Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Don't Call Me "Shirley"

Parents, I want to preface this article with this warning: this is not your typical HBIC article. I apologize if any of this is offensive - some of it most likely is - but it is a very real piece of hockey culture. I admit that I had a hard time coming to grips with some of the stories I've quoted below, but these are real stories from printed material. If you feel that this is a topic not suited for your children to read, I apologize. Please have them click here to play the old-school NES game Blades of Steel. I was playing it last night, and it's pretty fun once they figure everything out. They'll have fun there. And I apologize once more for this PG-rated article. But I must push forward....

I have had the pleasure, in my time, of observing women that hang around players or the rink in the hopes of attracting a player. "Puck bunnies", as they are affectionately called, have been a part of hockey folklore for some time, and most people tend to look down on them. I'm not here to judge because, honestly, I'm not without sin myself. However, a conversation at work today drew me to a brand-new curiosity as I learned that there were bonafide "designated hitters" that prided themselves on the fact that they were the best at puck bunnying or, as baseball people put it, being "Baseball Annies".

The conversation started out with a discussion on all the players who chose to leave their wives and families at home for safety. Being that we're amateur conspiracy theorists, a colleague of mine piped up with the thought that maybe the Russians could use this to their advantage in their quest for Olympic gold in men's hockey. As laughter ensued, he began telling a story of how rookies with the Chicago Blackhawks were introduced to a certain lady who would welcome them to Chicago, if you catch the drift. Quickly, laughter turned to questions by some of the younger folk, and I was off to my desk to verify if this story was true.

I'll admit that I was completely unaware of a lady in Chicago who prided herself on breaking in the rookies. "Chicago Shirley" was her name according to many hockey players, and as I searched for information about this "Shirley" gal, I found out that she was quite well-known across the NHL. In Brad Kurtzberg's book, Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, he writes,
[George] Pesut also recalled one of the girls who liked to hang around the team. "We had a girl who we knew called 'The Steel Worker,'" Pesut said. "Each team had their groupies. There was 'Chicago Shirley' for example. But 'The Steel Worker' was at every practice we had. When the season was over, she would go to A's games. She said the Buffalo Sabres were her favorite team because she liked the French Connection. 'The Steel Worker' knew our practice schedule better than we did. I remember once we called a spur of the moment practiceand she was there. Once, Joey Johnston stopped in the middle of practice and took the guys to the bench. Joey Johnston told the guys we couldn't go on with practice because 'The Steel Worker' was late and she had never missed a practice before."
Wow. That's impressive that she never once missed a practice, but who is she? What did she do that she could be at every practice - even spur of the moment practices - in a moment's notice? Who is this "Steel Worker"?

It turns out that baseball is quite aware of this phenomenon. Apparently, some female reporters in some cities who cover the team are part of this "Shirley" phenomenon, and actively seek out ballplayers for "interviews". While there is a line of professionalism that one isn't supposed to cross, apparently some do and keep records on the interactions. In the book The Wrong Stuff, written by former ballplayer Bill Lee and Richard Lally, Bill writes,
There was a female writer in Oakland who did a study on ballplayers in bed. When she was through, she told me that even though ballplayers have great hands on the field, most of them were lousy in bed. Especially the superstars, who seemed to think that the moment they dropped their shorts the earth would start spinning off its axis.
Yowza. That's terrible! The one thing that struck me was that the Seals had a woman at their practice, and the female writer in Mr. Lee's book was from Oakland. Sports reporters are fairly in tune with a team's practice schedule, and she may have been assigned to cover the team. Again, this is all speculation, but it seems highly coincidental, no?

