A week or so ago, when “Hockey Night in Canada” fruitcake Don Cherry went all Archie Bunker on Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals’ star handled the situation with a plum — I mean aplomb. “He’s a funny and old guy,” AO said. “He likes old-fashioned hockey… . He can say whatever he wants.”
Cherry took issue with Ovechkin’s theatrical goal celebrations, which remind the CBC analyst of “these goofy soccer guys.” Don’t try this at home, kids, he said. It’s not “the Canadian way.”
You’ll be pleased to know his comments were panned in hockey towns besides Washington. In Boston, for instance, where Cherry coached the Bruins in the ‘70s, my friend Charlie Pierce took him to task in his blog for the Globe (link here).
“Consider … the case of Don Cherry,” Pierce wrote. “Now, by any objective measure, Cherry was Don Zimmer without the plate in his head. In the biggest game of his coaching life — Game 7 against Montreal in 1979 — Cherry faced a critical moment and found himself unable to count to six. Moreover, his teams were chockablock with goonish clowns, and one of those teams brawled with fans long before the Indiana Pacers made it a National Crisis back in 2004…
“However, despite being a manifest bungler in the clutch, and a purveyor of the worst elements of his sport, Cherry was and is still looked on fondly hereabouts as one of our own `characters,’ in many cases by people who ought to know better. Last weekend, he proved that he’s just as sharp as ever by ripping Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who is only the most exciting athlete his sport has seen in over a decade. This had something to do with Cherry’s fatheaded xenophobia, but it was tantamount to hearing Chuck and Kenny the Jet on TNT, longing for someone to take that James kid in Cleveland down a peg.”
I have just one quibble with Charlie’s glorious rant. Don Zimmer does not — repeat, not — have a plate in his head. It’s one of those myths that just won’t go away (probably because if any guy looks like he should have a plate in his head, Zimmer does).
In “Zim: A Baseball Life,” the bestseller he did with Bill Madden, Zimmer sets the record straight. As a minor leaguer in 1953, his skull was fractured by a pitch and there was “a blood clot on the left side,” he says. “They had to drill three holes in the left side of my skull to relieve the pressure, but when my condition didn’t improve, a couple of days later they drilled another hole in the right side of my skull.
“People think I’ve got a metal plate in my head — that’s always been the story — but the fact is they filled those holes up with what they call tantalum buttons that act like kind of like corks in a bottle. I can therefore truthfully state that all of those players who played for me through the years and thought I sometimes managed like I had a hole in my head were wrong. I actually have four holes in my head!”
I remember watching Zimmer, back when he was managing the Red Sox, try to explain this to Hawk Harrelson during a TV interview. At one point, Harrelson mentioned “that plate in your head,” and Zimmer smiled tolerantly and said, “It’s not a plate. It’s four knobs, actually.” But for some reason it never registered with Hawk, and later in the interview he referred to the plate again. Zim just rolled his eyes.
From that day forward, whenever there was a moment of tension in the Daly household, I or one of my siblings would often try to defuse it by saying, “About that plate in your head …”
It really is a useful device. You might want to experiment with it the next time you, oh, put a dent in dad’s car or forget to take out the garbage.
– Dan Daly
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