When the headlines read PLAYER REVOLT ROCKS HOCKEY late last year, the reaction of those who remembered was instant: it had to be Eddie Shore's team. For four decades or more when anything happened in pro hockey that was absolutely unbelievable, it had to concern Eddie—Edward William Shore, the balding, scar-faced 64-year-old owner of the Springfield Indians who as player, coach, owner and manager has been the most bizarre and incredible character in the game.
Between 1926 and 1942 Shore played in the National Hockey League, and brought to it a brand of rough-and-tumble that never has been equaled. He antagonized fans, fought opponents and stirred more controversy than any other man in the game. Opponents often teamed to cream him, owners sought to outlaw him and fans came to curse him. But when Shore played, the crowds came. And they saw him play superb, if wild, hockey. When his playing career ended, he had made the league All-Star team eight times and had assured himself a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Driving himself the way he drove his players later, Shore had also acquired more than 900 stitches in his face and body, several fractures in his back, hip, collarbone, nose and jaw, and a mouth minus every tooth.
In 1939, his body battered and his big-league career almost over, Shore put his bankroll back into the game he loved, bought the Springfield team in the American League, and promptly became the most unusual owner the sport has known. "Wild, offbeat, nutty, a kook, call him what you will," says Emile Francis, currently general manager of the New York Rangers. "Whatever the term, you're probably right."
Can anyone believe a man would open a training camp by ordering two dozen rugged hockey players to tap dance in the hotel lobby or execute delicate ballet steps on ice? Would any ordinary coach tape a player's hands to his stick? Or work out day after day with players despite four near-fatal heart attacks? Is it conceivable that a club owner would instruct players' wives to avoid relations with their husbands in the interest of a winning team? Is it conceivable, either, that a man would actually lock a referee out of his dressing room as punishment for "poor" officiating? Or order his players to make popcorn, blow up balloons and sell programs when they're not in the game?
"You better believe it," says Defense-man Don Johns, who has played both for and against Shore. "Once Eddie told me he knew why I wasn't a better hockey player. I'm always willing to learn. So I said, 'O.K., Ed, what's wrong with me?' Know what he says? 'You're not combing your hair right.' he says. He told mc to part it on the other side. That way it would help me, cause I'd have something to think about."
At the opening of training camp the year Johns joined the Indians, Shore beckoned to a rookie. The other players stopped to see what was up. "Eddie wanted the boy to skate with his legs closer," says Johns, "so he pulled out a piece of cord and tied the kid's legs together and told him to skate. Did you ever try to skate with your legs tied with rope?"
Once Johns himself was immobilized on a hospital bed, suffering a 40-stitch cut in his leg. The phone rang. It was Shore. "Mis-ter Johns," he said, "you ought to be ready to play pretty soon."
" 'But Eddie,' I told him, 'I can't even turn my leg....' " Next thing I know he hung up. For a minute I thought maybe I was babying myself. So I called the doc and told him to look at the leg. He did and told me I'd be crazy if I got out of bed in the next couple of days."
By the end of the week Johns was released from the hospital and reported to Shore, who occupied a modest office in the Eastern States Coliseum, the rink he leases in West Springfield, Mass.
"Mis-ter Johns," Shore ordered, "you're playing tonight."
"He played me for three minutes," says Johns, "and then suspended me for a week. 'When I played hockey,' he told me, 'I once had 100 stitches in the leg and I was out only three—no, two and a half—days.' "
Johns considers himself more fortunate than most since he was sent to Baltimore after only a year in Springfield. Others, such as Billy McCreary, who played four years for Shore, curse the day they were told to report. McCreary claims Shore's love of a penny would make Jack Benny seem like the last of the great spenders. "We were on strict budgets with him," said McCreary. "He never allowed us to tip taxi drivers more than 15 cents. After a while, we got so well known around the league none of the cabbies wanted to pick us up.
"That was bad enough. But some guys had a bonus clause in their contracts. If they got, say, 20 goals, they'd get more money. So a guy would be comin' close to 20 near the end of the season. Does he make it? Hell, Shore would sit him out of the late season games so he couldn't score any more. And if you think I'm joking, just ask anyone who skated for Shore."
