Thursday, May 26, 2016

Softball at Maple Leaf Gardens, 1945

I just had to share this. Hockey historian, archivist and writer, Paul Patskou had quite an interesting thread going on his Facebook page this week. He noted that both Punch Imlach, Leafs GM/coach and his wife Dodo Imlach had at different times played games at Maple Leaf Gardens. Punch played at the Gardens multiple times as a junior and senior hockey player in the 1930s and 40s, while his wife Dodo played there in a charity game in 1945. A charity game of...softball.

Leave it to Paul to dig up this nugget. Personally, I had never heard of softball ever being played at Maple Leaf Gardens, but it's true. Patskou with help from his friend Bill Williams, shared the story of this strange happening. It was a Friday night, November 9, 1945 when the Rotary Club of Toronto put on the event as a fundraiser for Toronto Sick Children's Hospital. The Globe and Mail newspaper described the event thusly; "The Major's Manse (the Gardens) gave itself wholeheartedly over to the curl and mascara of gal softballers." In total, 11,154 folks were in attendance to see the "queens of the softball world" the Jax of New Orleans. They would play a double-header first winning 2-1 over Simpson's before falling by the same score in the nightcap to a squad named Sunday Morning Class. This was the team that Dodo Imlach patrolled the outfield for.

In the photo above, the field appeared to be laid out with second base right about at centre-ice. If home plate is approximately 10 feet in front of the end boards, this would make the bases about 60 feet apart which would be the proper distance for softball. The centre-field wall would then be approximately 190 feet deep at the far end of the rink with virtually no room for left or right fields. A quirky layout for a ball diamond to say the least. In addition, the game appears to have been simply played on the floor boards that covered the ice surface at the Gardens. The Leafs had played there two days prior and would beat the Chicago Black Hawks 3-2 in the same building the very next night.

In addition to the top quality softball, the patrons were treated to a halftime show of sorts; "Between games, funnymen Hap Watson and Needle Walker kept fans in stitches with their towboat and golf antics." Not sure what "towboat and golf antics" entailed, but I'm sure it was a big hit in 1945.

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