I think sports fans of all ages always want to see the “best against the best” in whatever sport(s) they follow. Over 80 years ago, one such fan, who attained a high level of influence, stepped forward to make such dreams come true.
Arch Ward was the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune, but he stepped over from supervising the coverage of sporting events to creating them. When the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair came to Chicago in the early 1930s, he convinced baseball’s American and National Leagues to meet in the first MLB All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933. Just to make it “official,” Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the All-Star Game!
With that success, baseball has continued that game to this day. The following year, Ward put together the first College All-Star Football Game at Soldier Field – pitting the collegians against the professional champions from the previous season. In the earlier years, this proved to be a fairly even match, and the game continued through 1976.
Did you know that the NHL All-Star Game, which will be staged in Nashville on Jan. 31 had its roots around that time as well?
It all happened as a way to benefit some injured players. Toronto’s Ace Bailey had to retire after a check from Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore left him with a fractured skull. To raise funds for Bailey, on Valentine’s Day in 1934 (see what Arch Ward had started), a sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs, who beat a team of All-Stars selected from the other eight NHL teams at the time. You may have seen the picture of Shore shaking hands with Bailey in a pregame ceremony (above).
The NHL staged two more benefit games soon thereafter. On Nov. 3, 1937, at the Forum in Montreal, the Canadiens lost to the All-Star Team. This game was to benefit the family of Montreal great Howie Morenz (the great grandfather of former Nashville Predator Blake Geoffrion). Morenz had died after suffering a broken leg early that calendar year.
The third happened on Oct. 29, 1939 – the “Babe Siebert Memorial Game.” Siebert had drowned during the summer, the summer before he was to become head coach of the Canadiens. The All-Stars beat the Canadiens 5-2 that night.
It wasn’t until 1947 that the All-Star Game became a regular part of the NHL schedule. In those early days, they stuck with the concept from the three benefit games, pitting the Stanley Cup champion against the All Stars. Rather than doing it at mid-season, they did it to open the year, and the All-Star Game opened the NHL slate through 1965! That was fine for a League that had only six teams at that point.
But, as we have found out, the NHL All-Star Game is an ever-evolving product. We will examine that in more detail soon.