An­niver­sary of ‘The Trade’

Penticton Herald - - OPINION -

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

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