In any case, Mr. Lee had a run-in with "Chicago Shirley" as well, and he noted a rather surprising detail at the end of his paragraph.
I met the most famous of all groupies, Chicago Shirley, during my first visit to Comiskey Park. She had achieved a legendary status in baseball, and by now was something more than just another Annie. I realized that when I later met Detroit Shirley, Milwaukee Shirley, and a Shirley from Cleveland. Shirley had become a franchise, with outlets all over the country. Just like McDonald's.
If you're shaking your head by now, you'll be glad to know that I honestly am feeling the same way as you. However, Lee goes on to add more fuel to the fire. He writes,
The most memorable Annie I had ever met was a woman who followed our club to Baltimore for a weekend series against the Orioles. Our paths crossed under unusual circumstances. I was seated in the hotel bar when one of my teammates came over and told me I had to check out the scene in his room. When we got there, I found this woman taking on what looked like half of the ballclub at once. I was invited to partake, but it was one of the few times I was not interested in experiencing something exotic firsthand. I would not ever venture into that alley. It may not have been the voice of God that was calling us in there, it may have been the millions of bacteria armed with baseball bats, waiting to bang us on the head. Or any other part of our exposed anatomy. Hours after this initial "meeting," I saw the same girl downstairs in the bar, looking to get picked up. I couldn't believe it. I just had to go over to her and ask, "Aren't you ever satisfied?" I wasn't criticizing, I was just curious. She just liked to have a good time. When I asked her what she considered a good time, she said, "The Pittsburgh Penguins. All three lines."
Holy cow. No offence, but that's why these groupies are seen in a negative light. If "All three lines" didn't make you shudder after the initial laughter, you might just be a professional athlete.

"Chicago Shirley" appears to have retired long ago if a passage from Peter Gzowski's The Game of Our Lives is to be believed. Published in 1981, Mr. Gzowski writes,
Chicago Shirley is the most legendary of the NHL's groupies. She has broken in rookies in all sports since the early 1960s - some say even before that. Once, when asked who, of all the athletes she had known, had pleased her the most, she said "the 1968 college football all-stars." But hockey has been her specialty, and [Edmonton head coach Ron] Low had intended to point her out to some of the new members of the lodge. Now he says: "You wouldn't have wanted to see her anyway. She's gone to fat. Sex must be fattening after all."

So where did the name "Shirley" come from in terms of identifying these ladies? I can't really answer that. There seems to be no definitive information on the subject. However, baseball groupies, affectionately called "Annies", actually had the name become more popular thanks to a famous baseball movie. Susan Sarandon played Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, a story about a minor-league catcher who has seen it all and has to mentor a hotshot pitcher. Savoy reads up on each season's roster of the Durham Bulls, focusing on one player of the Bulls to whom she grants her baseball knowledge and her alluring ways. Baseball people now call their groupies "Annies" thanks in part to Susan Sarandon's portrayal of the character "Annie".

Why "Annie"? As per director Ron Shelton, "I'm not sure where in my psyche Annie came from, but her name was a tip of the hat to "baseball Annies." Her last name was on a matchbook by my computer from the Savoy Bar - which is a question nobody's ever asked. Writing her character was a fairly unconscious process, but I did believe that she and Crash deserved each other at the end of our tale."

In the interest of wanting to know a little more, I'd actually like to speak to any of the women to which these men were referring. I want to be clear that I'm not here to judge or condemn, but I am curious. Total anonymity is guaranteed if we speak, and no details about anyone seen behind the privacy of closed doors will be revealed. I simply want to know more about this "Shirley" phenomenon and how these women gained access to the teams. Please get in contact with me here if you were a "puck bunny" or "Shirley", or contact me if you know someone who was or is. Again, I just want to talk without any stigmas or prejudices made.

If you happen to know about how the name "Shirley" came about as a description for these groupies, leave me a comment! As for Russia tempting the other teams with seductive women, I'm pretty sure that no team in today's day and age would try a stunt like that. Especially on a stage as big as the Olympic Games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

**Updated due to Anonymous' comment! Thanks!**


Anonymous said...

Baseball people now call their groupies "Annies" thanks to Susan Sarandon's portrayal of the character.

Completely opposite.

Teebz said...

I was trying to find a Shelton comment on that, but was unsuccessful the other night. Now have one that confirms that're you're right, Anonymous. Thanks for that!