Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Orr (2013)

By Bobby Orr

I once heard a story about Rick Reilly when he was working with hockey great Wayne Gretzky on an autobiography. Reilly said that Gretzky was such a modest, good person that it was tough to get him to open up about much. For example, Gretzky said winning that first Stanley Cup was "special." Reilly asked how, and Gretzky answered, "Well, it was just ... special."

Wayne Gretzky, meet Bobby Orr.

Orr is usually considered one of the three greatest hockey players ever, and maybe the best ever for a particular season. He revolutionized the game with his offense style as a defenseman. Injuries shortened and hampered his career, but Orr had accomplishments that were unmatched before or since.

About the only thing Orr didn't do was write his autobiography, and he's finally taken on that job in "Orr."

The problem here is that Orr is so modest, and such a nice guy, that he has trouble talking about his life. These are qualities that make him a fine person and a good friend, of course. Stories to that effect have come out over the years from a variety of sources. Many friends have talked about how when they were a bit down and out, Orr was always there to pick up the pieces. When baseball writer Peter Gammons switched hospitals once while recovering from a serious illness, who was waiting for him at the new place but Bobby Orr. In his playing days, Orr would take reporters to hospitals, and the journalists would see the Bruins' defenseman cheer up sick kids ... but the reporters were sworn to secrecy.

Orr resisted opportunities to write a book for decades. He's finally done it now. Basically, it's a thank-you letter to everyone that helped along the way. Parents, relatives, coaches, teammates - you'd think Orr was the luckiest guy on the face of the earth to be associated with such good people, although the truth just might be the other way around. That includes people he's encountered along the way, including Don Cherry - who gets his own chapter and an endorsement for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

There is one exception to the rule, and that's his former agent, Alan Eagleson. Orr gives Eagleson his own chapter after not talking about him by name throughout the book. Eagleson went to jail for criminal business activities, and was kicked out of the Hockey Hall of Fame among other disgraces. Eagleson represented Orr from an early age, and became famous in part because of that association. Orr doesn't go into great detail about the financial losses he might have taken - except for the fact that Eagleson didn't even tell Orr when the Bruins offered Orr part-ownership in the team to prevent him from leaving for Chicago as a free agent. Orr seems more upset that Eagleson became a bully along the way, and that the superstar lost a once-good friend in the process.

The book leaves some questions unanswered about Orr's life. For example, what was it like to come up to the NHL at 18 in 1966 and be considered the savior of the Bruins' franchise? Did it hurt as much as I think it did to be stunned by Montreal in the first round of the 1971 playoffs? Would today's medical techniques made his career longer and even better? What sort of reaction does Orr get from families when he walks in the front door to talk about representing a young hockey player in his current job as agent? Even the Stanley Cup championships don't get long reviews, which is surprising.

Orr wraps up the book with a discussion of the game of hockey, and his comments are another example of his good, common sense. He remarks on how important passion for the game is, the role of agents, and possible rules changes. Orr's ideas are logical and sensible - just like most of the comments here. Then there's one last bit of modesty - when listing the various honors he's received for hockey, he doesn't even mention the three consecutive Hart Trophies he captured as the league's most valuable player. That's our Bobby, still the Parry Sound, Ont., boy at heart.

'Orr" certainly has a place on the bookshelf; you can give it to your kids to learn about an admirable sports superstar. There's no controversy here. But if the idea of an autobiography is to give others an insight into the life of the writer, Orr keeps the curtain mostly closed.

Three stars

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