TALES FROM OUTSIDE THE UNDERBRUSH
"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.
This month's entry continues the tale.
THE LUCKY THUMB � Part 2
"Dreams, if they're any good, are always a little bit crazy."
"Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them."
"Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end."
"The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose."
The other level of baseball practiced in Montreal at a quasi-professional level, at least in the western part of the city, was fastball. Played with a so-called softball, perhaps double the diameter of the "hard ball" employed in the major leagues, there was nothing soft or unskillful about the game of fastball. The same rules applied, the only major difference being that the ball was delivered under hand by the pitcher instead of in an overhand fashion in major league baseball. The speed of the ball's delivery, using the same form of deceptive pitches such as curves, sinkers, change-ups, etc., was no less demanding of hitting skills, nor were fielding and throwing skills any easier than in major-league baseball. As such, it was a perfect off-season activity for professional hockey players, many of whom comprised the rosters of the teams that made up the Snowdon Fastball League.
Played on three baseball diamonds each with a spectator capacity of several thousand and located in Montreal's west end, the games had another attraction for a family of modest means, and that is they were essentially free. Each team had a major sponsor, be it a large grocery chain, a large furniture store or the like, and I seem to recall that collection boxes were passed around, and where, encouraged by draw prizes, voluntary payments could be made that helped maintain the league and its players.
During the summer, attendance by my Dad and me at the sometimes double-header fastball games at MacDonald Park was pretty much a weekly habit and probably greatly appreciated by my mother who as a result would not have us underfoot for a while! Doug Harvey, looking in fact a bit like Babe Ruth, was a very good baseball player. Playing at first base as I recall, it was rare he did not get on base either by a hit or a walk.
But that was then and here I was now, sitting within touching distance of one of my hockey heroes. In short order I was to learn that with Doug Harvey, there was none of the pretension and arrogance possessed by so many professional athletes of today. What you saw with Doug was what you got. Residing in Notre Dame de Grace himself, Doug had picked me up that fateful morning on his way to a hockey practice with the Canadiens at the Forum. Reaching the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Atwater Avenue, and where Doug should have turned down the latter street for two blocks to the Forum, we charged through the green light and continued eastward.
"But Mr. Harvey sir", I stammered in confusion, "I should get off here. I can keep going on foot or thumb another ride to the university."
"No problem, son" he replied. "I've got time to take you to McGill. It's not far out of the way for me."
That represented the generosity and kindness of Doug Harvey. Living somewhere west of where I lived, Harvey had to pass through my particular neighbourhood in order to proceed east to the Forum for his practices. For the several years thereafter I was to attend McGill, if he found me standing on the corner near my home thumbing a ride to McGill, he would always stop and take me all the way to school. He always brushed off my concern for his being late for practice and I was never to know whether he was ever fined or otherwise reprimanded for such. Later it emerged that tardiness was indeed a part of Harvey's personality and that often irked his team mates and coaches. So apparently too was his often truculent behaviour, both on the ice (seen!) and off, but never experienced by me.
Understandably perhaps, my practice when watching the Canadiens play on television changed somewhat as I became more focused on one particular player when he was on the ice. While much has correctly been made of the degree to which Bobby Orr changed how the position of defenseman is played in modern era hockey, with Orr's skating and offensive abilities allowing defensemen to play well up the ice in an opposing team's end, it is equally true that Doug Harvey presaged Orr in this regard and at a time when a defenseman rarely went beyond his own blue line, never mind beyond centre ice. I recall Doug Harvey nearly single-handedly killing off a two minute minor penalty against his team by virtue of his ability to stick handle and control the puck, deftly keeping it away from the attempts to dislodge it from his stick by one opposing player after another. I have seen Doug Harvey take the puck from his own goal line to deep into the opposing team's zone and then back again as he skillfully killed off the penalty. He was a master of puck control, and if not having the speed of foot and shot as Bobby Orr, he was a master of puck control all over the ice.
I can't recall in detail what our conversations were, but games were reviewed when the occasion arose and I was always fascinated by Doug's analysis, whether his team won or lost. Always, I remember was the genuine modesty with which Doug treated his skills and contributions to his team's many successes.
Retirement, when it ultimately came, was not a happy time for Doug. With limited education and skills outside hockey, Harvey eked out a living playing in the minor leagues well into his forties as well as having various coaching and scouting jobs. Not helping him was his outspoken criticism of the hockey establishment who at that time "owned" pro players for life, and unlike in today's professional sport world, paid their players a pittance while earning millions from their skills. Harvey was one of the first to help organize a professional hockey players association. Such associations are now a part of all major pro sports. His activities in this regard may have also delayed an ultimate well-earned, no-brainer election to the Hockey Hall of Fame and retirement of his jersey #2 by the Montreal Canadiens.
Later in life, Harvey also owned a fairly successful aluminum siding business. Sadly, some people close to him were rumoured to have extracted excessive financial advantages from the business that ultimately caused its failure. This is a polite, non-libelous way of saying that Harvey was robbed of considerable sums of money by people very close to him. Perhaps that is one reason why Harvey battled alcoholism and apparent bipolar disorder later in life. The last time I saw Doug Harvey was a sad occasion. A member of an athletic club in Montreal and which I represented as a member of its swim team, I saw one day an inebriated Doug Harvey expelled from the club's premises.
Harvey left us in 1989 at the age of 65, and despite a too-late three year abstinence from alcohol that failed to halt the cirrhosis of his liver.
Often criticized and long forgotten, Doug Harvey is not to me. Perhaps one lesson brought forth from my personal experience with him and that still resounds with me today in my declining years, is how a simple act of kindness long ago, if from an imperfect human being........as we all are!..........can be remembered and respected for a lifetime.
"Well worn, fame plays second fiddle to modesty."
Leslie Edwards Humez
"Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows."
Michel de Montaigne
Copyright � 2014 Ian de W. Semple