On April 10, 1953, Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Tim Horton, addressed a letter to Mrs. McDonald the assistant (secretary in those days) to Conn Smythe owner of the hockey club. The letter was a reply regarding an appointment Horton was trying to arrange with Smythe asking if he could assist him and his wife Lori with the purchase of their first home in Toronto. Horton had just completed his first season with the Leafs after a few years in Pittsburgh, the home of Toronto’s minor league affiliate. The Horton’s resided in Pittsburgh but would be moving to Toronto full-time now that Tim had established himself with the big club. They planned to drive in from Pittsburgh on Monday April 20 to proceed with the purchase and wanted to coordinate a meeting with Mr. Smythe around that day. Mrs. McDonald informed them she couldn’t give an exact time at that moment but they should make plans to stay over because the meeting would more than likely take place on the Tuesday morning April 21.timhorton
An internal pencil scribbled letter from Conn Smythe noted that on Monday April 20 at 5.30pm, he’d been informed Tim Horton had called to finalize a meeting the next morning. Smythe went on to suggest Mrs. McDonald arrange the Horton’s meet with Stafford Smythe (Conn’s son) on Friday April 24. The Horton’s had only planned to be in the city a day as per Mrs. McDonald’s suggestion a few weeks prior and now advised Smythe is pushing the meeting out an additional 3-days, maybe.

Disappointed, they drove back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday April 21, their future home still in limbo.

May 29, 1953
An internal note says Lori Horton called stating they are in the city again and would like to sit down to discuss the details of their new home with Mr. Smythe. The home cost $14,500 and they have $1,000 as a down payment but would require an additional $3500-$4,000 on next years salary to complete this transaction. The note goes on to explain, Mr. Smythe had been called at the pit (Smythe Ltd., sand and gravel yards) but was in a meeting so the conversation didn’t go any further. Mr. Smythe’s secretary Mrs. McDonald was informed her number had been passed along to the Horton’s and that after finally reaching Conn later that day he said, “No that request would not be possible, so no need for a meeting”connsmythe
October 16, 1946
Hall of Fame defenseman Harry Watson who had been traded to the Leafs from Detroit, signed his contract for the 1946-47 season. The salary was $5900 with a bonus of $1,000 for selection to the 2nd All-Star team and $2000 if it was the 1st. That seemed pretty reasonable for the time but I often wonder how many players ever read the fine print in the contracts they signed?

I’m curious whether players knew the team could at any time during the contract change the rules for the government, conduct and conditioning of the players and failure to do so could mean termination of the contract or a fine determined by the club?

Another stipulation states the player irrevocably grants the Club the exclusive right to permit or authorize any person, firm or corporation to make use of his photograph or of any reproduction of his likeness or signature for advertising or publicity. Under no circumstances is the player allowed to do a radio broadcast without the Clubs permission. Players weren’t allowed to play any other sport without permission from the club.

An obvious clause says the player must practice and play exhibition games when asked or will be fined a maximum of $500 and the not so obvious, the Club may at any time give the player 30-days written notice to terminate the contract; the player was entitled to funds up to the 30th day of notice and if on the road, entitled to travel expense money to get home.

Is it any wonder a players union was formed in the 1950’s?

If the examples above aren’t enough to convince you, then browse through a full contract from the era and I’m sure you will understand why the players needed help not only negotiating salaries but basic employment rights.

Imagine Steven Stamkos signs as a free agent with the Leafs July 1 and December 1 the same year receives written notice his contract will be terminated in 30-days. No explanation given or needed except his services where no longer required. Even working stiffs like all of us receive some kind of explanation and severance when the company we work for terminates us.

The shifting of control between the players and management has gone full circle over the years and lays somewhere between whacky and absurd. Remember folks, there was a time players played for the love of the game so much so, they regularly had second jobs in the off-season to support their families.