Still, among members of the Shore Alumni Association there are as many admirers as critics. One graduate, Goal-tender Don Simmons, remembers how Shore once ordered him into his office. Don had been in a slump and, naturally, feared the worst. But Eddie was convinced Simmons had developed a mental block against goaltending. He suggested the kid return to his home in Port Colborne, Ont. for a rest. "He told me to go home to my mother. 'Help her around the house,' he said. 'Wash the dishes and do the rest of the chores for her. That'll take your mind off hockey. While you're at it, find a studio and take some dancing lessons.' "
Simmons nearly suffered a nervous breakdown soon after he returned to play. In a tense game between Cleveland and Springfield, Referee Frank Udvari called a penalty against the Indians that so enraged Shore he ordered his entire team off the ice with the exception of Simmons. Udvari pulled out his watch, "You got 15 seconds to ice a team," the referee said, "or I drop the puck." Shore ignored the threat.
Udvari dropped the puck and five Cleveland players charged at Simmons. So amazed were the attackers at this unheard-of scoring opportunity they fought among themselves over who would take the shot. Finally, Bo Elik of Cleveland shot and missed. Three succeeding shots went wild and Simmons fell on the puck, stopping play. Finally Shore sent his team back on the ice.
Several years later Simmons' wife became involved in the strange world of Shore. The Indians were in a losing streak, and a notice was posted on the team bulletin board: PLAYERS AND WIVES REPORT TO DRESSING ROOM AT 3 P.M.
"We thought it would be a party," says Simmons, "because the Old Man threw a party every once in a while. We told our wives to get dressed up real fine. When we got to the dressing room the girls expected to see decorations. Instead, the room was filled with dirty uniforms and the aroma of liniment. That shook 'em up a bit, but nothing like what was to come.
"After we all sat down, the Old Man looked at our wives and said the team wasn't doing as well as it should. He told the girls he wanted them to pay less attention to their husbands so we could play better hockey for the rest of the season. Then he sent us home. That was the end of the party."
Aldo Guidolin, an alumnus of Shore Academy, class of 1959, shudders when he recalls his hours of grim instruction under Eddie. "He harps on three points," says Guidolin. "He wants the hands two feet apart on the stick, the feet 11 inches apart on the ice and he wants you to skate in a sort of sitting position. You better do it exactly right or you're in big trouble."
Defenseman Guidolin discovered this one morning during a practice. He had just completed what he considered a perfect pass that resulted in a goal. What's more, he had skated at top speed while doing it. Then he heard the whistle and saw Shore motion to him. "Mister Guidolin," said Shore. "Do you know what you did wrong?"
"The pass was perfect," said Guidolin. "I was in the sitting position. My hands were on the stick. What more do you want?"
"Mis-ter Guidolin," Shore replied, "your legs were two inches too far apart."
Outlandish as Shore's ideas may at first appear, they are all grounded in pseudoscientific theory developed and harbored in his encyclopedic mind. "Studying under Shore is like getting your doctorate in hockey science," says Toronto Defenseman Kent Douglas. "The Old Man taught me things about the game nobody else ever mentioned. He showed me you don't have to hit a man real hard—just get a piece of him. He showed me how to maneuver a man till he's off balance. Then you take the puck away from him."
When Douglas complained about being overweight, Shore stayed up nights analyzing the problem. Finally he had the solution. "You're drinking too much water," Eddie said with finality. Douglas eliminated excess water from his diet, lost weight, gained speed and stamina and won the league trophy as outstanding defenseman.
Eddie could see nothing to be surprised at when he ordered Guidolin and a dozen other players to study a number of dance routines. "Tap dancing," he explains, "improves balance, and balance is the foundation of an athlete's ability. From balance you get power and maneuverability. I want a player who can move forward, backward, one side or the other without actually taking a step, just shifting his balance. Add those up each time he has to make a move during a game and he's saving himself a tremendous amount of energy."
When any of Eddie's players were out of the lineup due to injury, illness or simply Shore's desire to bench them, they often had. to work considerably harder than regular members of the team. These unfortunates were known as the Black Aces. Ex-Black Aces say they were forced to do such odd jobs as painting arena seats, selling programs, making popcorn and blowing up hundreds of balloons before ice shows. But Eddie never makes anyone do a job he wouldn't do himself. Once he was changing light bulbs in the Coliseum's high ceiling. To do this, he had to climb a platform that the players on the ice pushed from bulb to bulb. At one point Shore was hanging on to an overhead cable with one hand and screwing in a bulb with the other when one of the Aces "accidentally" pushed the tower from under him. "He was just hanging there from the cables, but the fellows finally got around to pushing the platform back so he could get down," remembers one of them with satisfaction.
