This is a really good autobiography of one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Perhaps the best. He played in an era that preceded me, so I never got to see him play, but I’ve seen video and I’ve obviously read about him and he was pretty impressive. I knew he played a long time, until he was quite old, but I learned a whole lot more about him in this book.
Gordie Howe was a Saskatoon boy who grew up loving and playing hockey. And he was good. This was in the era when the NHL just had six teams, an era that lasted for a long time, so jobs were scarce at the NHL level. Still, he dreamed of playing in the NHL. Like many hockey players, he wasn’t the best student. He wanted to be out on the ice all the time. He was so good that the New York Rangers offered him a contract when he was just 15! And he turned them down. He was very shy and the thought of moving to New York, where he wouldn’t know anyone, turned him off. The next year, at 16, Detroit offered him a contract. He asked if he’d know anyone in camp. Apparently a number of Saskatoon boys would be going to their training camp and that sealed the deal for him. He quit high school (one of his biggest regrets, he writes) and became a professional hockey player. He spent two years, but only the second playing, in the minors and was finally brought up to Detroit around 1948. His original contract was for something like $2500. Back then, there was no player’s union and players weren’t allowed to discuss their contracts with each other. The owners said they made no money and couldn’t afford to pay the players much and the players believed them. It was a crock of shit. For years, Howe made next to nothing, even when Detroit told him he’d be the highest paid Red Wing and one of the highest paid players in the league. In the late 60s, when he found out a scrub was making substantially more than him, as well as many other teammates, he felt really betrayed. And demanded a big raise. Which he immediately got. And then he realized he could have demanded four times that much and gotten it.
Howe became a scoring machine. He won six Art Ross trophies for NHL scoring leaders and six Hart awards for NHL MVP. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups. And this is the thing that really impressed me — he was in the top five in NHL scoring for 20 consecutive years!!! That’s completely unheard of. Sidney Crosby has been in the top five in consecutive years, I believe, twice. Other players, once, twice, four times. How? Twenty consecutive seasons. That’s unreal. Of course, there are a lot of people who think Howe was a dirty player and he addresses his hard nosed style of play in the book and admits to it, but largely writes that he became violent largely in retaliation. In any event, he became the NHL’s all time scoring leader and also accumulated 2,000 career penalty minutes. His scoring title lasted until Wayne Gretzy came along and took it.
One thing I didn’t know was Howe played long enough — and longer — to play on the same team with two of his grown sons! How incredible is that? They played together for years. And although I knew this, it’s incredible to think that he played in five decades — the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, when he was in his fifties. Isn’t that astonishing?
He writes a lot about his wife, whom he dearly loved. She became his business manager and was quite good at looking out for him. Unfortunately, she died in 2009 and he’s been alone and missing her since. He’s now in his late 80s and, as his children write in the final chapter, is getting dementia, which is very unfortunate. At least he retained enough of his memory to write this book. What a great player. He played professional hockey for 32 years. That’s got to be some kind of record that will never be broken. Is this the best autobiography I’ve ever read? No. But it’s a quick and interesting read and well worth the time. Recommended.