Loving the names from the past

sloan

Had a good hockey day yesterday, where I talked to a bunch of retired players and set up some interviews with others for the coming days.

While it is great to talk to someone like Dan Daoust, who I watched a ton when he played for the Maple Leafs in the 1980s, man, I love the stories from the past.

To that end, there aren’t many left from the era of Tod Sloan and, golly gee, Howie Meeker.

Meeker is the most amazing 90-year-old ex-player I have ever talked to, with an amazing memory and, naturally, a great talent for telling stories.

As for Sloan, the great right winger for the Leafs and Hawks of the 1960s, he’s 86 and still pretty sharp even if he joked, “I’m a little old, a little senile.”

Where he really lit up though was when we started talking about his brother, Joe Sloan, who I certainly had never known about.

Armed with the amazing Society for International Hockey Research database when I talk to these guys, I was able to find his file, which was pretty empty. With Tod’s help, we will be filling it in a bit in the coming days, I think.

If anything, it’s an example of the Second World War disrupting a promising future.

“He went into the army and still had a couple of years of junior left,” Sloan told me. “He got wounded in Holland, he got shot in the leg, and he never played junior. He never played anything after that.”

Both Sloans got into hockey in Sudbury / Falconbridge, and Joe Sloan played for the 1942-1943 Brantford Lions in OHA-Jr. A.

“He signed a C Form with the Leafs. He was an outstanding hockey player. He just had a short season down there in Brantford,” said his younger brother. “If you look up the Brantford Lions, you’ll find him in the scoring, because I can remember seeing him when I was a kid, getting the paper, the Toronto Star, seeing where he got two goals and that.”

Closing the circle? Who played on that 1942-43 team in Brantford, but just for the playoffs?

Howie Meeker.

Owning up to my mistakes

si60

There’s a wonderful feature in the new Sports Illustrated, which marks the 60th anniversary of the magazine. It’s a collection of the magazine’s errors, gaffes, and ridiculousness over the years, everything from apologizing for some of the sexist stories and text that used to be in the magazine to some of the horribly wrong predictions that were made.

It was a lot of fun to read, and definitely worth checking out.

It also got me thinking about some of my errors.

I can basically dismiss any errors on SLAM! Wrestling, simply because the web gives you the ability to change things afterwards. One of my worst transgressions was believing anything that Joe Frocklage / Ike Shaw had to say; he was a con artist from the word go, and it’s still something that successful graduates of his school, like Eric Young, will joke about.

The error that I often recount is from my days at the Toronto Sun, working on the features desk. That day, I was tasked with putting together the “Fun Page” that had the crossword puzzle and some other goodies, as well as birthday wishes to celebrities and a little photo. In this pre-Internet world (yes, I’m old), we had a big book that we would reference. Listed was Michel “Bunny” Larocque, who was one of my favourite goalies, especially when he was the guy on the bench for the Montreal Canadiens as Ken Dryden lead the team to Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup.

What I didn’t realize was that he had died on July 29, 1992.

The next day, I got yelled at, learned my lesson, and was much more careful.

Newspaper is more permanent than the web, sure, but the paper is there and gone in a day, for the most part. (Though I do get a kick out of looking for my work when going through old Toronto Sun microfilm at the Toronto Reference Library; by my own count, I did 13 different jobs during my time there from 1991-1996, when I moved to the new web division that would become known as Canoe.ca, so chances are I contributed somewhere in the paper during those days — including actually getting the newspaper ready for microfilming when I worked in the library!

The most expensive error had to have been when I worked with SPORTClassic Books, and we were reprinting the classic North Dallas Forty, an awesomely fun novel about the Dallas Cowboys, written by Peter Gent, a former wide receiver in Dallas. SPORTClassic Books was a small, small publisher, with essentially four employees. I was the layout guy and editor, and somehow, and I still don’t know how, we managed to ship North Dallas Forty to the printer with whole signatures out of order, meaning that the book didn’t make sense. (A signature, in printing terms, is a section of pages, in multiples of eight, as that is how the pages run through the printer.)

Oops.

We didn’t even catch it “on the blues” when the pages came back for proofing.

Peter Gent, who died in 2011, was furious, and understandably so. We had to recall the books and reprint. (I can’t remember if we were able to salvage them at all; sometimes a printer can separate the signatures and rearrange.) A few readers who had bought the book got in touch, but not an overwhelming number by any means.

So, I guess the advice is, if you see North Dallas Forty in a used bookstore, don’t buy a copy that came out via SPORTClassic Books without checking it thoroughly!

Jerry Butler, I’m coming for you!

butler

The mind is a weird thing, and it can be even weirder when you are dreaming at night.

Last night, I dreamt about hunting down retired hockey player (Rangers, Blues, Leafs, Canucks, Jets) Jerry Butler for an interview and, when I found him in a hotel, how excited he was to do the interview.

“Is this one of those ‘Where are they now?’ pieces? Awesome!”

