Full disclosure here: I have yet to read Derek Sanderson’s new book, “Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original,’’ but I’m willing to bet my mint 1963 Mickey Mantle card that it’s a page-turner. I’ve been around Sanderson for more than 30 years, often on a daily basis when we both regularly traveled the Bruins beat. As icons go, he is both a delight and a wonder, as well as a riddle, a mystery, and an enigma just to name a few of his side attributes.
“Hey, how’s it going, Turkey Pie?’’ I’d greet him, using the nickname attached to him during his broadcast days with Channel 38.
“Kevin Dupes!’’ he’d holler back with dismay and wonderment, even if I’d seen him, oh, six hours earlier in the hotel lobby, coffee shop, or rink. “Whaddya hear, big fella? Any trades? Signings? I think the boys could use a little help! Scratch that, hey-hey. I know they could use a little help!’’
And from there, the one-time NHL bad boy, once the owner of the richest contract in pro sports (bless the WHA) routinely would go on to explain why the Bruins power play was a mess, why the game was better when no one wore a helmet, how league bosses were bleeping up the game. Then it would be off to politics, medicine, rock stars, czarist Russia, pop culture, lunar landings, and who knows what else.
Before there was the Internet, laptops, and iPads, there was a chance encounter with Turkey Pie, the speed and dimension of his bandwidth mesmerizing and infinite.
Sanderson is 66 now, and some three million tales later, as well as at least a couple of extra lives, there remains an impish, engaging freshness about him. Not an ounce of naivete, but a startling and ever-embraceable freshness. I suspect he’s a genius, be it measured by conventional IQ testing or the checklist to be found in “The Book of Street Smarts.’’
Which brings me to my call to Sanderson late last week, upon reading that the Red Sox finally made public the diagnosis of Mike Napoli, their new catcher/first baseman. Sanderson has had 10 hip replacement surgeries over the last 3-4 decades, and I remembered him telling me years ago that doctors told him, in his words, that his hip joints died because of a lack of blood flow. It all sounded very much like the Napoli diagnosis.
“Haven’t followed the story, Kevin Dupes,’’ said Sanderson, when I related that Napoli’s symptoms sounded eerily familiar. “Are they saying he has avascular necrosis?’’
And there we have it. Napoli, 31, suffers from the same disease that factored mightily into Sanderson’s steep decline. Sanderson said he has learned over the years that the condition can be triggered a number of ways, including steroid use, alcohol abuse, even deep-sea diving.
“From what I’ve been told, if you’re a diver and you get the bends twice,’’ said Sanderson, “you’re guaranteed to end up with avascular necrosis. The disease attacks the tiny veins of your bones. The veins die, the blood flow stops, the joints die. The largest joints go first.’’
In Sanderson’s case, he believes the cause was prescription steroids. Suffering with severe colitis in his early years with the Bruins, he was treated with what he says were massive doses of prednisone, a corticosteroid that in those days was a newly developed drug. He was also an alcoholic, which could have contributed to the condition, but Sanderson remains convinced that it was the steroid use and not his abuse of vodka that killed his hips — eventually leading to the joint replacements, six on the left, four on the right.
“Hey, the stuff worked,’’ said Sanderson, referring to the prednisone. “I was healthy enough that we won the Cup in ’70, and I spent a lot of that year on prednisone at MGH, just getting out for practices and games. No regrets. But about 10 years later, the hips began to give out.’’
The alcoholism began at age 7, his uncle Warren introducing him to beer during a Christmas party at the Sanderson home in Niagara Falls, Ontario. “Uncle Warnie,” noting that his brother Harold’s kid was getting big, handed him a beer that the future NHL Rookie of the Year quickly downed, much to his father’s chagrin.
“Oh, my dad was wild,’’ recalled Sanderson. “He turns to Warnie and says, ‘You gave my son a beer!?’ Then he grabs him by the throat, drags him out the front door, and heaves him over the railing and into a snowbank. Thank God we didn’t live in a condo!
“But that was it. I was on my way with booze and I never saw Warnie again. ‘Don’t you dare darken this door again!’ my dad yelled at him. And he didn’t.”