Masahiro Tanaka a decorated and heavily coveted free-agent Japanese pitcher signed a $155 million, 7-year guaranteed contract with the New York Yankees in 2014, outbidding numerous other teams after his services. Oh yeah they paid a $20 million dollar fee just to negotiate with his agent and the best part of the deal (beside the fact he’s a dud, helping our Jays) is this clown received a $35,000 moving expense fee!tanaka
Remember Jays free agent signing, A.J. Burnett in 2006? This over achiever who inked a 5-year guaranteed $55 million contract, managed to make all his starts in only one year of his deal; guess which one? If your answer was the last year of his contract and up for free agency, take a bow. However what’s startling about this guys wasted time in Toronto wasn’t how much of a floater he was, but rather one of the perks in his contract. That additive included each season he was with the Jays he was allowed to have a limo bring his family from their home in Monkton, Maryland to Toronto and back, eight times a year. That little jaunt adds up to an eight-and-half hour trip one way, covering 445 miles. How much was the driver’s tip for that fare?

Troy Glaus a 2006 Jays acquisition was another beaut in the department of contract-negotiated perks. Now in fairness to the Jays, this perk was inherited from Troy’s previous employer the Arizona Diamondbacks that included $250,000 annually for “personal business expenses” namely the cost of his wife’s equestrian training and equipment. I’m guessing she felt Troy’s job ($45 mil guaranteed over 4 years) hampered her advancement in the grueling and competitive world of horse jumping!! Thus the need for specialized training.

Now I do “get it” that no one is holding a gun to the owners head to agree to these terms but it does make you sit up and take notice how far we really have come in the world of the pampered athletes (notice no hockey players in the examples) and greedy owners. It’s about how far or willing one side will go to gain an edge or feel like they “won” the negotiation.

Now I guess we can be thankful we don’t have to deal with the massive egos in the world of entertainment such as rock group Van Halen who’s 1982 contract demanded M+M’s as a perk with the stipulation the brown ones be removed.

They trashed a hallway in New Mexico once when that request wasn’t fulfilled.

Long gone are days when Gordie Howe just wanted a team jacket to prove to the guys at home that he really made it to the NHL.

I would be remiss if after the Blue Jays wonderful run last fall I didn’t comment on the current state of the team with the much anticipated season about to begin. Of particular interest at this point is the progress in negotiations between star sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion if there are any or it’s mostly white noise?

It’s fascinating how much different times have become regarding player contracts and the sabre rattling conjured up by whichever side senses they are in control. In the case of these two it’s still up in the air who holds the ace card in negotiations. Bautista joined the Jays late in 2008 from the Pittsburgh Pirates posting a .241 average, 43 home runs and 159 rbi’s over a 5-year period with the club. In 21 games with Toronto he managed a .214 average with 3 home runs and 10 rbi’s. His first full year with the Jays wasn’t much better, .235, 13, 40 (and 8 of those dingers came in the month of September). Now 2010 offensively, was a season for the ages, .261, 54, 124 and stellar defensive play at 3rd and right field was icing on the cake.

Suddenly the Jays faced a dilemma with Jose a free agent entering the 2011 season; is he for real, late bloomer, fluke or can anyone say Brady Anderson, the Baltimore leadoff hitter with a career sub .250 average and after 8 years in the Majors hit a total of 72 home runs. In 1996, Anderson balloons to a .297, 50, 110 season, from the leadoff position. Similar to Jose he was accused of steroid use and although nothing was ever proven, his production dropped sharply every year after and never came close to a season like 1996 again.

The Jays offered a $65 million 5-year guaranteed deal, that drew a lot of criticism, but to his credit, Jose delivered, outplaying the contract. That does not happen very often. The point is, Toronto took a big shot on him after one good year and it worked out for everyone. Jose now claims the Jays got a bargain for 5-years? Funny I didn’t hear any mention of bargains in 2011 when his contract was up, looking back on his numbers from the Pittsburgh years. This is not to slam Jose in the least. Love the guy.

Bautista has never played a full season and there is a growing concern his violent swing puts extraordinary strain on his back that will only get worse as he ages. At 35 he’s susceptible to more of the nagging injuries we have seen the last few years and his body has started to break down.

