Bobby Orr has a new side of his story to tell — in photographs
So much of the book on Bobby Orr never changes. He was born with a perpetual smile, and he remains ever polite, gracious, still with the charming humility of a schoolboy despite those character lines of 70 years etched across his face.
In a city blessed for decades with many of the world’s greatest athletic performers — Orr arguably the most magnificent of them all — he has remained the brilliant shooting star we sadly watched retire his No. 4 to the Garden rafters at age 30.
The end was too soon, too abrupt, yet not a surprise. Mind willing, heart as wide as the heavens, knees shot to hell. Enough.
“I knew it was time,” Orr recalled Wednesday, thinking back some 40 years to his Causeway Street farewell. “I knew that was it.
“You know, they talk about pressure. If pressure is worry, I mean, I never felt any pressure playing. It was when I couldn’t do what I once did, then I worried. I didn’t sleep. That’s pressure. I couldn’t deliver the mail.”
The new book on Orr, the one that has had him touring Boston and the suburbs in recent days, is titled, “Bobby: My Story in Pictures.” You’ll find them stacked higher than Andre the Giant (he’s in the book) at your local bookstore.
It’s an intriguing, classic coffee table book, chock-full of pictures much of the hockey-loving world will treasure, most of them never before published.
In fact, until recently, even Orr hadn’t seen some of the shots. His oldest sister, Penny, had them tucked away among family keepsakes, the kind of treasures that too often dwell in the tattered shoeboxes and musty suitcases of attic archives. Seeing some of the old snapshots for the first time, particularly of his parents, was part of what convinced Orr to take them to print.
It was time again to deliver the mail.
“Because . . . you know me well enough,” he said to a longtime acquaintance as he riffled through the book’s 216 pages, “it’s not my thing.”
The book is a joy, particularly for Bruins fans, especially those steeped in all things Big, Bad Bruins — the era that began with Orr the man-child arriving here at age 18 in 1966 and shaking a hapless Original Six franchise by the scruff of its skate-laced collar.
The city then was anything but the championship mecca we’ve come to know in the new millennium. The Red Sox went 21 years between American League pennants (1946 to ’67). The Patriots were still a humorous though oft-entertaining AFL curiosity. We had the Celtics banging out NBA championships, but little else, until the kid with the brush cut arrived from Parry Sound, Ontario.
“I didn’t leave Parry Sound thinking I’d one day be sitting in a room like this,” said Orr during a book-tour stop at the downtown Ames Boston Hotel, in the Bobby Orr Suite that the hotel began marketing last year. “My dream was to be on a Stanley Cup team. And we were there. So I just appreciate the opportunities.”
Page 11 of the book shows him sitting on his bicycle, age 10, leaning against a telephone pole, outside the modest family home on Great North Road. It is April, his hockey season complete. There would be no hockey again until the leaves had come and gone and ice was forming on Georgian Bay.
In the book of hockey that Orr hasn’t written, and probably never will, Chapter One might be devoted to everyone keeping the game he loved as a kid, and continues to love as an old man, in perspective. The signature photo could be his grandmother’s cottage on Georgian Bay, where all the Orrs hunkered down every summer, with a sign reading “No Hockey” superimposed over the picture.
The 12-month calendar of hockey has long been one of Orr’s pet peeves. He never played summer hockey. Until he played for the Bruins, he never went to a summer hockey camp, when he was hired as an instructor.
“If a kid can play, he’s going to get a chance,” said Orr. “And they all have to understand, they are competing against the world. And the chance of you being the one is pretty slim.”
Orr held his new book as he talked. With his free hand, he repeatedly tapped an index finger into the glass surface of a coffee table.
“What you have to do,” he said, tapping, and tapping again, “is do everything you can to be your best. That’s training, listening . . . and they’re going to hear all about the drugs and the booze and all the rest.
“Do everything you can to be your best. And if you don’t make it, OK, you’re not good enough. But you haven’t cheated yourself.
“And you can’t be a blamer. I’m so sick of hearing, ‘The coach doesn’t like me, this and that. I don’t like the player they’ve got me with.’ That’s bull. If you think you’re so good, then make the other guy better.”
Unlike most of today’s young hockey wizards, placed on paths to stardom by age 10 or 12, Orr worked summer jobs. Uncle Howard owned a butcher shop, and nephew Bobby cut meat.
“Bacon machine, everything,” he said. “I did it all.”
He sold clothing at Adam’s Menswear, the finest clothier in Parry Sound.
“Oh, yeah,” said Orr, beaming. “I was a dude.”
He also spent time as a bellhop at the downtown Belvedere Hotel, where his mother worked in the coffee shop. Barely more than 100 pounds at the time, he would meet guests at their cars in the parking lot, only to have them refuse to allow him to carry their bags. Too big a task for such a little kid, they insisted, which led to the hotel manager reminding the Orr kid that he was hired as a bag carrier and not a tour guide.
“So now I’m back out in the parking lot,” said Orr, “and I’ve got a tug-o-war going with the guests. ‘Give me the bag. I have to carry the bag!’ ”
The cover shot of “Bobby: My Story in Pictures” is a stark black-and-white of Orr today, sitting alone in a dressing room littered with hockey gear. A stick propped within arm’s reach, he is dressed in only shorts and T-shirt, arms resting on his thighs, hands pressed together. His hair is tousled, the schoolboy brush cut lost to time. The deep scars on his left knee bespeak a story of pain, frustration, and time made too short.
“The only wish I had is that maybe I’d played longer,” said Orr. “Just a little bit longer.”