Such a Different Time

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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.