We can all sit back and play GM, which is half the fun of following sports, but realistically, emotions cannot take precedent over what’s best for the ball club.

Too many a team has over rewarded a player for past performance, based on the fact he is widely loved and respected by teammates or a fan favourite.

In 1992 there wasn’t a man who exemplified the model player described above more than Dave Winfield was with the Jays. He carried himself with class, both on and off the field with the defining moment coming in the top of the 11th inning in game 6 of the World Series. With two on, he delivered a two-run double to preserve a Toronto 4-3 victory and World Series Championship.

Chosen as the one of the players to raise the World Series Banner during the victory celebration a few days later at the Skydome, Winfield was summoned to GM Pat Gillicks office a few hours before the festivities were about to begin.
Pat informed Winfield that with free agency opening a few days later, the Jays weren’t going to resign or even protect him. Cruel? Heartless? Insulting? He was the hero of the clinching game! Maybe.

Edwin Encarnacion’s resume is a mirror of Bautista’s. After 4.5 years with Cincinnati, his best year was 2008, .251, 26, 68 but after 43 games the following season he was batting an anemic .209, 5,16. He finished the remaining 42 games of the 2009 campaign with Toronto totaling .240, 8, 23; marginal player numbers. To his credit, in the off-season he lost 40 pounds (at the urging of his father) worked on his game and slowly improved. The key for Double E’s was that the Jays stuck with him and he delivered. Should he be rewarded? Of course, but lets not forget he hasn’t been playing for nothing and while he will get paid by someone, similar to a good stock trade, take the emotion out of the equation and trade the number. In other words, management must decide what fits the pay scale, depth and term, based on the player’s value and durability. Simple enough? Edwin at last check has taken minimal swings in spring training, hampered by nagging injuries particularly the same finger that hurt his production in the post season last October. Anyone remember another finger problem during the World Series runs in the early 1990’s? Al Leiter ring a bell? A blister (yes hockey fans, a blister on his middle finger) kept him shelved for 2 years plus. This guy didn’t win a game for 4-years and when he finally righted himself, he paid the Jays back by jumping to the Florida Marlins.

Look I’m not here to judge Jose and Edwin for trying to leverage as much as they can for themselves, but it’s a two-way street. I’d love to see the day players are paid annually based on performance, durability and team successes. Do any of us have 5-year guaranteed contracts regardless of how we perform our jobs on a day-to-day basis (if any of you do please send me your agents name).

Would you tell the CEO on a day your company is making a presentation that will make or break their future, you might be late because you have to attend your college graduation ceremony in another city? Take a bow Vince Carter, ya stiff.

Obviously there is risk on both sides when contracts are signed and finding a happy medium eases the burden equally, to a degree. It’s rare an established star out plays his contract and this is the quandary that hampers most teams in sports. That happens simply because teams stretch their budgets and end up overpaying for the asset. Reward the player and keep the fans happy? Well that maybe fine and dandy, but now the rest of the locker room is either motivated to perform or jealously festers and all of a sudden a cohesive unit is fractured. And also keep in mind the GM offering out these contracts reports to an owner who isn’t in the business to give his money away or to continually make bad choices, reflecting not only through his pocketbook but the standings.

I want to be very clear as a season ticket holder that I want nothing more than to see 19 and double E’s finish their careers as Blue Jays. But having said that how do we know that Chris Colabello and Michael Saunders aren’t the new Jose and Edwin? How many “sure finds” become “sure outs?”

The key thing for us as fans is we have to separate emotion from what’s right for the team.
The best direction the Jays can take is to wait and negotiate at the end of the season if the demands are beyond the clubs budget. The two players will have to put up big numbers to strengthen their position and that can only help the ball club. It may hurt us short term but nothing strangles a franchise more than non-performing contracts. It just does not work. Weak organizations make safe decisions; consistent winning franchises make tough ones no matter who’s feelings maybe hurt.

And finally, after cutting Dave Winfield post his 1992 World Series heroics, Pat Gillick replaced him with Paul Molitor, who not only finished second in hitting in 1993, but was also named World Series MVP leading the Jays to back-to-back Championships.

