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We the North

We the North

25 Years of the Toronto Raptors
by Doug Smith
foreword by Vince Carter
edition:Hardcover
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Hockey Night Fever

Hockey Night Fever

Mullets, Mayhem and the Game's Coming of Age in the 1970s
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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NBA 75

NBA 75

The Definitive History
edition:Hardcover
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One to Remember

One to Remember

Stories from 39 Members of the NHL’s One Goal Club
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook
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The first man to walk on the moon?  An easy question, no? The answer of course is Neil Armstrong. Now name the second. I bet you had to guess for a second, if you got the answer right at all. When you’re the first man or woman to accomplish a significant feat, your name will live on forever. And that brings us to Billy Smith, the first goaltender to ever score a goal in the National Hockey League, “It’s in the record books,” says the Hockey Hall of Famer. “So even with Hexxy (Ron Hextall) scoring the second one, it’s kind of forgotten. It’s always who scored the first. So in that way, the goal means something.”

 

Billy Smith didn’t try to score a goal against the Colorado Rockies on November 28th, 1979. His very own perfect storm came 4:50 into the third period. The Islanders were trailing the lowly Colorado Rockies 4-3. Smith didn’t even get the start that night. He took over for Chico Resch after he gave up 17 goals on 21 shots.  There was a delayed penalty call on the Islanders Mike Kaszycki. The Rockies, however, had possession of the puck. Their tender Bill McKenzie headed to the bench for an extra attacker. The puck worked its way to Rob Ramage, who let a shot go from the right side. Smith made the save. The puck quickly made its way back to Ramage in the right corner: “He grabbed it and fired the puck back to the point but there was nobody there. It went all the way down the ice and into the net.”

 

Right away Billy Smith knew he scored. “I knew I was the last guy to touch the puck but they gave the goal to one of my teammates.”  Smith didn’t make a big deal out of it because…frankly, it didn’t seem like much of a big deal at the time.

 

“It’s more of a big deal now. I mean, it was pretty neat. Back then it was like, well, we played the game, we lost, so really I wasn’t that interested.” 

 

After the game the goal was eventually rewarded to Smith. When you watch the video of the goal it is blatantly obvious that he was the last Islander to touch the puck. So give the NHL credit, they were quick to right their wrong. But it is kind of strange that none of Billy’s teammates picked up on the fact that the goal was his. The 7112 fans in attendance didn’t seem to notice either. And like Billy said, he didn’t really seem to care either, it’s not like he made a bee line to grab the puck.  He was the first goalie in the NHL to score a goal, but hey, no big deal. “They kept playing the game with the puck. It ended up going out of the rink. I guess the guy who got the puck ended up sending it to the Hall of Fame.”

 

At least one person in attendance at the McNichols Sports Arena seemed to care that history had just taken place. Over the next few seasons, Billy Smith didn’t care about scoring goals. He just cared about winning Cups. He won his first of four straight Stanley Cups with the Islanders that spring. As his playing days went on, Smith saw his position evolve. Goalies got better and better at handling the puck. He knew the day was coming. He knew another goaltender would find the back of the net: “You knew just by being in the league and how well the guys could shoot the puck (that it would happen). In my day nobody wanted the goalie to handle the puck. It was ‘Set it up at the side of the net and get out of the way, play your position and we’ll take care of the rest.’  But then you got guys like Hexxy who could really shoot the puck and it became, ‘Ok, if the puck is dumped in, we’ll hold the guys back and you grab the puck and fire it out.’”

 

That’s exactly what happened on December 8, 1987, in a Flyers/Bruins game. With the Boston goalie pulled, the Bruins dumped the puck into the Philly zone just to the left of Hextall. The Philly players held the Bruins’ forecheck back, Hextall picked up the puck, wristed it about 200 feet and into the empty cage. Voila. Ron Hextall joined Billy Smith as the only goalies in NHL history to score an NHL goal. Unlike when Smith scored, everyone in the arena that night, and everyone in the hockey world that night, knew Ron Hextall scored. The crowd went nuts. The Flyers bench emptied and everyone mobbed Hextall. It was a BIG deal. That just wasn’t the case for Billy Smith in 1979: “You know what? Nobody really said anything. We lost when we shouldn’t have lost. To be honest, nobody cared. Nobody ever said anything about it. It kind of rolled off our shoulders.”

