Anniversary of ‘The Trade’
We learned something on Aug. 9, 1988. If Wayne Gretzky could be traded, anybody could be traded. Thirty years later, it seems that professional sports have never been the same.
Unless you weren’t alive in the 1980s, you will remember where you were when you first heard of “The Trade” (is that copyrighted?). It was the day when hockey fans learned of Gretzky was being dealt (along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, as per his demand) to the Los Angeles Kings. In exchange, Oilers' ownership received Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three firstround draft picks and $15 million in cash.
Owner Peter Pocklington’s other business ventures were in trouble and he needed cash — so he traded Gretzky.
Calgarians celebrated, children in the province's capital wept, switchboards lit up in Edmonton with fans canceling season's tickets and Janet Jones was compared to Yoko Ono. Gretzky himself cried at the press conference and a clever headline writer dubbed it, “99 tears.”
Gretzky deserved to be what’s an abnormality today, the chance to play out his entire career with the same team. Steve Yzerman did in Detroit, Jean Beliveau in Montreal, Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, but not a lot of other greats did.
The trade was justified to Canadians because Gretzky would sell the game of ice hockey to the Americans, who were obsessed with star players more than star teams.
Whether it did or not remains open for debate. Gretzky never won another cup (Edmonton was rewarded with one only two years after The Trade), a significant television package never materialized, and in every American market with the four major team sports, hockey lags at fourth-overall in popularity.
But, the game did go on and U.S. franchises are popping up all over the place. More American kids are playing hockey than ever before. The U.S. women's program is on par with Canada for quality.
It was the start of more rotten things to happen. Only a few years later — 1995 to be precise — a Major League Baseball strike cost the Montreal Expos their best chance ever at winning the World Series. We discovered that the Mark versus Sammy home run derby was a fairy tale. Then came a string of domestic violence issues in pro football and basketball.
We started singin' bye, bye Miss American Pie.
— James Miller, Valley editor
Infamous Gretzky deal made mark on pro sports