ChrisHadfield
One of the more enjoyable tasks as The Ultimate Leafs Fan entails responding to the many questions, requests or sharing of stories amongst fellow Leaf followers or collectors. Not a day goes by without receiving an email offering me a treasured Leafs artifact either seeking some information about the item or offered for sale or to donate to the collection. With the anniversary year fast approaching, inquiries about the early years promises to accelerate and frankly I can’t wait.

A few months ago Deb received an email directly from Col. Chris Hadfield (right to our ULF email from the site), saying that his great grandfather he believed received a job with the Leafs, after serving in the military with Conn Smythe . He wanted to know if we may have some photos from the 1930’s that he could come see. First we didn’t believe he was contacting us directly, but after some brief research, it was true, that there was a connection.

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian icon, the first to walk in space, spent 166 days in orbit and working with NASA his access to information would be second to none, yet he was seeking our help to trace the lineage of a family member with the Toronto Maple Leafs? This man dropped a puck from space and he was stumped on his family’s history?

I immediately contacted fellow Leaf Historian Paul Patskou who also happens to have the most extensive film library pertaining to hockey in existence. Always up for a challenge we informed the Hadfield family that if Austin Hadfield worked with the Leafs we would track it down. The plan was to see what we could find and present it to the family at a private showing inside the “Room”. Chris had heard of my collection, browsed through the website but like a true Leaf fan wanted to experience it in person. We arranged a day to visit and we would present information on Sergeant-Major Austin Hadfield we uncovered, if in fact there was any. Chris mentioned he thought he was a trainer with the Leafs but it was Tim Daly, so that couldn’t be it, but the military affiliation would certainly tie him to Conn Smythe a staunch military man himself, so that was a start. hadfield1

The Leafs trained in the town of Preston Ontario (now Cambridge) and skated at the Galt Arena (still in existence). Conn Smythe the innovative thinker that he was, continued to search for ways to get the edge on the competition. Stationed in Galt with the Highland light Infantry Regiment was Sgt. Major Austin Hadfield, who had a reputation for tough physical training and producing exceptional results with the young men training under his regiment. The Infantry received awards for superior conditioning and these stellar results would surely have resonated with Conn Smythe.

Dry land training was unheard of in the 1930’s thus for the Leafs to employ a tough military man, leading off ice exercises, it was groundbreaking conditioning in the world of hockey. Sgt. Major Hadfield whipped the Leafs into shape starting in 1936 and gained the admiration of the players by joining in on the exercises with kids half his age. Well the little Col. Conn Smythe would have none of that and he too participated in the exercises, including carrying a man on his back running.

The training camp routine entailed the Leafs rising at 7am, breakfast at 7.30, on the field with Hadfield from 815 until 930, 9-holes of golf, lunch, short break and finally 3 hours on the ice.

We were able to uncover some other facts about Sgt. Major Hadfield and the family was thrilled to now have proof of the tie to the beloved Maple Leafs. Chris fondly reminisced the times he would watch the Leafs with his dad as a small boy in Sarnia, and Dave Keon became his favorite player (mine too) leading to a life long love of the hockey club. The admiration of the Leafs had no boundaries and Chris had taped broadcasts of all the Leaf games sent to the shuttle that he watched religiously, including Coaches Corner.

Chris recalled that upon re-entry to earth, unable to watch the end of Game 7 against Boston and after speaking on Satellite telephone with his wife, Hadfield’s first question was, “How did the Leafs do?”

ChrisHadfield2The afternoon with the Hadfield’s flew by and clearly one of the highlights for Deb and myself hosting events “Inside the Room”. Chris, his mom, dad and sister all had great questions, informative antidotes and left smiling with newfound knowledge we were able to discover, including a picture of Sgt.-Major Hadfield leading a drill. I have always expounded about the tentacles that have no end when discussing historical periods in time and in this case the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Earlier, Mrs. Hadfield had politely listened while I gave a quick opening overview once inside the “Room, “and during pause handed me a beehive photo of Sly Apps with a red boarder, “Mike do you know who this is?”

