Whale of a time
Ex-WHA, NHL owner-turned-filmmaker chronicles his wild ride
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.