Ace Bailey, The First NHL Player to Have His Number Retired also Inspired the First All-Star Game

Former Leaf Ace Bailey deserves a movie. Ever wonder how #6 on the Leafs was retired? Or have you ever wondered which player had their number and jersey retired first? In fact, this guy was the reason for the first ever All-Star Game. Look no further than the story of Ace Bailey, a true legend of the game.

This story is a doozy, so buckle up.

Ace Bailey began his NHL career in 1926 for the Toronto St. Pats, which later that year would be renamed the Toronto Maple Leafs. He quickly became the leading scorer on the team after his sophomore season and led the league in points the subsequent season. He ended the 1928-29 season leading the league in scoring, with 22 Goals and 32 Points in 44 Games.

He continued an offensive storm with multiple 20 goal seasons, and winning the Stanley Cup in 1932.

But here is where Bailey’s story takes a turn.

In December 1933, Legendary On-Ice hit man, Eddie Shore was tripped along the side of the boards by King Clancy, or potentially Red Horner. Both were along the end boards on the powerplay.

This is where the details get hazy. Shore rose back onto his skates, and flew at Bailey in a rage, blasting him from behind into the boards. Shore would later claim he believed Bailey to in fact be Clancy, and had no recollection of trying to hit Bailey.

This obviously being in a time without helmets, Bailey flew into the boards as a result cracked his skull open onto the ice. He proceeded to fall into convulsions and required immediate assistance.

Furious,  Red Horner (another Maple Leaf)  asked Shore what he was doing, and when met with only a smile in response, knocked Shore out cold with one punch. Pretty nails.

Both players were carted off the ice immediately.

Shore woke up quickly after and attempted to speak with Bailey. He was able to reach Bailey, who briefly regained consciousness himself, and attempted to apologize. Bailey was able to respond with “it’s all part of the game” before again passing out. Also pretty nails.

Conn Smyth (you might have heard of him) was the owner of the Leafs at the time, began to make his way to the Leafs dressing room. This of course was in Boston, and a fan happened to have a few beers and speak his mind to Smyth, claiming Bailey was faking his injury. This was not the first reported case of ‘drunk Boston male gets punched at sports event’. Massholes.

Smyth punched the fan in the face, and was charged with assault. Power move from your team owner. You wouldn’t see that today.

“I don’t blame Shore for the accident which may cause the death of Bailey,” Smythe said “He is one of the finest sportsmen I ever met…Shore has been used so much that I doubt that he fully realized what he was doing when he knocked Bailey down last night”

This is obviously pretty wild stuff here already, but the drama continues that night. Bailey was rushed to the hospital, where he was said to only have hours to live unless emergency surgery ensued.

With the news that Bailey had been assaulted on the ice, and was potentially near death, Bailey’s father boarded a train bound for Boston carrying a revolver, telling everyone he met of his intent to kill Shore. When Smythe found out about this, he contacted his assistant general manager, Frank Selke (again, might have heard of him), for help. If you’re going to murder somebody keep it to yourself.

Selke got in touch with a friend of his who worked in the Boston Police, who met Bailey’s father at a hotel and talked the man out of his plan before returning him to Toronto. So this is the 20’s. Trains took forever. Currently it still takes 10 hours to get from Toronto to Boston so that took effort.

The next month Bailey battled the odds, and eventually pulled through, returning to health. It was at this point in his life that he was informed he would never play at the NHL level again.

As Bailey recovered, Ottawa Journal sports editor Walter Gilhooly proposed in an open letter that a benefit game be held.

Toronto would be the arena held as Bailey was not only a Leaf but his family was from Ontario.

The all-star team was selected by a three-man committee consisting of league president Calder, New York Rangers owner Frank Patrick and league director Thomas Arnold.

For the first all-star game in NHL history, two players were selected from each of the other eight NHL teams, while Rangers coach Lester Patrick was named the coach. The ‘All Star” team was set to play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was held in benefit of Baileys family, in order to raise money for a player who would never earn a living in the league again.

Prior to to the game on February 14th – 1934  Conn Smythe presented Bailey with his own sweater, and announcing to the crowd that no Leafs player would again wear Bailey’s number 6. It marked the first time in NHL history that a team retired a player’s uniform number.

This was a hugely historic day for the Leafs and the NHL in general. Toronto eventually would win the game 7-3.

The proceeds from the game totaled $20,909, which was given to Bailey. Additionally, he was presented with $6,000 raised by the Bruins in a separate benefit. Prior to the game, Bailey presented Calder with a trophy commissioned by the Maple Leafs and bearing his name that the team hoped would go to the winner of an annual all-star game that would benefit injured players. That failed to materialize, though the NHL held two additional benefit games in the following five years. Memorial games were held for the families of Howie Morenz in 1937 and Babe Siebert in 1939. It was not until 1947 that the idea became an annual event when the 1st National Hockey League All-Star Game was held in Toronto.

Bailey asked the NHL if he could work as a linesman, but he was turned down. He coached the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team hockey team from 1935 to 1940 and again after World War II from 1945 to 1949, winning three Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union championships. He also worked as a timekeeper at Maple Leaf Gardens from 1938 to 1984, when the 81-year-old Bailey was told by Gardens owner Harold Ballard that his services were no longer needed. Ballard was a real piece of work, expect an article regarding how much people hated that guy later in the week.

Bailey died of lung failure in 1992 at the age of 88.


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