Over the years Shore has managed to antagonize almost every coach and manager in the American League but none more than Cleveland's Jackie Gordon, who is now the Rangers' assistant manager. In a February 1960 game with Cleveland, Shore suffered a fit of pique when Referee Lou Farelli disallowed a Springfield goal, although Goal Judge Bill Tebone had flashed the red light signifying the point. Gordon couldn't believe it when Eddie reacted by removing Tebone from his post behind the net. Shore said if the referee could overrule the goal judge, there was no point in having one. Gordon insisted the least Shore could do was appoint a new judge. Farelli ordered Shore to comply, but Eddie wouldn't hear of it. The referee resumed the game—minus one very important official.
"I did not pull out the goal judge," Shore says today. "He saw the puck go in and put the light on. When the referee would not take his decision, he said, 'If they think I'm a liar, I don't want the job,' and he walked away.
"The referee asked me to put in another judge. I said, 'This man is honest. If L put in another judge, it would be like calling the first one a liar and a cheat.' I told the referee, 'Either he goes back in there or else you won't have a goal judge.' "
Ultimately, League President Richard Canning fined Shore $2,000. Shortly thereafter Eddie suffered a heart attack. "When he had the attack," an American League official said, "we decided not to press him for the money." Fining without collecting was a formula often followed by Shore himself. This is the other side of Shore, the side as hidden from the public as the far side of the moon.
One night Shore caught a couple of players drinking after hours and fined each $200. At the end of the season each received a $200 bonus. Another time Eddie criticized Ken Schinkel for a mistake during a workout. Normally mild-mannered, Schinkel was upset because his wife had just lost a baby. "Eddie," Schinkel shouted, "you can go to hell."
"That'll cost you $100," snapped Shore.
After the playoffs Schinkel dropped into the hockey office to say goodby to his boss. "Wait a minute," said Shore, reaching into his pocket and pulling out $100. "I don't know why I'm so good to you."
"Funny thing about him," says Schinkel, "he fined me every year I was there. But every year he gave me the money back."
Eddie fancies himself as both a psychologist and a medicine man. He insists he twice cured himself of cancer, but he won't explain how. "All I can say," he says, "is three specialists gave me only six months to live and that was in 1940."
One afternoon Shore noticed Schinkel sniffling. Ken had a cold and, having tried the usual remedies without success, was simply waiting out the ailment. Shore had other ideas. "You know what he prescribes?" says Schinkel. "Twelve drops of iodine. And you know what? It worked."
Eddie's prescriptions are not always so effective. He once decided that Schinkel was suffering from yellow jaundice. "The Old Man gave me something he invented and called the 'Marlet Treatment,' " says Schinkel. "It's a laxative made up of oils. I was scared of it, so I took only half of what I was supposed to. I lost 12 pounds in no time, so I cut it out. I think if I'd have taken the whole business it would've been suicide."
Shore's trades are a favorite topic of conversation in the AHL. Hershey sportswriters still are talking about the time he made a man-for-man swap but was tormented at the last minute over what he considered a slight discrepancy in the players' worth. He finally agreed to the trade on the condition that Hershey throw in a brand-new goal net to complete the transaction.
Shore's trading tactics may have been sharp, but no man has given more of his life, his flesh, his blood for hockey. None has invested more of his time instructing young hockey players. His drive built what was a feeble Springfield franchise into a hockey power the equal of the best in the world, and no other can match Shore's claim of putting every cent he made out of hockey back into the sport.
He has now retired—because of his health—from active management of the Indians. But he still has sharp eyes that give the impression of being permanently blackened from a hockey bout, a wide toothy grin and a pate three-quarters bereft of hair. He speaks slowly, almost ploddingly, and inhales deeply between phrases. His face betrays none of the effects of his hundreds of stitches. In fact, at 5'11", 185 pounds, he looks as if he could take on half the Springfield team. "But to me," he says, "the S64 question isn't whether you can take it."
Shore always has been able to take it. As a hockey player he absorbed physical abuse. As an owner and coach he absorbed verbal abuse.
"I'll tell you what's the matter," says Eddie. "Shore has always been in the wrong. He doesn't mean to be but he gets in people's bad graces. He's been outspoken even if it hurts."
But couldn't he easily change his image? Couldn't he get a press agent to spread the word about his philanthropy, his good traits? Couldn't Eddie talk about such things?
"I see no point in bragging," Shore says. "I've always felt the truth will out."
But, with Eddie, it has been almost impossible to separate truth from fiction. His life and his legend have become too interwoven. His bizarre behavior has been embellished in the stories about him, no doubt, but the stories have roots in truth.
"Most of us are a little crazy one way or another," Eddie Shore says. "Some of us admit it. As for me, I'm not sorry about anything I've done in my life. As long as I can be close to hockey I'm happy to be alive."