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Harold Ballard

From Academic Kids

Harold Ballard (June 30, 1903-April 11, 1990) was the controversial long-time owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens. He was also the long-time owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

Ballard's father was a wealthy manufacturer of ice skates, and fittingly Ballard became a champion speed skater. He was also passionate about hockey; never an excellent player he did become a noted coach at the junior level and he eventually became a very successful coach of the Maple Leafs' feeder club.

In 1957 he was brought to the main club by owner Stafford Smythe, who had inherited the franchise from his legendary father Conn Smythe. Ballard became a part owner of the club and played a role in the glory days of the Leaf dynasty of the 1960s.

After an embittered battle for control of the club Ballard succeeded in gaining full control of the team and the arena in 1971 after he convinced a drunk Smythe to alter his will to give the company to him.

He quickly became known for being irascible and cantankerous and also tried to micromanage the team interfering with coaches and players. He traded many of the team's most popular players such as Dave Keon, Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler, and Russ Courtnall. After MacDonald was traded his angry teammates trashed their dressing room. The best players became extremely reluctant to come to Toronto because of Ballard's reputation. During the 1970s the team struggled to make the playoffs, but the eighties were even worse with the team usually missing the post season entirely. He is often blamed for Toronto's failure to win a Stanley Cup since 1967.

Employees who were not players or coaches had things even worse with many stories of verbal abuse and arbitrary firings.

Among the more bizarre anecdotes of his tenure:

  • In the Summer of 1965, Beatles performed a concert at the Gardens. Ballard ordered the building's heat turned up, and the water fountains around the arena mysteriously stopped functioning. The concert was also delayed an hour right before it was scheduled to begin. The only available refreshments from the terrible heat were large soft drinks from the concession stands.
  • Approaching Hockey Night in Canada president Ted Hough with a fire ax, and threatening to cut the TV cable if the CBC did not pay for updating the Gardens (the CBC paid up).
  • Demanding $15,000 a game from the Toronto Toros to play in the Gardens, and then informing them it would take an extra $3,500 to use the arena lights once the contract was signed. He also removed the bench cushions.
  • Remarking on Barbara Frum's CBC program "As It Happens" that "Women are best in one position -- on their backs." After being rebuked, he called her a "dumb broad."
  • When the NHL decided to put surnames on sweaters, Ballard refused, citing scorecard sales. After being forced to put names on the jerseys, he did...by putting blue names on blue and white names on white, making them unable to be seen. Later threatened with a fine, he backed down.

Ballard was well known for his charitable activities, and even leased out The Garden for many functions. However, as Ken Dryden put it in his book The Game, he seemed "like [a] wrestling villain who touches the audience to make his next villainy seem worse."

Outside of hockey Ballard's life was also turbulent. He fought with most of his family and was often vindictive towards them. Once when he discovered that the son of one of his estranged daughters was to play in a kids hockey tournament in the Gardens, Ballard had the entire tournament cancelled. In 1972 he was convicted of fraud for using company money to refurbish his home and served a year of jail time. After his death it was discovered he had for years been stealing game equipment and selling it to collectors.

He Won A Grey Cup Championship With The Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the Owner of the Team in 1986.

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