cup champion head coaches:
1934 - Tommy Gorman
1938 - Bill Stewart
1961 - Rudy Pilous

Stanley Cup champion captains:
1934 - Chuck Gardiner
1938 - Johnny Gottselig
1961 - Ed Litzenberger

Hart Memorial Trophy
(most valuable player):
1946 - Max Bentley
1954 - Al Rollins
1965 - Bobby Hull
1966 - Bobby Hull
1967 - Stan Mikita
1968 - Stan Mikita

Art Ross Trophy
(leading scorer):
1943 - Doug Bentley
1946 - Max Bentley
1947 - Max Bentley
1949 - Roy Conacher
1960 - Bobby Hull
1962 - Bobby Hull
1964 - Stan Mikita
1965 - Stan Mikita
1966 - Bobby Hull
1967 - Stan Mikita
1968 - Stan Mikita

James Norris Memorial Trophy
(outstanding defenseman):
1963 - Pierre Pilote
1964 - Pierre Pilote
1965 - Pierre Pilote
1982 - Doug Wilson
1993 - Chris Chelios
1996 - Chris Chelios

Vezina Trophy
(outstanding goaltender):
1932 - Chuck Gardiner
1934 - Chuck Gardiner
1935 - Lorne Chabot
1963 - Glenn Hall
1967 - Glenn Hall, Dennis DeJordy
1970 - Tony Esposito
1972 - Tony Esposito, Gary Smith
1974 - Tony Esposito
1991 - Ed Belfour
1993 - Ed Belfour

Frank J. Selke Trophy
(outstanding defensive forward):
1986 - Troy Murray
1991 - Dirk Graham

Calder Memorial Trophy
(rookie of the year):
1936 - Mike Karakas
1938 - Carl Dahlstrom
1955 - Ed Litzenberger
1960 - Bill Hay
1970 - Tony Esposito
1983 - Steve Larmer
1991 - Ed Belfour
2008 - Patrick Kane

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
(most gentlemanly player):
1936 - Elwyn "Doc" Romnes
1943 - Max Bentley
1944 - Clint Smith
1945 - Bill Mosienko
1964 - Ken Wharram
1965 - Bobby Hull
1967 - Stan Mikita
1968 - Stan Mikita

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
(perseverance and sportsmanship):
1970 - Pit Martin

Jack Adams Award
(coach of the year):
1983 - Orval Tessier

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Committed to the Indian?

     What is a bandwagon good for, if not to jump on? As the Blackhawks close in on the Stanley Cup championship, their bandwagon runneth over, and a sizable number of hardcore fans seem to resent the newcomers.
     Are there people who've hopped aboard the Hawks' bandwagon despite not knowing the difference between icing and offsides, between Dustin Byfuglien and Al Secord, between the crease and the slot, or between Jim Cornelison and Wayne Messmer? Sure. And they will probably be screaming the loudest if and when the Hawks bring home the hardware.
     Those fans who long ago "committed to the Indian," in Denis Savard's memorable phrase, should not allow their pleasure to be diminished by the fact that newbies are crashing the party. Inevitably, the Hawks' success is more meaningful to the diehards who have stuck it out through the lean years. But every team in every sport has different levels of fans, ranging from absolutely fanatical to strictly fair-weather. And no one is required to pass a test in order to join in celebrating a championship.
     The real question going forward is how durable Chicago's newfound fascination with the Blackhawks will prove to be. A recent study revealed that only 27 percent of Chicago sports fans follow the Hawks ("following" being defined as attending a game, watching a game on TV, or listening to a game on radio at least once in a year). This compared to 60 percent for the Bears, 55 for the Cubs, 42 for the White Sox, and 36 for the Bulls.
     The answer, of course, will not depend as much on the enlightened leadership of Rocky Wirtz or the marketing savvy of John McDonough as it will depend on the team's performance over a period of years. A lot of self-proclaimed "diehard" Bulls fans left shortly after Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson did, and the Bulls are still seeking to re-establish their relevance.
     For the Hawks, the past several years have produced an almost unbelievable series of successes in every area, both on and off the ice. They had to dig themselves out a hole before they could climb the mountain--and after they have reached the pinnacle, sometime in the next few days, the trick will be to stay there.