The book is loaded with similar stories, all told, said Sanderson, in a spirit of recovery and perseverance. He has lived to the tell the tales, now available at all major bookstores and possibly to be made into a movie.
In times of darkness, he said, friends like Harry Sinden, Bobby Orr, Johnny McKenzie, Ken Hodge, Phil Esposito, and others kept him going. But the biggest assist of all, he says, came at a hospital in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1980, a hospital employee at his bedside after he was brought there after suffering an alcoholic blackout.
“He asked how bad I was,’’ said Sanderson, referring to the bedside attendant. “I told him, ‘If I drink, I puke the booze right out. I black out. I’m subject to seizures.’ And he says to me, ‘OK, on your knees and pray.’
“And that was it. I spent the next half-hour on my knees, praying to God. No formal prayer or anything, just, ‘God, help me. I don’t deserve to live, but if you can, please . . . help me.’
“A half an hour later, I was back on the bed and the DTs never came. From that day on, I got better. I haven’t had a drink since, and I haven’t stopped praying.’’
ANOTHER 50-50 SPLIT
Shared blame on the lockout
Not surprisingly, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, talking extensively about the lockout for the first time last Saturday, assessed the players with most of the blame for the protracted job action.
In Jacobs’s eyes, the players for too long weren’t interested in making a deal, paying little heed to, or ignoring outright, some of the harsh economic realities of the business. Too many teams, he said, only break even or lose substantial dollars.
The 73-year-old Jacobs expressed surprise over how convinced the players were that they came out of the last lockout with a bad deal (one that guaranteed them 57 percent of all dollars generated) and noted the players remained a firm, united bunch right to the end of the recent talks.
Asked if Don Fehr, executive director of the players’ union, deserved credit for galvanizing his rank-and-file, Jacobs said flatly, “I wouldn’t credit him for anything.’’
Again, some critical dollops of truth to remember:
■ The players, by Fehr’s design, for months refused to come to the table to start the bargaining process. That’s a very old strategy, torn from the Labor 101 text. Be that as it may, the approach frustrated owners, who knew the players eventually came to realize in the last year or two that a 57 percent take was the sweetest in the industry. Which is why the players didn’t want to sit down for so long, and also why they kept saying they preferred to start the season with the old deal in place while talks continued. Shazam.
■ The owners, frustrated by labor’s refusal to come to the table, eventually made their punitive, if not Draconian, offer in July. Was it what they truly wanted? Of course not. One only has to look at what made them finally lift the lockout to figure where they wanted to be: with revenues split at 50/50 like the NFL and NBA, with limits on contract length, with roadblocks on back-diving contracts, with a CBA term length of at least eight years, maybe 10. For all that, the whole thing had to go KABOOM! for the better part of four months? Ridiculous. The owners in July should have led with something far more akin to what they knew they needed.
■ What it all says, peeling away the rhetoric of both sides (including that of Jacobs), is that both sides failed miserably at creating and nurturing a true business partnership. They talked about doing so upon the conclusion of the 2004-05 lockout, then, once again, retreated to their respective corners to count every nickel, dime, and angle. If they could ever figure out how to manage the relationship, build trust and respect, foster innovation and vision, then they wouldn’t get into these public, embarrassing knife fights every few years.
Both sides were wrong. Both sides badly hobbled the industry and their images. They’ve made a habit of doing that for a very long time. Can their leaders (Gary Bettman with the owners and Fehr with the players) finally take their heads out of their equipment bags and develop a true mutually beneficial relationship? Based on history, there is no reason to think so. They have decades worth of collective failures and mistrust to guide them, and saddest of all, they perpetually allow all that to happen.
Quite a start for Thornton
Big bolt out of the gate by ex-Bruin Jumbo Joe Thornton, who has connected for a league-leading 2-9—11 (on only seven shots) over his first four games. Such a blistering pace over 48 games would bring the former No. 1 pick a total of 132 points. Back in 1994-95, the other season trimmed to 48 games by a lockout, the scoring parade was led by Jaromir Jagr (70), Eric Lindros (70), and Alexei Zhamnov (65). For a full season, no one has put up 132 since Mario Lemieux (161) and Jagr (149) in 1995-96.
