Thursday, April 15, 2010

Literati Glitterati

This is a series on celebrity authors.

The California Golden Seals started in the 1967-68 season as the California Seals. The Seals ceased to be after the 1975-76 season when they moved to Cleveland and became the Barons. In between were nine seasons of continual change of ownership, players, official team name and even the team colors. One thing that remains constant, still to this day, is the passion of the real fans of the Seals.
One such fan is author Brad Kurtzberg, who wrote Shorthanded:The Untold Story of the Seals. Kurtzberg conducted over 100 interviews with former players over more than two years.
Despite the intense effort put into Shorthanded, Kurtzberg enjoyed it. He told me, "'The book was a labor of love. The Seals story is a largely forgotten one, yet so many strange and interesting things happened to the team and so many well known people were involved in their story from Bing Crosby, Whitey Ford, Pat Summerall and Charles Schultz. You had the white skates, the streaker incident and of course, the NHL's only on-ice death."
Kurtzberg continued, "I was only nine when the Seals left Oakland, but I loved thei
r uniforms and they were my second favorite team growing up. The more I read about them and heard stories, the more interesting things I felt needed to be told."
Kurtzberg reveals some of the stories in the first section, which is a history of the team. Several of the stories involve one-time owner Charles O. Finley (then owner of the Oakland A's). Finley brought in a live seal for Opening Night, only to have the seal fall asleep on the ice during the festivities.
Finley also made the Seals wear white skates, which were only worn by figure skaters back
then. Player Carol Vadnais told Finley that other teams would think they were sissies.
One good thing Finley did was to have players' names put on the backs of their sweaters. Th
e Seals were the first NHL team to do so.
The second part of the book highlights over 100 players, coaches and even a cheerleader (Krazy George). It is divided into three chronological sections containing thoughts, recollections and stories from many members of the Seals organization. You'll read such things as Gene Ubriaco (The Early Years) talking about the closeness of the team, Reg Leach (The Middle Years) discusssing the lack of leadership and
Dave Gardner (The Later Years) praising the fans, but not the organization.
These are just three of the players profiled. Each has great memories and stories to tell. Remember Gilles Meloche? Bert Marshall? Bobby Sheehan? Gary Smith? They are all in there and all have great stories. So do Jim Pappin, Wayne Merrick, Larry Patey, Craig Patrick, Bryan Watson and over 100 more, each with a stat, nugget or quote.
Kurtzberg recalls them fondly. He said, "Pappin was a great storyteller. Ivan (Boldirev) was hard to track down, but great to talk to once I did. Joey Johnston, Larry Patey, Bert Marshall, so many great guys. Cobra (Gary) Simmons is a book unto himself as Pete Stemkowski once told me."
I love just hearing those names and the stories about the Seals and I have always lived in Chicago. For those in the Bay area, love for the Seals is still strong, as the Seals Booster Club
These are just examples of why
Shorthanded has sold well. Many former Seals have purchased one or more copies. Kurtzberg
said, "Ernie Hicke was a nice guy with a great sense of humor. He bought about twenty books for friends and family."
With love for the Seals undeniably still strong, why did the Seals fail? According to Kurtzberg,
"I think the Seals failed because of two major things: 1) ownership instability--there was talk of the team moving a month or two after they took to the ice, this doesn't exactly get things off on the right foot with the fans. The team had more names (3) and ownership groups (6 if you count the NHL) than playoff appearances (2). Also, if the arena was in San Francisco instead of Oakland, it would have given the team a chance to build roots. There still isn't an arena in SF, so go figure."
It's just too bad. The Seals should have succeeded. Instead, we are left with great memories. Fortunately, Kurtzberg captured all of these memories in Shorthanded.
Kurtzberg is currently working on a book about the rivalry between the NY Islanders and the NY Rangers. He is also busy writing and editing for, blogging for Huffington Post, blogging at and guest hosting That Radio Show on WGBB, AM 1240 on Long Island, and making a weekly appearance on "The NHL Tonight" with Sean Campbell and Mitch Gallo every Saturday night on The Team, AM-990 in Montreal.
I really appreciate Kurtzberg taking the time to answer my questions. I also appreciate the effort and
For more info on the Seals and Shorthanded (and to purchase the book), is the place to go. I can get lost in Seals goodness on that site.

Brad Kurtzberg, author of Shorthanded:The Untold Story of the Seals.


Cleveland Mike said...

As a hockey fan growing up near Cleveland, I was so excited that the Barons were coming to my town. My fun didn't last long though. Still, I had great memories of players like Meloche and Merrick. Great nostalgia here, John.

Tony said...

Great that you Kurtzberg to share his thoughts.