One afternoon back in 1973, I was working on the news desk of the Toronto Star and reading the 5-star sports pages. (The Star was an afternoon daily in those days, with four editions – the 5-star being the final.) A small advertisement caught my eye.
"A limited number of single seats are available on a subscriber basis."
The ad had been placed by Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. and there was a phone number, so I called.
The lady who answered was most gracious and what she said was revealing.
"Mr. Ballard is trying to get more seats into the Gardens (Mr. Ballard being the late Harold Ballard, proprietor of the hockey arena the late sports columnist Dick Beddoes dubbed the "Carlton Street Cashbox").
"He is having the larger seats removed and narrower ones installed. That way, he can get two and sometimes four more seats into a row. However, some of the rows in the ends have come up odd-numbered. It’s those single seats that are on sale for the season."
So that’s how I jumped the queue (the waiting list went on forever in those days) and came to own two season’s tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens. They were on the aisle (which was on an angle) in what were then the blues in the northwest corner; if I wanted to say something to my wife when there was a break in the action, all I had to do was lean forward and I had her ear.
I kept them for three seasons and then gave them up because, much like today, the Leafs stunk (most of the time; sometimes they got lucky like the current team did against Montreal Tuesday night) and I refused to pay good money to watch a bunch of bums going through the motions.
I am telling you this story because of an amazing tidbit of information I read in a recent issue of National Speed Sports News that was written by the paper’s legendary editor, Chris Economaki.
This is what he reported in his Nov. 25 Editor’s Notebook:
"Bigger butts? we ask on getting word that part of a coming $13 million improvement at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway is replacement of current seats with wider ones that will also have cupholders. Seat aisles will also be widened, reducing spectator capacity by some 13,500, bringing the track’s total seating down to 130,000.
"And out in Arizona, Phoenix International Raceway says it plans to extend its grandstand seat widths from 18 inches to 22 inches for the 2010 season."
If Harold Ballard were still alive, can you imagine his reaction to news like that?
"Don’t those people know how to make money?" Pal Hal would thunder. "No wonder everybody’s goin' broke!"