Dispatches from the Sporting Life

Acclaim for
Dispatches from the Sporting Life

“Stylish sports essays from a master…. With economy, wit and flair, Richler shows how it’s done. The man’s style is always evident, whether he’s failing to catch salmon in Scotland or rooting on the hapless Habs.”

Calgary Herald


Dispatches
reflects Richler’s passion for sports…. Richler combines the enthusiasm of a fan with the curiosity and insight of a first-rate reporter. Add to the mix the prose skills of an accomplished novelist with the wry, mordant wit of a satirist and you end up with sports writing of a high order.”

The Hamilton Spectator

“The real appeal of
Dispatches from the Sporting Life
lies in the previously uncollected pieces. Connoisseurs of Richler’s prose will be pleased to discover hard-to-find items from
Signature, Inside Sports, GQ,
and
The New York Times Sports Magazine
together in one tidy place.”

The Globe and Mail

“This collection conveys the passion of a lifelong observer and fan holding up the ideals of sport even as he saw those principles being tarnished by people who should have known better….
[Dispatches from the Sporting Life]
should be required reading for some of today’s sports poobahs, the ones holding court in the box seats high above the action.”

The Toronto Star


Dispatches from the Sporting Life
is a personal postscript from Richler, a reminder that behind the acerbic wit was a warm family man, a sports fan like many ordinary men whose allegiances were formed in the hot enthusiasms of youth but frayed in old age by the cold realities of the sports business…. And it is as a fan that he wrote these essays.”

The Chronicle–Herald
(Halifax)

A
LSO BY
M
ORDECAI
R
ICHLER

NOVELS
The Acrobats
Son of a Smaller Hero
A Choice of Enemies
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
The Incomparable Atuk
ocksure
St. Urbain’s Horsema
Joshua Then and Now
Solomon Gursky Was Here
Barney’s Version

STORIES
The Street

ESSAYS
Hunting Tigers under Glass
Shovelling Trouble
Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album
Broadsides
Belling the Cat

CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang
Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur
Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case

ANTHOLOGIES
The Best of Modern Humor
Writers on World War II

NONFICTION
Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!
This Year in Jerusalem
On Snooker: The Game and the Characters Who Play It

Contents

        
Foreword Noah Richler

  1.   
An Incompleat Angler’s Journal

  2.   
Jews in Sports

  3.   
A Real Canadian Success Story

  4.   
With the Trail Smoke Eaters in Stockholm

  5.   
Safari

  6.   
You Know Me, Ring

  7.   
Writers and Sports

  8.   
Gretzky in Eighty-five

  9.   
From Satchel, through Hank Greenberg, to El Divino Loco

10.   
Eddie Quinn

11.   
Cheap Skates

12.   
Maxie

13.   
Paper Lion

14.   
Gordie

15.   
Pete Rose

16.   
Kiss the Ump!

17.   
Soul on Ice

18.   
From Gladu, through Kitman, to the Victoire Historique and After

19.   
The Fall of the Montreal Canadiens

20.   
Playing Ball on Hampstead Heath—An Excerpt from
St. Urbain’s Horseman

        
Permissions

Dispatches from the Sporting Life

Foreword
N
OAH
R
ICHLER

I
n 1972, my father brought his family back to Canada after nearly twenty years in England. I learned in no time that his preferred place on Saturday nights from September to May was on the living room couch, watching
Hockey Night in Canada.

We returned to Canada in the country’s prime time, you might say. The Canadian dollar was on par with the American (a detail that matters, when it comes to international leagues), and though Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque were sparring from their federal and provincial party offices, the Parti Québecois had not yet driven a stake through Montreal’s cosmopolitan heart. Montreal was a city on top of the world, rich with memories and history, but an
avenir
too. There was no question, in my father’s mind, that it was the only city in Canada where he could possibly live: the most sophisticated—which meant, for him, the best restaurants, the most critical and interesting politics and, at the Forum, the chance to watch the Montreal Canadiens—the Habs—playing before the most
knowledgeable and demanding hockey crowd in North America.

Twelve years old, I received swift instruction in matters Canadian. My father’s love of sports, I quickly saw, was entirely wrapped up in the urban landscape of his childhood: the cold-water flats of Montreal’s Jewish ghetto, east of Park and north of Pine, bounded to one side by the well-to-do French Canadians of Outremont and on the other by the francophone working class of the Plateau. Baseball at Delormier Downs and hockey at the Forum were what Montreal Jews and French Canadians had in common. During the summer, Pa showed me what the bleachers were at Jarry Park, and introduced me to baseball’s ritual of the seventh-inning stretch. Then, that September, we watched an overweight Team Canada, fresh off the links, face off against Russia, an opponent the NHL’s professionals famously failed to take seriously. It fast became the most extraordinary international hockey series Canada has ever played. The Cold War still on, the Red Army was what the West feared then, but in Canada we held them in awe for a different reason: soldiers who played crisp, mesmerizing, “amateur” hockey—full-time. All Canadians of my generation can hum the grand Soviet anthem as a consequence. We feel a kinship there. We know where we were when Paul Henderson scored, saving face for Canada, and we remember the shock we felt when, after Team Canada scored the first goal of the series in Montreal, the Russians stormed back to win the game 7–3.

I was watching the game with my father that evening, all the family in the living room, Pa’s enthrallment palpable. After that series ended, my father took me to the Forum to see the Canadiens, who beat Minnesota 3–0 in an early season NHL game. I was thrilled to be with him, of course, in the building that I knew meant so much to him, but we’d been spoiled by the match with the Soviets: the hockey was somnambulant by comparison.

The Canadiens, at the time, were on their way to becoming the winningest franchise in professional sports, no mean achievement. By the middle of the eighties, they’d have won more Stanley Cups than the Yankees had World Series, or Liverpool FC had carried football trophies back to Merseyside. They were unquestionably the best—and they belonged to us. Quebeckers many of them, Canadians certainly. The Habs of the 1970s went on to establish themselves as the second most powerful dynasty in the team’s history, losing eight or so games a season—a couple of these out of boredom, surely. The first, setting the bar for my father, had won five Stanley Cups in a row from 1956 to 1960. That was the team Pa got to call
Nos Glorieux.
The Canadiens, for his generation and mine, were a thrilling, easy team to support.

My father the fan, however, was also something of a fatalist, inclined to moments of deep foreboding. The team down one or, just occasionally, two goals at the end of the first period, he’d pronounce on their sloppiness from his uncontested position on the couch: “We’re in trouble now,” he’d say—before, more often than not, the Canadiens dug themselves
out of it. It was, I suppose, the mark of the writer in him, someone who did not expect things to go swimmingly for long.

Come the early nineties, after yet more league expansion, after the owners’ and the players’ greed turned the game into a television spectacle, the play stopping every few minutes for another commercial break, my father lost interest in hockey. He stopped going to games because—he would never have imagined it—he was often bored at the rink. Pa frowned every time a new Canadiens team, its meagre talent stretched too thin, would dump the puck forward and race on in. This was not the game he grew up with, and soon he’d given up on it entirely.

By then, a string of Péquiste victories had taken its toll, and the dollar was in freefall. Trudeau was no longer a figure in public life, and a huge number of anglophone Montrealers had left the province—though not my father, stubbornly. The Canadiens had been relegated to a shameful box of an arena built by Molson Inc., their indifferent last Canadian proprietors; the Expos had been languishing in the horrid Olympic Stadium for more than two decades, playing to the smallest attendances in the National League.

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