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Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore

Toronto Maple Leafs Ace BaileyIt’s Tuesday, December 12, 1933 when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Boston Garden for a match against the Bruins.

30-year old Ace Bailey skates right wing for the Leafs, and he’s a good one. A former scoring champion who played an integral role during his team’s 1932-33 Stanley Cup season, he remains a force on the ice despite a recent drop in production.

Eddie Shore, 31, plays defense for the Bruins. He’s a rugged man with impressive skills, an iconic and polarizing star with a Stanley Cup of his own on the résumé.

Although the Leafs had eliminated the Bruins in the semi-finals the year before, there’s no particular relationship between the two men. They are simply two stars engaged in the game-to-game grind of helping their teams win a championship. Yet their names would, on this night, become linked forever.

Some time during the second period, Shore takes a nasty check. Depending on which account you read it comes from either of two Toronto defenseman: King Clancy or Red Horner. Either way, Shore gets up dazed and with his sights set on revenge. He wants the man who took him out but finds his target, mistakenly, in Bailey.

He delivers a vicious blow that trips Bailey up and sends him head-first to the ice. Bailey starts convulsing, bleeding from the skull. Horner skates in and decks Shore, sending the Bruin to the ice with a three-inch gash in his head. Both Bailey and Shore have to be carried from the ice by teammates. The ensuing chaos runs so deep that Maple Leafs president Conn Smythe rearranges the dental work of a Bruins fan who accused Bailey of embellishing his injury.

Back in the locker rooms, Shore recovers quickly enough to visit Bailey on the visitors’ side. He never intended any harm, and he says as much in delivering an apology. “It’s all part of the game,” Bailey says, before lapsing back into unconsciousness and being rushed to the hospital.

Bailey’s life hangs by a thread. Things get dire enough that a priest is brought in to deliver last rites. Boston police conduct interviews, assembling a potential case against Shore for manslaughter. Bailey’s father grabs a handgun, takes a train to Boston, and starts making inquiries as to Shore’s whereabouts.

Then, somehow, things changed.

Bailey made the kind of recovery Hollywood screenwriters don’t dare dream up (although his playing days were over). Shore’s indefinite suspension was lifted and he returned to the ice. The NHL community rallied to Bailey’s side and staged an All-Star game for his benefit, the first such contest in league history. Bailey and Shore met at center ice, shook hands, and closed the book on their incident for good.

Every sport has its unwritten rules. How and when to pitch inside and hit a guy, what’s “dirty” and what isn’t in the scramble for a loose ball. Where the line is drawn between gamesmanship and something more serious. What’s personal and what isn’t. These rules are necessary because at any moment — no matter how innocuous it might seem — the threat of real loss hangs over the contest.

Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore weren’t the first pro athletes to buy tickets to that dance and they weren’t the last. Just ask Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich.

The rules tighten, the fines stiffen, and the effort to sanitize pro sports marches on. I doubt we’re any better for it.

(Ace Bailey photo via legendsofhockey.net)

13 comments to Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore

  • …and this is why I love this site.

    Great story, Neal. Whets my whistle for the Classic on Friday which will, appropriately enough, take place in Boston.

  • I doubt we’re any better for it. Damn, I love happy endings.

    Actually, (and per usual) you’re dead on. Todd Bertuzzi still kills me.

    Wikipedia lists the NHL’s reasons for his reinstatement as:

    -Bertuzzi serving a suspension of 20 games, which at the time tied for 4th longest in NHL history (13 regular season games, 7 playoff games)[7]

    -Bertuzzi’s repeated attempts to apologize to Moore personally

    -Bertuzzi’s forfeited salary ($501,926.39 )

    -Lost endorsements (approximately $350,000.00, both figures in United States dollars)

    -Significant uncertainty, anxiety, stress and emotional pain caused to Bertuzzi’s family

    -The commissioner’s belief that Bertuzzi was genuinely remorseful and apologetic for his actions

    Sure…”The NHL”…but somewhere in Thornhill, Ontario sits a foggy-brained Steve Moore, sitting by the fire and drearily looking out the window at children skating on the frozen river. He tries to Yearn for the glory days of the past, but his brain is too fucked up for any real yearning.

  • dan the man

    Good piece and a great story.

    I think whether or not we are better for it is debatable, though. One could say that although the NFL is too strict with it’s penalties and fines, etc., it does still have a very large and sad problem with NFL veterans with brain damage. At some point, you need to do something to protect people. It would just be better if we could do it with better equipment and technology rather than new or stricter rules.

    Shit is never going to be as “real” as it was back in the day. We live in a different world now, but like Joe sort of touched on, is it right to want to have those kinds of stories in sports today at the risk or expense of the health of these sports idols? Sports will always have its stories regardless of rules, and as athletes get stronger, there will need to be more ways to keep them safe. I’m not saying I’m in favor of the sanitizing of sports, I’m just saying that while sports injuries are inevitable, permanent and debilitating injuries due to sports can and should be avoided.