Do I need help or what?

Now, that said, I DO need to talk to Jerry Butler for the next book on historical NHL documents, again working off the collection of Allan Stitt. So if you do know where he is, point him my way!

Book trade, baseball for hockey

Writing is a solitary business, but we writers are hardly alone. Through the years, you find like-minded souls who are fascinated, obsessed, educated about some of the same subjects that you are.

comiskey

In my case, I’ve built up a good collection of friends in the writing business.

Tim Hornbaker, of Florida, is quite a bit younger than I am, but equally passionate about the past. His first book, National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling, is pretty exhaustive in its research, and while not the most colourful and creative of the books on my shelf, it’s an important documentation of the business of professional wrestling.

His Legacy of Wrestling.com website is pretty great too, and has all kinds of tidbits he didn’t fit into the NWA book.

Next came Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers in 2012, which attempted to cover tons and tons of pro wrestlers. It’s an impossible task to please everyone with a project like that, but he did a good job.

Around the same time I was switching into hockey writing, he’d jumped in feet-first into writing about baseball.

Earlier in 2014, his first biography was released, Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey.

A sports fan through and through, I wanted to get a copy, and when I didn’t get to review it for Publishers Weekly, I emailed Tim. He proposed a trade, with Don’t Call Me Goon: Hockey’s Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys heading south to Florida, and his Comiskey book arriving in my eager hands.

Well, I was eager to read it, but somehow it kept getting set aside. This week, I finally finished it and it was great. Because Comiskey was such an important figure in baseball, both as a player and as an owner, it goes through so much.

So if the NWA book was exhaustive in its research, Comiskey was triple-exhaustive, with footnotes that were almost as compelling as the text itself. He wrapped it all up nicely in the final chapter too, almost like a closing argument in a court case, but not that dry!

I asked him about working on the book: “I’d say that the Comiskey book was a learning process for me, especially with dealing with the volume of information and incorporating endnotes/footnotes. I actually had written a few chapters without organizing my footnotes into a workable fashion, and then had to struggle and go back to figure out what went where. The book I’m working on now, a biography of Ty Cobb, will probably have twice as many footnotes, but I’ve since learned my lesson, and I’ve been keeping everything organized from the jump.”

While he is working on Cobb, there’s actually another wrestling book at the editing stage. It’s called Capitol Revolution: The Rise of the McMahon Wrestling Empire, and will come out in March 2015. Should be a great one as well.

I wonder what he’ll take in exchange for it?

Comps, the good and bad

Who gets a free book and who doesn’t? It’s a question that continues long after the book is first published.

As a background, usually it is written in a contract with the publisher that you get X amount of complimentary copies, and it’s different for every author.

My publisher, ECW Press, to its credit, has always recognized that complimentary copies, especially to the people who are in the book, are valuable and part of doing business.

A good example of how this works is Larry Playfair, who I profiled in Don’t Call Me Goon. He sent us some personal photos to use in the book, and I chose to use one with his brother, Jim (who also played in the NHL) and their father. When Larry got his comp copy, he said thanks for the fair profile and the book in general, but also mentioned that because I chose the photo that I did he was going to get copies for his family members.

It also results in classic memories, like a typewritten note “From the desk of Gene Kiniski” thanking me for the book, or a phone message from Killer Kowalski: “Greg, thanks for putting me over.”

On a more personal basis, you can’t exactly charge your father or brother or mother-in-law for a book, can you? But chances are they will tell people about the book and help sell. My dad sold a ton of my first book, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians, but not so many of the other wrestling books until Don’t Call Me Goon.

Comps that I give out come out of my pocket, so you can’t exactly give them away continually. But there are times you do give them out. Regardless, you have to keep track of the comps as they are a tax write-off.

This go-round, with The Goaltenders’ Union, the first couple of copies have gone out to people in the acknowledgements. Here’s what I wrote:

For Greg, a couple of friends in the schoolyard, Jay Petroff (a former goalie) and Mark Dillon (alas, a Bruins fan), deserve a thank you for their continued interest in this project. My brother, Chris, used to be a hockey guy (but now has the nerve to call during the Stanley Cup Final), and I spent a lot of time at the rinks watching him play; I found myself reflecting on that time recently, when one of the other “hockey siblings” that I would hang around with, Lori Kempel Heer, died way too soon, as did her brother, Shawn, who was a goalie.

Though in Jay’s case, I was a little drunk when I signed his book and probably need to sign it again! (Hint to Mark, buy me a beer, get your book.)

Speaking of booze, not sure how I’ll record this on the spreadsheet, but friends are moving from Toronto to China. Their oldest son loves playing goal, so wanted a copy of The Goaltenders’ Union. I was going to give it to him regardless, but when dropping it off today, the liquor cabinet had to be emptied, since none of that goes on the voyage to China. Best trade ever, one book for three partial bottles of booze! Score!