Equal player and pitchman Eddie Shack defied easy categorization
Many of the best hockey players aren’t as well known or loved as Eddie Shack. Many recorded long careers without ever having a nickname, but Shack had a couple: âEddie the Entertainerâ and âThe Nose,â the former reflecting his style of play, the latter his full facial rudder. And even Hall of Fame members aren’t celebrated in song like Shack was: in February 1966, “Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack” landed atop the CHUM charts, the flagship radio station’s chart. of record sales in the Toronto market. The single managed to beat songs from, among others, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
With his death on Sunday morning at the age of 83, it is with nostalgia and laughter that fans of a certain vintage will remember him. Saying they don’t make players like him anymore captures half of that. The point is, even then they were one.
Shack defied easy categorization. He was not an enforcer per se, although he could and frequently had to drop the gloves. (Per Hockey Fights, there have been 37 fights in his 17-year career, though it’s hard to believe there haven’t been at least as many more.)
Shack was too formidable to be a parasite, not the type to provoke and leave the cleanup to others. He might look terrified watching John Ferguson, his counterpart and nemesis in Montreal, but he didn’t duck and run.
Shack was not inexperienced. Granted, the puck tended to die on his stick, but he ranked among the fastest players in the league. Think of a running train on a downward slope.
Shack wasn’t particularly easy to coach either – it’s safe to say that no amount of Xs and Bones or chalk talk would have impacted his chaos on the ice. Yet when his former trainer in Toronto, Punch Imlach, took over at Buffalo in 1970, he came out and traded for Shack, then passed his prime.
âMy old friend Eddie has been pretty good to me over the years, despite the battles we’ve had,â Imlach wrote in his autobiography, Heaven and Hell in the NHL. âIn Toronto, I once traded him in Boston for Murray Oliver and $ 100,000, but no one could ever put a price on the laughs he gave us in Buffalo. “
As idiosyncratic and fun-loving as he was, his reputation as a clown served him poorly. He was not a passenger – as a player he was underestimated, probably inevitably. He was a major contributor to four Stanley Cup teams in Toronto, even scoring the Cup-winning goal in 1963. In 1965-66, his best season with the Leafs, he scored 26 goals in such totals. were hard to come by.
At the start of the era of expansion, he bounced back into the league and ended up scoring 20 goals in one season with five other teams, tying what was then the league record. As George Armstrong, the last Toronto captain to lift the Stanley Cup, told the Star of Sault a few years ago: âHe was a damn good hockey player and he was harder than nails,â he said. âWhen he came out there you had to be careful, because you never knew what could happen. Our own team had to be careful, because you never knew what he would do.
Off the ice, Shack was decades ahead of his time. No one has done more to monetize their fame. While many players of this era had a hard time, Shack thrived. He had no formal business training – he dropped out of school early and was functionally illiterate until later in life. Regardless, he would have nothing to learn from the Harvard MBA program. He had a remarkable talent, quite intuitive, when it came to calculating his price.
A well-known anecdote that has been around is instructive.
During his days with the Maple Leafs, Shack was inundated with offers from Toronto companies to make promotional appearances. He once agreed to have a date or a ribbon cut or something at a car dealership: for a few hours of his time and a stack of autographs, he won $ 1,000. Payable in $ 50 bills, upon request. When the day came, a famous Leaf did the same, but not Shack. (No other name will appear here to protect the truly innocent.) The dealership manager called Shack at his house and asked him what was going on. Shack told him that he had a conflict (i.e. a better offer) and that his teammate had agreed to appear for $ 500. Seeing his glass half full, the manager sighed and said, “Well, at least that saves me $ 500.” The glass was then emptied by Shack. He told the manager that he actually came later to collect the balance – that his search fee to land the player was $ 500. Which would be a great story if it ended thereâ¦ but it didn’t.
Shack’s replacement at the event happily went through the exercise of handshakes, autographs and poses for photos with found objects. At the end of the day, the manager took out a crisp $ 10.50, which the player counted. He then put nine in his wallet and one in his chest pocket. Kicking it, he said to the manager, “A little something for Eddie.”
Despite all of his abilities in the field of personal wealth accumulation, Shack was involved in good causes beyond Mammon – after learning to read he became an advocate for literacy.
I’ve only had a few relationships with him over the years – the last in November when I had the unenviable pleasure of following him to a book signing.
When we first met in the early 1980s, I was a journalism student enrolled in a business writing class, a subject I had no background on. I ended up drawing an assignment on Pop Shoppe, a Toronto-based soft drink bottling company that was in trouble at the time.
The generation that grew up in the late ’70s may never have seen Shack perform, but knew him from his appearances in Pop Shoppe commercials. He wasn’t just a pitchman or an endorser. In fact, he was the whole brand, its most important asset.
I don’t know what viewers thought of a guy whose mustache was less a handlebar than a crowbar, whose cowboy hat was said to have been strictly a Halloween prop in his hometown of Sudbury. But when Pop Shoppe was mentioned, his image came to mind, as did the slogan, âI have a nose for value. It was a rare case of truth in advertising.
When I asked Shack about Pop Shoppe, he was both light-hearted and lucid.
âI’ve always recognized a good deal, and Pop Shoppe is a good deal,â he told me.
It wasn’t entirely clear to me if he was saying the product was a good deal or his position in the company or both.
When I asked him about the difficulties of the business, he didn’t miss a thing.
âEverything I know about business I picked up on the way,â he told me. âI know the value of a dollar. I worked in a butcher’s shop after giving up [of school]. I had jobs the whole time I was playing for the Leafs – everyone had them because we had to. I will always be looking for a good thing.
It wasn’t that everything he touched turned to gold – for example, a chain of donut stores didn’t take off like the one founded by his Toronto teammate, Tim Horton.
Another business opportunity that seemed to slip through the cracks was, in fact, âClear the Track, Here Comes Shackâ. The song was written by Brian MacFarlane, studio host of Hockey night in Canada, who, in fact, could not read music. The single was recorded in a hurry and is only expected to be a new 45 release, instead of a chart-topping song. Shack has long been angry with MacFarlane because he has never received a fee for the use of his name or royalties. The point is, MacFarlane hasn’t seen a dime either.
Eddie Shack knew the value of a dollar, but may not have understood how much the song has contributed to his personality. When he dies, he will be played with fond memories, whether you have known him as a player, pitchman or the life of the party.