“I sure do that’s a beehive photo and as a matter of fact I have that exact piece”

“Well he is a distant relative of ours, my grandmother and his grandmother were sisters,” Mrs. Hadfield proudly proclaimed.

“Then you will love the story I have for you; did you know that in 1936 Apps was a rookie at Leaf camp in Preston and guess who trained him? Sgt. Major Hadfield who was in his first year as the Physical Trainer of the Leafs, so you could say they were both rookies with the Leafs at the same time.”

She had a big smile on her face, as did I, because we both learnt something new as a result of sharing a story and making a connection. That’s what the beauty of a true collector represents, the unquenchable thirst to discover more. Now we have additional reasons to explore the Hadfield story further, hopefully uncovering pieces of little known history along the way. We are very excited to continue the search and will keep you posted.

Later that evening Deb and I were relaxing, preparing our schedules for the next event we’d be hosting (it never stops, ha). Recounting a few of the highlights from earlier we suddenly paused, looked at each other and without saying a word, smiled, knowing something real special had taken place that day.

See below for the Full Hour interaction Presentation with the Hadfield family

anighttoremember
There are events in life that stay with us forever, eliciting a “Where were you when…” moment. The Kennedy or Lennon assassination, immediately come to mind for our generation and from a sporting specific, the Henderson goal, the Joe Carter home run or even Crosby’s over-time gold medal winner in 2010. What makes historic memories so special is quite simply, they never start out to be that, in fact it’s the element of surprise that resonates with us and freezes that moment in time.

I was a student at Seneca College in 1976 and waking up that Saturday morning on February 7 it was like any other weekend. After a quick breakfast my pal Andy Tocchet would pick me up and we’d head to our part time jobs working at Sportsworld in Scarborough. The plan after work that night was to spend the evening watching the Leaf game with the girl I was dating. This was a rarity for me because my team played most Saturday nights. Arriving at my date’s residence that evening I was greeted at the door by the woman who owned the house. She wasn’t much older than us and we started a friendly conversation, “Mike I hear you are thinking of leaving school next year and just playing hockey in the States or Europe?

After acknowledging this was true she continued how I should really start working, to have something to fallback on if hockey didn’t work out and since she was a placement agent could direct me to some entry level jobs. It’s funny because I’d never had such a direct conversation about my future with anyone before, but she continued on that the brokerage business maybe a good start and had some good spots to send me for interviews. I then changed the subject asking why she was so dressed up, “Oh I’m going to the bloody hockey game and I don’t even like hockey, but just met this guy so I said yes. Maybe I should stay home with the girls and you go in my place Mike?

I think I even agreed to a wear a dress if that would allow me to go to the game but too no avail.

With the sound down and game on, I had an eye on the TV and one on the girl (you blame me) noticing Sittler was having a good night. I recall Ballard was chirping off as usual through the press and giving Darryl a rough time because the Leafs weren’t scoring and in a bit of a slump. He I figured still wouldn’t get over the fact he had to pay Sittler more for not jumping to the WHA a few years earlier.

It seemed that every time I looked at the TV screen they were showing Sittler celebrating a goal and during that time the score was not permanently displayed so I assumed they kept showing the first couple he was involved in.

sittler

The next morning at practice its all that anyone wanted to talk about and wasn’t until I got home, realized what really had taken place the night before. I remember thinking before the game started that the Leafs weren’t playing very well, Boston was on a roll, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for much of a game; needless to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level.

The feat itself is remarkable and unmatched forty years later; there is no question about that. But unlike the Bucky Dent moment, Larry Mize miracle chip or the David Tyree Super Bowl catch, those were one shot deals and quite frankly the last we ever heard from those players.

What I remember going forward was how the crowd erupted every time Sittler touched the puck, except the following evening, with hundreds of empty seats at the Gardens, he managed one assist but the Leafs won. Only in Toronto!

