In sports – just like many areas of life – history seems to repeat itself but trailblazers often stand out. Often times, it’s great ideas but every now and then it’s just off-the-wall stuff that stands out in our memories.
It seems like the 60s and 70s were an especially wheels-off time in sports history, as competitive leagues in football (the AFL), basketball (the ABA) and hockey (the WHA) challenged the salary structures and conventions of their sports. Yet one of the strangest professional sports teams operated in the mostly straight-laced NHL: the Oakland/California Golden Seals never really make waves on the ice … except when it came to what they wore during games.
Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley was an eccentric man who “didn’t know a right wing from a left wing” and it showed when he demanded that the team wear white skates as part of their uniforms (one would assume as a nod to Finley’s baseball franchise). NJ.com’s Rich Chere shares some recollections from former Seals GM (and eventual Islanders team builder) Bill Torrey on the odd fashion choices.
“I told him, ‘Charlie, this isn’t the Ice Capades. On white ice they’re going to look like crap,’ ” Torrey recalls. “Fred Glover was our coach, an old-time guy, and when I showed him the skates he said, ‘(Forget it) if you think any of our guys are wearing those.’
Torrey was certain that when Finley saw how bad the white skates looked, he’d get rid of them. So the GM addressed his players before the game.
“I said, ‘Gentlemen, the man who signs your paychecks is here,” Torrey said. “Here is a pair of white skates. He wants to see what they look like on a player in a game. Anybody want to volunteer?’
“Everybody dropped their heads. Nobody wanted to wear them. I turned and walked out, not sure if anybody would wear them. But Gary Jarrett put them on and wore them. And they looked like crap.
“Charlie said, ‘Bill, you’re right. They look like crap. But I’m going to get some green skates with gold toes. We never wore the white skates long. Trainers hated them because the black puck would hit them and they’d look terrible.’ But we went with the green skates with gold toes.”
The team’s official colors were Kelly green, California gold and snow white.
Considering the off-the-deep end, mad semi-genius of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, you have to wonder if Finley is just another odd rich man who flocked to high-profile ownership in California. You cannot help but wonder if the Finleys of the world explain why the NHL has been reluctant to accept Jim Balsillie, Mark Cuban and other outspoken types as owners.
Something tells me Cuban would have some better fashion instincts, though.