NHL director of discipline Brendan Shanahan to The Hockey News’s Adam Porteau, on the general governance of aggressive hits and head injuries: “It will always be up to the players.’’ No question. Change must come from within. The game’s overall seek-and-destroy ethos has been out of control in the post-2004-lockout era. The players can’t forever be looking to the league office to address what comes down to basic respect for one another on the ice. We’ll find out now if nearly a half-season lost to labor strife has the working help less inclined to keep up the cannibalism. Possible, but doubtful. The new CBA, by the way, allows players to appeal Shanahan-ordered suspensions of six games or more to an independent arbitrator. Another positive, much-needed move.
Back on Broad Street
Ex-Bruin Mike Knuble, his contract not extended in Washington, reported to Detroit’s camp as an invitee, failed to land work, then hitched back on with the Flyers Thursday. Now 40, the ex-Michigan star displayed little pop with the Capitals last season (6-12—18), but he is still a big (6 feet 3 inches, 230 pounds), smart, and durable winger who can supply the Flyers with needed support among their bottom-six forwards. If called upon, he also can cruise the top of the crease for power-play nuggets. “A good, heavy player,’’ said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. “I think he’s good to throw in our mix right now.’’ Because? Injuries. Danny Briere returned from his Euro tuneup with a fractured wrist. Scott Hartnell went down the first week with a fractured bone in his left foot, possibly sidelining the gritty winger for eight weeks. Knuble picked up an assist at Grand Rapids (AHL) prior to hooking back on with the Broad Streeters. It was his first AHL action since joining the Wings out of Adirondack in 1996-97.
Not to apply any unnecessary pressure, but Bobby Orr briefly wore No. 27 upon reporting for Bruins duty at their London, Ontario, training camp in September 1966. In case you missed it, rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton wears the same number this season. Heidi Holland, the club’s director of publications and information, confirms that the Causeway Street archive has a picture of Orr wearing No. 27. Orr, though, switched to No. 4 prior to his first regular-season game (Oct. 19 vs. Detroit), when the Bruins sold Al “Junior’’ Langlois to the Los Angeles Blades (WHL) and gave his No. 4 to the Parry Sound kid with the buzz cut. Orr’s No. 4, of course, is among the 10 Bruins numbers retired in the Garden rafters.
The Chief takes a bride
Hall of Fame winger John Bucyk, still going strong at 77, Friday night married for a second time, with Paul Kelly officiating as a justice of the peace. The lucky woman is Terri Reinbach, a Delta flight attendant from Texas. Kelly, a longtime attorney and former executive director of the NHL Players Association, said that Bucyk and Reinbach wanted the ceremony conducted by someone who was a friend to retired hockey players and always looked out for them. “Likely the first and only time that I’ll serve as a justice of the peace,’’ Kelly said. “And I am privileged to do so.’’ Bucyk’s first wife of 50-plus years, Anne, died just over a year ago after battling a rare form of colitis. Bucyk still serves as the Bruins’ coordinator of road services.
Love that Blueshirts Brothers trio of Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash, but hard to imagine coach John Tortorella going all season (short as it may be) with all his big boys on one line. More balance needed . . . Maple Leafs fortunes ultimately will be determined by whether they have a real goalie (sound familiar?), but their offense took a heavy hit Wednesday when Joffrey Lupul, looking to make a goal-mouth tip, had a forearm fractured by a Dion Phaneuf slapper. Friendly fire. It’s dirty work in front. Lupul’s previous three seasons were diminished by various injuries and surgery, including back and shoulder . . . Mirroring the Boston payroll paradigm, the Stars ponied up a new five-year deal for C/LW Jamie Benn, age 23, worth a total $26.25 million ($5.25 million cap hit). Benn connected for 26-37—63 last season and carried a 70-90—160 career line into this season, with but 222 games on his résumé.