  • neal s

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Good stuff.

    So we’re clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that there’s anything good or noble about serious, life-altering injuries. Or really any injuries for that matter. I think that what Todd Bertuzzi did was sick.

    The thing is, though, that sports are the same as life. Regulation can mitigate but never remove risk, and there will always be a human element. It’s incumbent upon individuals to understand the boundaries, and to atone for their mistakes if they cross them.

    70+ years on in sports and we’ve had advances in safety equipment, more rules changes than anyone can count, and more righteous indignation than we ever needed every time something shocking happens. Yet I don’t think we could either (a) avoid another Ace Bailey-Eddie Shore scenario, or (b) handle it any better than they did at the time. Some serious shit went down, the guys involved settled it like adults, and their community rallied to support them.

    I wish more people still got that idea, especially those in positions of power and responsibility.

  • dan the man

    @neal s – No doubt. And couldn’t agree more on the “righteous indignation”, especially when it comes to sportswriters. Suddenly, they all become saints and ostracizing mothers when something goes wrong in the sporting world. Hate that.

    Not to derail the thread, but an interesting Orioles-related smidgen:

    This article, with a surprising and fishy Orioles-Holliday mention.

  • dan the man

    And Andy immediately denies it. Sorry, carry on.

  • Andrew

    Dan, give it up. Matt Holliday is not only not coming to this team, but the more I think about it, the less the idea even makes sense. The Orioles already have a logjam in the outfield and no plans to move any of their current players to first base long-term, and Nolan Reimold could conceivably provide more total value to the team in left field over the next 5 or 6 years than Holliday could.

  • neal s

    @Andrew -I might be missing something, but it didn’t seem to me like Dan’s comment suggested a particular excitement about Holliday. The Fox report was certainly worth mentioning.

    To the bigger point, I agree with you that Holliday wouldn’t make much sense. Definitely not on an eight-year deal. In fact, I’m pretty much against any deal longer than four or five years unless we’re talking about a player in his mid-twenties who exhibits extraordinary performance. Even then I’d be wary.

  • dan the man

    Andrew, trust me, I am against any guaranteed deal like that. 8 years for anyone not named Pujols? No way.

    I like Holliday and would be excited if we signed him and had to figure out what to do with all of our outfield talent. But any sensible O’s fan reading that blurb has to think, “Andy MacPhail…8 years… nahhhh…” Hence the “fishy” from my original post. And sure enough, the latest rumor has the Cards closing in on a deal within the week.

    This isn’t last year when it seemed like I thought about nothing but the possibility of signing Tex because he obviously made more sense than Holliday does right now. I think we’ve all learned a lot from the Tex fiasco to take large amounts of salt with anything like today’s Fox Sports thing. Thought it was worth mentioning, though. If only for the fact that… how the hell does a respected sports writer like Ringolsby state stuff like this as pure fact, without referencing any “unnamed sources”, etc. and with MacPhail immediately and adamantly denying it? Where the hell does it come from? And why is he sure enough of it to put it in “print”? The Hot Stove is the only time of the year, seemingly, when it’s ok and even encouraged for sports writers to publish things that are not only not sourced, they are downright gossip and worse, guesses stated as fact.

  • Andrew

    You’re absolutely right, Dan. Last winter taught me a lot, too, and right from the outset I’ve just been completely without doubt that the Orioles weren’t going to be in on the big names this winter, for good or ill (and I’ll say it’s for good).

    Meanwhile, there seems to be an awful lot more doubt on everyone else’s minds that the Ravens aren’t the easy favorite in Oakland on Sunday. What gives? It’s the Raiders. The Ravens have proven one thing this year, and that’s that they are distinctly better than all of these bad football teams like the Raiders, Bears, Browns, and also better than a lot of the mediocre teams like the Jets and Broncos. I we were playing the Chargers I could see the nervousness, but it’s the motherfucking Raiders. Come on. We got this.

  • dan the man

    Yeah, people were a little nervous about the Bears, too. Ray Rice and Flacco alone will beat the Raiders. I don’t see the game being close enough for a rash of penalties to derail a win this time. Playoffs here we come.

    Happy New Year, TLC!

  • Big Ben's Motorcycle

    yeah i’m actually not nervous at all because:

    a. the ravens should beat the raiders and…

    b. if they don’t it’s about as clear cut as possible that they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs which is most certainly a jury that’s been out all year.

    as a fan all i can hope is that a win clears the slate and as a group they realize how much they fucked up this year and they can acquit themselves in the playoffs.

  • Andrew

    @Big Ben’s Motorcycle – As an infamous semi-fictional Baltimorean once said: “Indeed”.