 

For those of you wondering, Hextall is not in this book because he scored another goal, on April 11, 1989. That one came in Billy Smith’s final NHL season. Again, it was a big deal. “It was funny because when Hexxy scored the second one he got a car and I just looked at our guys. I mean, I didn’t get diddly.”

 

Eventually Smith did get something, but it was still pretty much diddly. But at least it came right from the president of the Islanders: “Bill Torrey bought a miniature (toy) car for me.”

 

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Blue Monday

Blue Monday

The Expos, the Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything
edition:Audiobook
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : history
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Excerpt

Chapter 1: Expos Sign Williams, Pursue Jackson

When the rubble of the Expos’ disastrous 1976 season had settled, team president John McHale and sidekick Jim Fanning didn’t look that far in searching for a new manager. Career minor-league manager Karl Kuehl had been a disaster in 1976, and McHale said it was a mistake to have fired Gene Mauch, who managed the team from 1969 through 1975.

So where did the Expos cast their eyes? To a former Toronto Triple-A Maple Leafs skipper, who had been manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1967 to 1969, of the Oakland A’s that won three consecutive championships from 1972 to 1974, and then of the California Angels in 1975 and ’76.

Dick Williams was considered a turnaround maestro. He guided the Maple Leafs to two consecutive International League titles in 1965 and 1966 and took the Red Sox “Impossible Dream“ team led by Carl Yastrzemski to the 1967 World Series before they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He had spunk and didn’t care if he ruffled a player’s feelings.

Fanning and McHale were familiar with Williams because he had been the Expos’ third-base coach under Mauch in 1970, a brief respite for Williams after he was let go by the Red Sox following the 1969 season. When he joined the Expos in 1970, Williams had sat back and retooled his thinking strategies while watching the tactician Mauch — that is, when he wasn’t hitting fungoes before games or flashing signals to runners and batters during them. The Montreal job gave him a different perspective on managing.

So when Williams left the Angels after his stint with them ended in 1976, Williams called the Expos and asked that he be given the job. He didn’t wait for the Expos to approach him. That’s how aggressive he was. He felt confident that he would be hired, and he was.

Williams was given a five-year contract. Hiring Williams was the beginning of the rejuvenation of the Expos after a 55–107 season in 1976.

“Dick was a known manager. He was feisty and we weren’t a feisty club,” ex-team owner Charles Bronfman said in 2017.

McHale figured Williams would light a fire under his charges much like he did with the Boston, Oakland, and California squads, which were known to have a few players who would fight on occasion with each other or almost come to blows with Williams himself.

The attempted remodelling of the Expos didn’t stop with Williams. McHale went so far as to try to entice superstar free agent Reggie Jackson to come to Montreal. Jackson had been one of Williams’s players in Oakland and the two helped steer the A’s to glory. Jackson had spent the 1976 season with the Baltimore Orioles, a brief stopover during his splendid career.

“Reggie was available,” former Expos secretary-treasurer Harry Renaud recalled. “He was such a superstar. We flew him into Montreal. We organized a reception for him — the whole weekend. We met with the media, the pooh-bahs, including the mayor, Jean Drapeau.

“Reggie was late. He came down to the stadium and arrived with an entourage; a bunch of them came in a trailer. There were all these hangers-on. It was a travel party. I couldn’t figure that out. They were all smoking dope. It was kind of strange with his stature. We had such a big party at Charles’s place. There were about 50 people involved.

“The party ended on a Saturday night,” Renaud said. “Reggie departed very suddenly. Next thing, he just up and left. There were no goodbyes. That was the end of the story.”

The next night, Jackson and Bronfman’s close friend Leo Kolber, a member of the team’s board of directors, tried to hammer out a deal. McHale and Kolber offered Jackson a five-year deal for just under $5 million.

Apparently, Jackson came to the meeting looking and feeling like death warmed over. “Reggie had a terrible hangover,” Kolber said. “He needed a hair of the dog.”

