Update (2:46 PM): Retitled on Andre’s input. - Matt
I was given Bob Probert’s book for Christmas so I finally had a chance to read it last week. It’s a fast one, so much so that had I started earlier in the day, I would have finished it that day, rather than the next.
Note this constituted my only concentrated exposure to Probert, since he’d left the Wings by the time I became a fan during the 95-96 season. So while I have a built-in Probie leaning thanks to being coached by old timer fans, I’ve seen the guy as more of a legend than anything more real like older fans might see him. I’d always known he had a lot of rough patches, but unless you were obsessively reading the Detroit media’s coverage of his escapades back in the day, you might be surprised at just how many rough patches he had, and how deep.
The book reads half like a litany of mistakes and half like an awesome insider take on the sport. Probert doesn’t go into detail on a lot of things, but he doesn’t seem to hold a lot back. And maybe that’s why he still comes out as likeable. I never saw him play in the Winged Wheel so I didn’t have that attachment to him as a player that made you root for him, but I still found myself cheering for him while reading the book. There’s something about Probert that is inherently likable, even as he’s continually making mistakes that would disgust you if it were anyone else.
Anyway, bullet pointed thoughts:
- I’d like to know how much of this is Kirstie McLellan Day, Probert’s co-author, but the book has an easy style that reads like Probert’s talking as he remembers things. I liked that a lot.
- He confirms the current take on Jimmy Devellano: early architect of the Wings’ resurgence, but a guy who runs his mouth. Probert gets fairly heated when discussing Jimmy D’s tendency to talk about what Probert considered to be private stuff, like his problems.
- Reading about Probert hoodwinking then-assistant coach Colin Campbell by switching out the pills meant to curb his alcohol consumption with aspirin was a joy. Still can’t believe that guy was ever employed by the Wings.
- Probert offers more confirmation on everyone’s views on Yzerman: serious, but loyal. Most interesting was this part:
I think playing with Stevie was like playing with Joe Sakic, only Stevie was a lot more outgoing and more business-minded than Joe. Joe is just a good guy and doesn’t care about anything other than playing the game and his family.
Interesting in light of Steve’s move to the Lightning and Sakic’s move inside the front office in Colorado. I wonder which of the two will be the more successful team exec.
- Probert is pretty harsh about the Detroit media and their behavior during his time with the Wings. If his version of events is even half true, I can’t disagree with them. It seems they were out to nail him, especially Keith Gave. I guess you could argue that was their job, but I’m not sure airing Probert’s dirty laundry constantly, and going to just about any length to do so, automatically meets a journalistic ethics standard. That said, we could do with that kind of full-court press coverage today, maybe.
- Another part I found interesting: his perspective on Sergei Fedorov. Probert asks the reader to imagine going to Russia and having to fit in while a superstar spotlight is on you, and then says,
“We had a lot of character players, and Sergei was definitely one of them.”
Fedorov’s later actions no doubt have you laughing at that, but another thing you learn while reading Probert’s book is that the Wings don’t always handle everything perfectly behind the scenes. Call him a biased witness if you like, but it’d be no less biased to deny that. Greatest organization in sports, but not perfect.
- Most hockey fans will no doubt love Probert’s take on Bettman. He’s pretty blunt. I’ll leave you the pleasure of reading the first two sentences in his little paragraph-length explosion on Gary, and quote the most important part:
I think he’s ruined the game of hockey. He’s supposed to be impartial. He’s supposed to speak for the good of the league, but in my opinion, he’s strictly behind the owners. (my emphasis)
To the italicized part, I want to say, “well, duh. They’re his boss, and he does all he does for them,” because that’s true. But it’s only true because of the increased division between the League and PA sides we’ve seen for years. NHL historians can correct me on this, but it seems like that division has its roots in the start of the Bettman era. The pre-Gary era was no time of rainbows and puppies, but as we have it now, we’ve got a commissioner whose primary concern is the owners, over concern for the Game.
And the players don’t get off easy here either. On the two days a month they’ve got the cohesiveness to have a thrust, it’s at securing crap for themselves, too. Opposing sides, arming themselves in a por sports business cold wary. Meanwhile fans get caught in the middle. Anyway.
- It was interesting to read Probert write about how well the Blackhawks took care of him when he signed there. Definitely don’t get that impression a lot from the Bill Wirtz-era Hawks.
If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend picking up Tough Guy. It’s a good and fast read, and has those kinds of insidery nuggets that fans like me love to eat up.