My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level. It takes a special kind of not only athlete but also person to over come such challenges and many an athlete has succumbed to the expectations that followed and failed miserably.

Sittler once told me he was baby-sitting Paul Henderson’s children during the 1972 Summit Series, then a young player trying to make his mark as a second year pro with the Leafs. Little did he know watching Paul’s heroics, that four-years later his career would change forever, including scoring the winning goal in the inaugural Canada Cup (I was in a hotel room in Vancouver attending a minor-league camp, when he potted that one). Darryl has said that’s the accomplishment of the most significance that year that also included being named captain of the Leafs and scoring five goals in a playoff game against Philadelphia.

I’d like to offer my heartfelt congratulations on an accomplishment that has stood the test of time the last 40 years. But more importantly aside from becoming one of the most popular Leafs of all time, Hall of Fame induction in 1989, Legends row last year, it is how Sittler has carried himself not only proudly as captain of the Leafs but as a person.

The words dignity, class and pride are adjectives not often associated with the athlete of today, but they sure describe Sittler too a “T” as not only a Toronto Maple Leaf but as a person and that folks is a record no one will ever break.

Ps…I just completed my fortieth year in the brokerage business.

canfund

I have talked in the past of the wonderful opportunities that have arisen as a result of my collection. Aside from the media attention, blogs, talk of a couple books, documentaries, the many athletes, politicians, billionaires and dignitaries that have visited, it’s the charities that really resonate with myself, Deb and the kids.

We support anti-bullying, road to conquer cancer, mental illness and depression, Derringers 13 days, MLSE foundation, just to mention a few. Another on our list is CAN Fund and we recently hosted our third annual event.

CAN Fund has been in existence over 10 years, founded by ex-Olympians Jane Roos and her husband Conrad Leinemann, who have dedicated their lives to help support our Canadian athletes. Our Canadian athletes receive funding that amounts to roughly $1,500 a month, that they use to live, train and support themselves. While some of our elite level competitors have some form of sponsorship, for the majority of the athletes, they are on their own.

CAN Fund distributes qualified athletes a maximum amount of $6,000 at a time which they can apply twice a year. However, they don’t always receive funding as there are over 800 needy athletes currently on the list for support, and there is not always funding for all who apply.

You may at this point be saying to yourself, certainly there must be more pressing causes in Canada than giving athletes money to compete and travel the globe?

We live in a very tough world that is full of hardship, terrorism, incurable diseases and the daily grind to just survive. The beauty of sports at an elite level, for that couple of seconds, minutes or hours allows us to put aside the harsh reality of life and lose ourselves in that moment in time. The event can take a whole different twist when the athlete or team is wearing the Canadian flag across their chest. This is one time we can unite as a country and be represented on the world stage with the chance to be the best. Nothing brings more pride to a country or make life’s miseries seem insignificant, than watching the Canadian flag lifted to the rafters in victory. Remember the Vancouver Olympics in 2010? The Sidney Crosby’s goal? Donavan Bailey’s 100 meter gold medal in Atlanta? But like anything we try too accomplish in the competitive landscape we live in today, not only victory, but also the ability to compete comes with a price.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London my friend John’s daughter Rosie MacLennan competed for Canada on the trampoline, winning our only gold medal during the Games. I just like anyone watching that Saturday morning, rode the emotional high with Rosie during the competition, leading to the top of the podium while “Oh Canada” played and our flag rose high for the world to see. At that moment nothing mattered except the pride I felt as a Canadian.

Rosie as a Canfund recipient, used the $6,000 to have her car fixed so she could get to practice to train.

I spoke with John and asked if there was anything we could do to help Rosie with some sponsorship because the cost to train was so high. To give you an idea, Rosie as a CAN Fund recipient, used the $6,000 to have her car fixed so she could get to practice to train. Deb and I met with John, Rosie and Jane to enlighten us about CAN Fund and the wonderful work they did. We came up with a plan once Deb and I were comfortable how the process worked and that all of the money went directly to the athletes. (We will not support any charitable events otherwise and with all our charity work, every dime goes direct to the foundation.)

