Harold E. Ballard (
July 30, 1903– April 11, 1990) was an owner of the Toronto Maple Leafsof the National Hockey League(NHL) as well as their home arena, Maple Leaf Gardens. A member of the Leafs organization from 1940, he became part-owner of the team in 1961 and was majority owner from February 1972 until his death. He was also the owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Catsof the Canadian Football League(CFL) for 11 seasons, and won a Grey Cupchampionship as team owner in 1986. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame(1977) and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame(1987).
Ballard was born in
Toronto, Ontario, Canadaas Edwin Harold Ballard. He later reversed the names and referred to himself as Harold E. Ballard. For six years before World War I, Ballard and his family lived in Norristown, Pennsylvania. They returned to Toronto where his father, Sidney Eustace Ballard, founded Ballard Machinery Supplies Co., a sewing machine manufacturer, which at one point was one of Canada's leading manufacturers of ice skates (it got out of the business in the early 1930s, when the Canadian skate market was dominated by CCM). Harold attended Upper Canada Collegeas a boarding student until dropping out in his third year in 1919.
Ballard became a fan of
speed skatingand would attend skating events and hockey games, helping to promote the Ballard skates. For the 1928 Winter Olympicsin St. Moritz, Switzerland, Ballard was appointed assistant manager of the Varsity Grads team that won the hockey gold medal.
As a member of the National Yacht Club, Ballard became an avid racer of Sea Fleas, small outboard
hydroplanes. He competed in several regattas, and won the Toronto-Oakville marathon in 1929. Ballard was elected to the NYC's executive committee in January 1930. He participated in the 133-mile Albany, New York- New York Citymarathon in April 1930, finishing second in his class. About a month later, Ballard and two friends from the NYC were hurled from a boat into a frigid Lake Ontario. Ballard was pulled from the water unconscious, but one of his friends died. None of the three was wearing a life jacket.
Hockey coach and manager
Following the 1930 racing season, the NYC sponsored a senior team in the
Ontario Hockey Associationcalled the Toronto National Sea Fleas. Ballard was made business manager. Under coach Harry Watson, the team won the Allan Cupin 1932. Watson chose not to return the following season, and Ballard took over the coaching duties. At first, the players welcomed Ballard behind the bench, but the mood soon changed, particularly after Ballard benched the team captain. That triggered a mutiny among some of the team's top players, who resigned from the squad in November. The team had a poor year with Ballard coaching, but Ballard arranged a European tour for the Nationals which included competing in the 1933 Ice Hockey World Championshipsin Prague. There, the Nationals lost 2–1 in overtime to a team from the U.S.—the first loss for a Canadian team at the world championships. While touring Europe, the Nationals were involved in several fights, both on the ice and off. In one incident, Ballard was arrested in Parisfollowing a fracas at a hotel. The tour marked the end of Ballard's career as a full-time hockey coach.
In 1934, Ballard became manager of the
West Toronto NationalsOHA junior team and hired Leaf captain Clarence "Happy" Day as coach. When Day was busy with the Leafs and unavailable for games, Ballard would step behind the bench as acting coach. Under Day and Ballard, the Nationals won the Memorial Cupat the end of the 1935–36 season. The following season, Day and Ballard worked together to run a senior team sponsored by E. P. Taylor's Dominion Brewery. At the same time, Ballard continued to work for Ballard Machinery, and took over the business after his father's retirement in 1935.
After Day became coach of the Leafs in 1940, he recommended Ballard to the Leaf organization to run the
Toronto Marlboros, the senior and junior teams owned by the Leafs. Ballard was made president and general manager. He would coach one more game, for the senior Marlboros, during the 1950 Allan Cup final, after head coach Joe Primeau's father died. The Marlboros lost the game but won the series and the championship.
In the early 1950s, Ballard hired his long-time friend
Stafford Smythe, son of Leafs owner Conn Smythe, as managing director of the Marlboros. The team won the Memorial Cupin 1955—their first championship in 26 years—and repeated the feat the following season. In 1944, Ballard formed Harold E. Ballard Ltd., the personal holding company he would later use to purchase shares in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
Joins the Maple Leafs
In 1957, Ballard moved up to the Maple Leafs as a member of a committee chaired by Stafford Smythe which oversaw hockey operations after
Conn Smythestepped down as general manager and Hap Day was pushed out of the Leafs organization. Ballard wasn't initially named to the committee when it was unveiled in March 1957, but took the place of Ian Johnston nine months later. At age 54, Ballard was the oldest member of the group, which were otherwise all in their 30s and 40s. The committee came to be known as the "Silver Seven".
