May 18, 2007

Searching For Bobby Orr

I was surprised to see Stephen Brunt's latest book Searching for Bobby Orr out on paperback already. It is also available in hardcover, and later in 2007 it will be available in mass-market paperback.

Brunt's biography was the class of the 2006-07 hockey book season, bar none. I am a notoriously slow reader, but I devoured this book in only a couple of days. It is a super-easy read but retains the high literary quality that escapes so many hockey biographical books. A super job by Mr. Brunt, one of Canada's top hockey journalists, and beautifully designed by the folks at Knopf Canada and Random House.

Searching for Bobby Orr is the perfect title. Everyone knows of Bobby Orr, but so few actully know him. This book allows readers from every generation to find out for themselves who Bobby Orr, hockey player and, to a lesser degree, person, was.

Brunt represents a generation that grew up idolizing Orr. I've seen reviews from that generation which suggest the book offers nothing new, although as a well read hockey historian I can attest that while that might be true to some degree, no book packages it all together so nicely.

And even more importantly, the book reads excellently for the following generation, which includes myself, that grew up having never seen Orr play, but knowing he was the greatest defenseman, if not player, in the history of hockey. While Brunt might not quite crack all of the mysteries of Bobby Orr, perhaps that is for the best.

Orr is an intensely private man, almost to a fault. He is so private that he refused to contribute to Brunt's book in any way, and, according to Brunt, let it be known to his family and closest friends not to participate in such endeavors. Brunt is completely open about this and does the best he can, the best anyone has ever accomplished on Orr. He relies on secondary sources, the likes of Bucko McDonald, the former NHL defenseman who coached Bobby as a junior; Wren Blair, the Boston scout that worked so hard to secure Orr's services; and Cora Wild, who together with husband Jack, billeted young Bobby when he left home to play for the Oshawa Generals en route to his big league hockey dreams.

If it wasn't for Orr's legion of fans, led by none other than Don Cherry's continual championing of Orr as hockey's greatest player ever (and, by the way, Cherry very well may be right on this topic, as he often is), Orr may have been happy to live the rest of his life in peace and quiet, avoiding the spotlight altogether. That would be a shame, as somehow keeping quiet off the ice somehow erodes the legacy of greatness on the ice. Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito embraced the spotlight, and Rocket Richard could not possibly escape it and learned to live with it. As a result their legacies will live on forever.

Without a great collection of video evidence or literary excellence on his career, following generations have had a tough time truly understanding just how great Bobby Orr was. Thanks to Stephen Brunt's book Searching for Bobby Orr, Bobby Orr's legacy will live on forever, too.

P.S. For serious Bobby Orr fans, and for the curious just wanting to witness the on-ice greatness, be sure to check out the incredible DVD The Best of Bobby Orr.

1 comment:

Robert L said...

You're right, Brunt's book was the best of the season, and like you, I could not put it down.

I managed to catch the last six seasons of Orr's career, and I feel the book captured his impact on the game perfectly. On one good leg, Orr was still the game's best player!

I disagree with the assessment that the book unlocks nothing new. That's a lazy perspective by who ever suggested it. I would suggest that for someone over 50, it might not be as revealing as it would be for someone younger. Having said that - I'm 44!

I found much that I didn't previously know about Orr, such as how he slipped past Habs scout at the time, Scotty Bowman. I was knocked out at the details describing how the Leafs missed this nugget on their own territory.

For me, the best part of the book, and one worth many readovers, was the descriptions of Orr in his youth. Reading of Orr alone, skating on Parry Sound's frozen lakes almost brought me to tears, it was that beautiful!

An essential read for anyone that cares about the game. It ought to be in high school libraries across Canada.