Sunday, 3 May 2020

TBC: After The Applause

I've been pretty lucky in that I've been able to work from home with my employer being designated as an essential service. As a result, my weekdays have remained fairly consistent when it comes to having time I can dedicate to doing other things that aren't work-related which is to say that nothing has really changed since I moved my office into my home. The evenings, however, have been less busy, so I've been using some of the time to crack a few spines and get some reading done. Today, Teebz's Book Club is proud to review After The Applause, written by Charles Wilkins, commissioned by Colleen and Gordie Howe, and published by McClelland and Stewart Incorporated. If you ever wondered what some of the greats did after the game, this book, published in 1989, catches up with ten of the best players to have played in the NHL as they and their families speak about the transition from hockey star to everyday man.

According to the dust jacket on the book, "Charles Wilkins is the author of five books of non-ficton and co-author of the best-selling Paddle to the Amazon. His fiction and poetry have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, and a collection of his children's verse, Old Mrs. Schmatterbung and Other Friends, is soon to be published by McClelland & Stewart." It should also be noted he wrote The Winnipeg Book, a comedic and entertaining look at Winnipeg's culture, sports, and people, in 1984 and When the Final Buzzer Sounds, a second book about the hardships that players find when retiring from the NHL, in 2000. Wilkins has been a finalist for the Writers Trust Non-Fiction Prize, the Trillium Literary Award, the Stephen Leacock Award and the Toronto Book Award.

After The Applause is a look at the lives of ten former hockey superstars and their families after they left the game, and the players profiled in the book are some of the best of all-time: Howe, Hull, Esposito, Richard, Mikita, Geoffrion, Shack, Worsley, Gadsby, and Hay. While the players of today are far more educated when it comes to finances, marketing, and planning for the future, the ten men profiled in the book had none of this information or education. While they all were stars and were paid well for their eras, they weren't making Crosby or McDavid money by any means.

In saying this, it is very clear in After The Applause that these legends should be doing better. A number of the men interviewed in the book went into the private sector to work once their playing days were over which seems like the opposite to what they should be doing. From the petroleum industry to selling plastics and plastics components, to becoming a golf pro to selling cattle, there's a pretty clear indication that the salaries and pensions that these men were receiving in the playing days and in retirement weren't very good compared to today's standards when it comes to taking care of the men who paved the path to today's game.

However, After The Applause shows a different side of the game as Wilkins interviews not only the players, but their wives and families, and I found it interesting how many of the players' wives talked candidly about how they enjoyed spending more time with their husbands after accepting the life of a hockey wife so early on in their relationships. Seeing the other side of the coin makes you realize that for all the amazing things these men did on the ice, there were wives and families at those player's homes who wanted them home for celebrations, family time, and holidays.

Individually, I found the profiles on each of the players different from the next. No two men, despite being legends in the NHL, did the same jobs or found the same path in their post-playing days as anyone else. Eddie Shack, for example, still sold everything and anything where he could make a buck. Bill Hay went back to the petroleum industry where he worked before making it big with the Blackhawks. Bernie Geoffrion and his wife found Christianity and devoted their lives to their faith. Of the ten stories, you'd expect people who played hockey all their lives to perhaps fall into the same line of work, but, outside of working with the teams they played for, all of the men live totally different lives after retiring.

Perhaps the most eye-opening passage came from one of the two people who had the concept for the book in Gordie Howe who spoke about the little ways that the NHL screwed over its players. Wilkins writes,
"There were just so many things," he says. "For instance, a little while before I retired, my dental work was getting pretty bent up, and I wanted to get it fixed. But the Red Wings said to me, 'Don't get it done now. Wail till you retire and we'll fix it all up so it will last forever.' Colleen and I went away for a while, and when we came back, I asked them about the teeth, and they said, 'Oh, it's too late now. You're not with the club anymore.' They wouldn't put a new plate in for me. So the team dentist, Dr. Muske, said to me, 'Gordie, I heard them make that promise, and I'm embarrassed - I'll put the plate in for you at my own expense.' They just seemed to think so little of us."
It's hard to read passages like that and read about the loneliness that some of the wives experienced while their husbands were off playing hockey, but that was the reality for NHL players back in those eras. The NHLPA had almost no power at that point thanks to Alan Eagleson's co-mingling with NHL owners, and the owners seemed to get away with everything but murder while the players and their families suffered.

Overall, After The Applause was an interesting read about how ten of the biggest stars in the game were managing after they hung up the skates. The best part of Wilkins' work with the stars and their families is how candid they are about some of the struggles they've faced, some of the successes they found, and how their transitions from hockey haven't always gone as planned. Throughout After The Applause, though, there are great stories from players, wives, and family members about the players trying to find their stride in normal life on the 232 pages, and this is why After The Applause absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

After The Applause is out of print, so finding a copy at a bookstore may be hard. However, there are likely copies at your local library, so I suggest checking it out there when you get a chance! While there are a few instances of adult language in the book, After The Applause would be suitable for teens and older!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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