Making our way around our Room, Rosie suddenly stopped us, “Deb and Mike, I just want too really thank you so much for doing this for me. My sport doesn’t get a lot of attention and now that I’ve won, we are getting some notice. There are a number of athletes going too Sochi that could really use some help financially, would you mind if I shared the money you raise with some of them?”

I remember looking at Deb and saying, “Are we backing the right horse or what?

We have risen close to $350,000 the last three years and over 30 athletes so far have benefited directly from our events.

One of the perks for Deb and I has been to be a part of the “call” to the athlete informing them, they will receive financial aid. And what an experience that has been. These kids ask for nothing, never complain and everyone immediately asks what they can do to help. I jokingly inform them it’s mandatory that when they win a medal they have to come to our home and have their picture taken with me. Last year five time Olympian, Jayna Hefford who was one of the recipients of funding from our event leading up to Sochi in 2014, attended our event as a celebrity. I remember standing upstairs talking when I felt a tap on the shoulder and it was Jayna, who then directed me, downstairs in front of the Team Canada case, pulled two of her gold medals from her purse, “Mike I believe I owe you a picture.

Now on to this year’s highlight at our recent event. I was greeting early arrivals at the front door with Conrad when a cab pulled into our driveway, he waved at the car while turning to me, “Oh Mike this is Karine Thomas the synchronized swimmer we helped last year, remember when we called her? Well she flew in from Montreal to be here to not only support the event but to thank you and Deb in person for helping her.

Karine approached with a big smile hugged and thanked me for supporting her. She hugged Deb. Later that evening during the speeches, the athletes say a few words, show their medals and thank the people in attendance for the support. I usually end the speeches with a few words of thanks and praise for CAN Fund and our supporters.

The last speaker before me was Karine who spoke of her career, upcoming Olympics in Rio and the two gold medals she won at the Pan Am games in Toronto last summer. It was at that moment she turned to me and said, “And I really want to thank Mike for all you do for the athletes and especially me, you have no idea how much you helped me,” Her words started to fade as she welled up with tears in her eyes and at the same time took the gold medal from around her neck, “And I want you too have this because without your help I would never have won it.

The room went deadly silent and it was all I could do to keep my composure, never mind the fact I was speechless, which at the best of times is near impossible for those who know me. I could barely get the words out to express the gratitude for such a thoughtful gesture. Needless to say I wasn’t the only one in the room with tears in my eyes. One patron was so moved by Karine’s gesture he purchased a beautiful diamond ring that she was modeling for the auctioneer during the live auction and then gave it too her. Now there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Having now completed our third event for CAN Fund the experience just seems to get better year after year. It’s a rarity that every person attending and supporting our events will know the exact athlete that is receiving money as a result of our evening. That’s a powerful tool watching the Olympics cheering along with fellow workers while Dara Howell wins gold in freestyle skiing, knowing we helped in our small way as an example.

If I managed to hold your interest this long, then you haven’t thought about any day to day nuisance that will still be there the minute you stop reading. Isn’t it nice to read a story about athletes that not only care, are thankful for the opportunity to represent us on an international stage and want to give back?

Karine Thomas said we changed her life forever and will be forever grateful. She shared a part of her soul with me by gifting her gold medal and changed my life forever as a result, because I will carry this emotional, uplifting story until the day I die. How can you not support someone like that?

Anyone who has competed in a sporting activity from a very early age has been taught the principles of good sportsmanship, fair play and respect towards an opponent. Most of the same apply to everyday life and are basically common sense.

I do understand that when competition heats up, body contact accelerates and tempers have a tendency to flare; been there myself. The question remains and its one that may never find the correct solution, but when does a player cross the line or when is a ruling from the officials deemed too lenient? Who decides the “get even” or “appropriate” punishment delivered by the team offended? Simply put, at what point do the players take matters into their own hands and self-police the in-game action?