Rather than seeking another alcoholic drink, Jackson looked at Kolber’s son Jonathan and said, “Hey, kid, make me a milkshake, but it has to have eggs in it.”

Jackson also met with the media while he was in Montreal and said he was very interested in the Expos, especially since he knew Williams from their days in Oakland. Williams even took Jackson on a tour of Olympic Stadium as it was being prepped for the Expos’ first season there in 1977.

“I want to know if these gentlemen want to build a contender. There’s a lot more than signing for a lot of money,” Jackson told the reporters surrounding him. “If Dick Williams hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be here. People tell me that you have the most beautiful girls in the world here.”

The enthusiasm both sides showed prompted Bronfman to tell the media, “I think we are pretty much in agreement on fundamentals.”

As one of the game’s biggest stars, Jackson was also drawing a lot of interest at that time from the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and San Diego Padres.

Ultimately, Jackson accepted a much less lucrative deal with the Yankees: five years for about $3 million plus a Rolls-Royce.

As Renaud said, there are different versions as to why Jackson spurned the Expos. “It had something to do with crossing the border. He was held up by customs at the border. Apparently, he had an unregistered gun. Phone calls were made to Marc Lalonde, the minister of justice, and Reggie was allowed into the country,” Renaud added.

One report suggested that he was held up at the airport in Ottawa, not at Montreal’s Dorval Airport, because some marijuana was found in his clothes. Another report said Jackson was simply upset that customs people were rummaging through his clothes, period. McHale had told reporters that he and other team officials discussed Jackson’s drug case and came away satisfied that he was “not a historical user of drugs” and that he had talked things over with the police. No charges were laid.

 

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Too Sweet

Too Sweet

Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

 

I first subscribed to Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer newsletter in the 1980s, after I began writing for WWF Magazine, before the lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund that forced the World Wrestling Federation to become WWE. Although the Wrestling Observer has a significant online presence, I still look forward to the paper edition each week, an exhaustive collection of wrestling history, match results, business analysis and gossip in single-spaced seven-point type. Meltzer, who has lectured at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, also popularized a star rating system for major matches, one that even the performers who claim to hate him take extremely seriously. While working on this book, Meltzer and I were guests on a public access show in which he was asked about his taste in movies and bands. He paused and fumbled for words. A movie?  But when it comes to professional wrestling, not to mention MMA and old-school Roller Derby, nobody knows more – or ever will.

 

In May, 2017, Meltzer was asked on Twitter about whether Ring of Honor, the primary, American indie league during that period, could draw more than 10,000 fans. “Not any time soon,” he responded. Cody – the youngest son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and an indie prince since he parted ways with WWE the year before– then Tweeted, “I'll take that bet, Dave.”

 

For the next 16 months, Cody and the Young Bucks, brothers Nick and Matt Jackson, began working to both prove that Dave Meltzer could be wrong, as well as create All-In.

 

The effort became “a worldwide movement for professional wrestling (and) everyone that wants an alternative,” Kenny Omega, who went into All-In wearing the vaunted IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion, told the group's website. “Especially in America because in America, you're kind of forced to believe that WWE is the best.”  All-In, he continued, became “a rally to show support for people who have a different vision.”

 

Initially, the group rejected outside efforts to fund the experiment, and relied on their families and friends. Cody's sister, Teil, created the name “All-In,” the Bucks' father, Matt Massie, Sr., the musical score. Alabama mortgage broker Conrad Thompson, a wrestling podcaster who married the legendary Ric Flair's oldest daughter, Megan, coordinated Starcast, the fan convention surrounding the event. Both Cody's wife, Brandi – a WWE-trained wrestler herself –  and Matt Jackson's spouse, Dana, were deeply involved in organizational decisions.

 

Like Cody, WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett had grown up in the wrestling business, learning promotion from his father, Jerry Jarrett, and step-grandfather, Eddie Marlin, in the old Memphis wrestling territory. “I love to see guys take risks,” he observed. “Sometimes, that gets you into big trouble. Sometimes, it pays off. Reward is always measured by your level of risk. But when I saw All-In lining up, I felt they had a pretty good chance. The concept was good. The independent wrestling revolution started quite a few years ago. Now, we were on the cusp of a wrestling boom.”

 

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