Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: The Final Call (2010)

By Kerry Fraser

I'm starting to get the impression that books by referees and officials in major sports are a better idea in theory than they are in concept. There's been several of them written in a variety of sports over the years, and it's difficult to think of one that is particularly memorable.

They usually have a collection of stories about on-ice encounters from the great to the not-so-great. Such books are a chance to put a personality to the man behind the mask or whistle.

Such is the case with "The Final Call," an offering from just retired referee Kerry Fraser. It's an easy enough offering that has some mostly pleasant tales about his career on the ice.

It should be noted that Fraser was one of the best referees in NHL history, a future Hall of Famer. He officiated more games than anyone in history, just retiring last spring. While you might argue with a particular call or two -- and Fraser admits here that he missed a few (he even admitted at the time, to his credit) -- fans generally could always count on Fraser doing a professional job whenever he put on the striped shirt.

For the most part, this is organized as something of a review of his last year of the league. Many of the chapters are devoted to a particular team as Fraser pays his last visit to such sites as Montreal, Toronto, New York, Detroit, etc. They serve as the launching point for some stories about his career.

There are a few surprises here. Fraser has a lot of respect for the superstars of the league, perhaps because he used to be a hockey player before a bad knee injury hurt his chances of moving up the ladder (he made the right decision to be a ref, by the way.) There are examples of trading autographs and other small favors here that are a little surprising, but they are signs that referees are human too and willing to help others ... and that's kind of nice. Some of the gestures are from the last time around the league, but not always.

Fraser was known as the ref who never had a hair out of place. He even includes pictures of his hair style over the years ... but there's never a back story to it. You'd think he want to say how this "tradition" happened, Nope.

Oh, and the younger kiddies might learn some new words here. Then again, the 11-year-olds usually don't grow up wanting to be a referee.

Fraser deserves some credit for writing this one on his own -- no sign of a ghost writer. There's a little redundancy along the way, just as the same details in references to the late John McCauley serving as a mentor and helper in important times in his life. (Personal note: I met John a few times, and he really was one of the good guys.)

"The Final Call" has some insight into how Fraser took control of games, and how he acted logically and professionally while on the job. After reading this, it's easy to thank him for his service and wish him well in a long and happy retirement. It's not a great book, but it serves its purpose well.

Three stars.

Learn more about this book.

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