The common referral to self-policed actions in sports is often a result of a player not abiding by the code. So let’s examine the code and in no particular order what constitutes violations thereof; some examples would be as follows,

1. Showing “up” an opponent
2. Challenging a smaller or the team’s best player to a fight or running them
3. Fighting a player at the end of a shift
4. If the score gets out of hand, rubbing it in with excessive celebration
5. Running a goalie
6. Shooting puck after the whistle or puck into empty net after stoppage in play or crossing center ice during warm-up

These are some of the rules in the player’s edition of the unpublished but vital understanding for survival in the world of sports. Each sport has its own variation and you can see most of the examples above relate to hockey.

Like anything in life, the best way to get someone’s attention is through shock and the element of surprise, when the feeling of wrongdoing has occurred. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that to send a message to an opponent that you are unhappy with, progression of the game or when pure frustration has taken over, that violating the code might be the easiest way?

If we look at the antics of players such as Brad Marchand, Chris Neil and ex-NHLer Sean Avery, these players have made careers of violating the code through acts that can be summed up as cowardly. Why? Because they hide behind the instigator rule rather than face the consequences of their actions, thus in direct violation of the code. When Milan Lucic then with Boston, ran Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, it was viewed as a pure cheap shot and gutless (which it was) clearly violating the code. However Lucic to his credit, (can’t believe I just said that) the next time he faced Buffalo, took the challenge and fought the first player who stepped up to defend the honour of the code. The discipline of the code worked, as it should in that instance. But in the aforementioned examples, all that does is create chippy play, cheap shots, and hits after the whistle and staged fights. Yes folks for those unfamiliar, staged fights occur when tough guys fight just for the sake of fighting, serving no purpose except maybe to justify why they are on the bench and ready to go.

One of my favourite “breaking of the code” moments occurred earlier this year during the Jays/Texas playoff series in game 5 after Bautista hit the 3-run shot giving the Jays the lead for good and clinching the series. The famous bat-flip infuriated Ranger pitcher Sam Dyson, so he charged at the next batter Encarnacion to let him know that Jose’s bat flip was disrespectful to the game. Say what????? The code???

This clown Dyson serves up a batting practice pitch to the best home run hitter the last half dozen years and the only reason the ball didn’t end up in Barrie, it was hit so hard it bounced off the upper deck wall; and he’s worried about being shown up? He just single handedly cost his team an ALCS birth and he’s upset about a bat-flip? Whoa Nellie talk about mixed up values. That sadly is what sports have become.

Now on the other hand, recalling the night Kobe Bryant lite the Raptors up for 81 points, how about the code exhibited that game? The outcome wasn’t in doubt yet the Raptors stood back while this guy kept shooting 3’s with no regard about showing up the opponent but for total selfish, personal gain. He should have been decked, period! That’s what sports used to represent! The code failed.

We’ve examined a few examples at opposite ends of the spectrum but the result, sadly is still the same; the code is no longer an unwritten pledge the players live by, it’s a self-serving mechanism used to enhance reputation, creditability and a bigger paycheck. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because that’s what sports in general has become, which in turn is a reflection of how we live our day-to-day lives.

Some of us remember when things were pretty simple and the code while unmentioned was an integral part of the game. Run the star player, be prepared to take a pounding and fight the tough guy, run the goalie, same result, a pitcher gets lite up, next batter gets off-speed pitch in middle of the back or inside. A takeout at second breaking up a double play or close play at home resulting in the catcher getting run over are infractions the players used to police themselves because they understood the implications for there actions. Now the egotistical umpires think the show is about them; the coaches want to justify their existence; the owner even gets into the act to protect relationships with the fan base and on it goes. The sporting world is made up of discipline committees, boards, legal representatives, hearings and the message from the agent is very clear, if you penalize my client too harshly, we will seek litigation.

It is quite clear to me there is no proper answer to define the code and it has merely become an adjective to hide behind when best suited. However, the sporting world will still try to keep the integrity of the game intact to a degree and may I suggest one look no further than Jim Croce’s words from 1972,
“You don’t tug on superman’s cape,
You don’t spit into the wind,
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger ,
And you don’t mess around with Jim.”