BAUN’S BROKEN-LEG GOAL
By Brian McFarlane
I was chatting on the phone with TV producer Mark Askin recently when the subject of Bobby Baun’s famous “broken leg” goal came. Askin once checked the tape of the 1964 playoff game—Leafs versus Detroit at the old Detroit Olympia--and made a discovery. He had seen reports that Baun was carted off on a stretcher late in the third period of the game in question, only to return miraculously in overtime to slap in the winner. Askin saw evidence that the reports were incorrect. Baun actually came back for a shift before the third period ended. I recall talking to Baun years ago about his famous goal and here’s my written account at the time—with no changes or corrections.
BAUN’S FAMOUS GOAL
The Toronto Maple Leafs captured four Stanley Cups in the 1960s and haven’t been able wrap their arms around it since. One of the most talked-about triumphs was the 1964 victory, highlighted by defenseman Bobby Baun’s famous broken leg goal.
It happened in game six of the finals, in Detroit on April 23. The Red Wings were ahead in their series against the Leafs, three games to two. One more triumph would bring them the Cup. In the third period, Gordie Howe drilled a shot off Baun’s right leg, just above the ankle. Gamely, Baun played on and moments later went up against Howe on a faceoff in the Leaf zone.
“You remember how Howe used to blink a lot? Well, I used to drive him crazy by blinking at him, mocking him. It was my job to distract him, to take him out. Back then, defencemen used to take the faceoffs in their own end, and I won the draw from Howe. I spun around, and that’s when I heard a noise like a cannon going off. It was the bone in my leg cracking. I knew it right away. I fell to the ice in front of Bower, my leg feeling like cream cheese above my skate. Before I knew it, I was being carted off on a stretcher. I knew then the bone in my leg was either cracked or broken.
“In the medical room, I asked the team doctor to tape my leg and freeze it. No way did I want them taking x-rays. I really wanted to get back out there. The freezing seemed to work, and I hobbled back to the bench and jumped over the boards before Punch Imlach could stop me, just before the period ended. After 60 minutes the score was tied, and the game went to overtime.
“During my first shift in overtime—I hadn’t been out there more than 20 seconds—the puck came rolling around the boards toward me and I moved to keep it in the Detroit zone. I had time to take a shot, so I whacked at it. A ballplayer would describe my shot as a ‘knuckleball.’ I could see it all the way in. It bounced off Bill Gadsby’s stick and somehow found its way past Terry Sawchuk into the Detroit net. It wasn’t a classic, but it was my biggest goal ever. Came at 1:43 of overtime.”
Gadsby almost wept in frustration. “I didn’t see the damn puck until it was too late,” he muttered afterward. “Baun’s shot ticked my stick and deflected past Sawchuk.”
“Two nights later,” Baun recalled, “we won the Stanley Cup on home ice by a 4–0 score. I had my leg iced before that game and took shots of Novocain every 10 minutes. Only after the Cup was won did I go for x-rays, and they found a broken bone just above the ankle. I was in a cast for the next six weeks. Was it worth it? Sure, it was. That’s how much winning the Stanley Cup meant to me. Most hockey players would tell you they’d do the very same thing.”
Gadsby always doubted Baun’s story and insisted he was no playoff hero.
“It all bull——,” says Gadsby. “His leg wasn’t broken. He may have had a hairline fracture, but the media played it up big. I remember skating up to Baun before game seven. I said, ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ He just kind of shrugged.”
Detroit’s Sid Abel agreed. “His so-called injury was just a Leaf gimmick to delay the game,” he insists. “And it worked because we cooled off when Baun went down. I was suspicious when he came back so soon. And where did the stretcher come from so fast? Come on. Turns out the Leafs brought their own stretcher. Teams don’t do that unless…”
The late Dick Beddoes, an uncommonly clever wordsmith, once challenged Baun. “You’ve dined out on the broken leg story for over 25 years,” he said accusingly. “It wasn’t the big bone in your leg that snapped. It was only the fibula.”
“Go take a sh*t in your hat, Baddoes,” Baun said amiably.
Gordie Howe had little to say about Baun’s winning goal, but years later he became a Baun fan.
Late in his career, Baun wound up in Detroit, playing alongside “Blinky” Howe. Arriving via a trade from the Oakland Seals, Baun took Howe aside one day and said, “Listen to me, you old fart. The Red Wings are screwing you. Do you know I’m making twice as much money as you are?”
“That can’t be,” said Howe. “The Wings assured me I’m at the top of their payroll.”
“Not true,” said Baun. “You go in tomorrow and demand a hundred grand a year. I figure you’re down for $45,000 and I’m earning double that.”
Howe steamed into the Red Wings’ front office the next morning and team owner Bruce Norris met his demands—just like that. Norris always believed it was Howe’s wife, Colleen who was behind Gordie’s angry demand for a major salary boost. It wasn’t.
It was Bobby Baun.