Whale of a time

Ex-WHA, NHL owner-turned-film­maker chron­i­cles his wild ride

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Gil­bert Gre­gory

IN Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and all the way to Hol­ly­wood, Howard Bald­win shares his ex­pe­ri­ences in the worlds of sports and movie mak­ing. The ti­tle is an ironic tip of the hat to Bos­ton Her­ald sports colum­nist D. Leo Mon­a­han, who once wrote Bald­win and his part­ner had two chances of find­ing suc­cess with the New Eng­land Whalers and the WHA: slim and none. Slim and None will ap­peal par­tic­u­larly to hockey fans with an in­ter­est in the World Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion. It pro­vides an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive to fans al­ready fa­mil­iar with the story of Ben Hatskin’s leg­endary deal that brought Bobby Hull to the Jets and gave the WHA in­stant cred­i­bil­ity. Bald­win does a great job de­scrib­ing his ca­reer in sports and later in mo­tion pic­tures: from his first job work­ing for the mi­nor-league af­fil­i­ates of the ex­pan­sion Philadel­phia Fly­ers and even­tu­ally the big club in the NHL, to leav­ing a se­cure po­si­tion with the Fly­ers to help es­tab­lish the World Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion as a part-owner of the New Eng­land Whalers. He chron­i­cles his role as part-owner of a num­ber of NHL squads — in­clud­ing the Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins of the early 1990s — as well as his later ca­reer as a suc­cess­ful pro­ducer of Hol­ly­wood movies. Bald­win’s story de­tails the crazy deals made just to get the New Eng­land Whalers into the WHA, and the never-a-dull-mo­ment ex­pe­ri­ences of run­ning a WHA fran­chise. Bald­win raided the NHL for play­ers and fought the old league and its back­ward­think­ing old guard, land­ing the leg­endary Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, and his sons Mark and Marty after the dis­so­lu­tion of the Hous­ton Aeros. in his book, Bald­win also in­cludes sto­ries of the WHA’s even­tual merger with the NHL and the strug­gles of com­pet­ing as a new club in the NHL. His story is al­ways pos­i­tive. In the in­stances in which he’s crit­i­cal of peo­ple, it’s almost al­ways of their ac­tions and not the peo­ple them­selves, although he does take the op­por­tu­nity to sin­gle out the iras­ci­ble for­mer owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the late Harold Bal­lard, for crit­i­cism. Bald­win also writes of his dis­ap­point­ment when the Whalers left Hartford in 1997 (they be­came the Carolina Hur­ri­canes) and his op­ti­mism, per­haps un­re­al­is­tic, that the NHL will one day re­turn to Con­necti­cut. The lat­ter part of Slim and None is ded­i­cated to Bald­win’s ex­pe­ri­ences as a movie pro­ducer. Among the films in which he has had a hand are the mul­ti­ple-Academy Award-nom­i­nated Ray as well as Mys­tery, Alaska (a hockey movie, of course). He also shares an amus­ing anec­dote about his first foray into film years be­fore he be­came a pro­ducer, when he had a small part as an ex­tra in 1970s slap-and-tickle film The Happy Hooker. Through­out Slim and None, Bald­win por­trays him­self as a busi­ness­man who didn’t let dis­ap­point­ments, large or small, get him down, al­ways find­ing a way to make lemon­ade no mat­ter how sour the le­mons he was given. He dis­tils the se­cret of his suc­cess in the book’s pref­ace when he writes, “I am of­ten ac­cused of be­ing a dreamer, but what peo­ple may not re­al­ize is that I have fed my dreams with hard work, per­se­ver­ance and, yes, maybe a bit of luck, in or­der to bring my dreams to fruition.” Sports fans, es­pe­cially those in­ter­ested in the business side of the world of sports, will find Slim and None an in­ter­est­ing look into a time when men armed with a bit of money (not al­ways their own) and a lot of chutz­pah suc­cess­fully took on the big boys of the NHL and changed the game of pro­fes­sional hockey for­ever. Gil­bert Gre­gory is a Free Press copy ed­i­tor who re­mem­bers boo­ing Bald­win’s New Eng­land Whalers at the old Win­nipeg Arena.

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