During the hockey off-season in 1961, Ballard became founding president of the four-team
Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League, which operated in Toronto, Hamilton, and Montreal. Steve Stavro, who would succeed Ballard as Leafs owner 30 years later, was co-owner of the Toronto City team. For the 1962 season, Ballard tried to introduce a hockey-style penalty boxto soccer, but the rule change was not allowed by FIFA.
Partner in Leafs ownership group
In November 1961, Conn Smythe sold most of his shares in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. to a
consortiumincluding Stafford Smytheand the " Toronto Telegram" owner, John Bassett. Ballard fronted Stafford Smythe most of the money for the purchase. Conn Smythe later claimed that he had no knowledge of Ballard and Bassett being partners, but it is very unlikely that Stafford could have acquired the millions he needed to buy the Leafs on his own.
As he played a key role in the purchase, Ballard was named executive vice president of Maple Leaf Gardens, alternate governor of the Maple Leafs and chairman of the team's hockey committee. He played a key role in the Leaf dynasty of the 1960s, winning
Stanley Cups in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.
However, Ballard soon began displaying tendencies that would eventually make him one of the most detested owners in NHL history.Fact|date=October 2008 Just after the advent of color television in Canada, the Maple Leafs installed a new lighting system. While it provided a clearer picture for fans, it caused a very sharp glare that distracted players. Ballard's solution was to make the CBC pay for the upgrade. When
Hockey Night in Canada's president, Ted Hough, balked at Ballard's demands just before a broadcast, Ballard grabbed a fireman's ax and threatened to cut the TV cable unless Hough agreed to pay. Hough relented, and the broadcast went on as scheduled.
Ballard's greatest influence in this period was not on the ice, but on the financial performance of Maple Leaf Gardens. Within three years under the new owners, profits at the Gardens had tripled to just under $1 million. He negotiated lucrative deals to place advertising throughout the building, and greatly increased the number of seats in the Gardens. To make room for more seats, Ballard removed a large portrait of
Queen Elizabeth IIfrom the Gardens. When asked about it, Ballard replied "She doesn't pay me, I pay her. Besides, what the hell position can a queen play?" ["Ballard: A Portrait of Canada's Most Controversial Sports Figure", William Houston, Summerhill Press, 1984, p. 60.]
He also expanded the number of concerts, entertainment acts, and conventions booked in the building. Ballard booked
The Beatleson each of their three North American tours from 1964–1966. On the second tour, in 1965, Ballard sold tickets for two shows, even though the agreement had been for only one. On the hot summer day of the concert, Ballard ordered the building's heat turned up, and the water fountains around the arena mysteriously stopped functioning. He also delayed both of the concerts for over an hour. The only available refreshments were large soft drinksfrom the concession stands which were sold for triple their original price.
In 1969, Ballard and Stafford Smythe were charged with tax evasion and accused of using Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. to pay for their personal expenses. Bassett, who had by this time become chairman of the board, received the support of the board of directors in an 8–7 vote to fire Smythe and Ballard. However, Smythe and Ballard remained shareholders and directors. They were thus able to stage a proxy war a year later and regain control of the board, forcing Bassett to resign as chair. Ballard was reappointed as executive vice president.
Facing an untenable situation, Bassett sold his shares to Ballard and Stafford Smythe in September 1971. Just six weeks later, Smythe died. An
apocryphaltale suggests that Ballard convinced a drunk Smythe to alter his will to sell his ownership stake to Ballard. Following a legal battle with Smythe's brother and son, Ballard purchased Smythe's shares in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. At age 68, he became the majority owner of the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens, and installed himself as president and chairman of the board.
Criminal trial and the Summit Series
Shortly after taking control of the Leafs, Ballard stood trial on 28 counts of fraud involving $82,000, 21 counts of theft involving $123,000, and tax evasion. He was accused by the
Crown attorneyof using funds from Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. to pay for renovations to his home and cottage, to rent limousines for his daughter's wedding in 1967, and to buy motorcycles for his sons (passing off the expense as hockey equipment for the Marlboros), as well as placing money belonging to the corporation into a private bank account that he controlled along with Stafford Smythe. Ballard pleaded not guilty to all charges.
At the same time,
Hockey Canadaand the NHL Players Associationhad negotiated an agreement to hold an eight-game tournament between Canadian professional hockey players and the top players from the Soviet Union. The tournament would become known as the Summit Series. Just as Ballard's trial was beginning, he told Hockey Canada that they were welcome to use any member of the Leafs on the Canadian team, could use Maple Leaf Gardens for their training camp, and could use the building for any or all of the games in the series, with the Gardens' share of the gate receipts being donated to the NHL players' pension fund. Ballard then partnered with long-time rival Alan Eaglesonand Eagleson's client, Bobby Orrto get the television rights to the series—which would be used to benefit Hockey Canada and the players' union. At no time before or after his trial did Ballard show any interest in being associated with Eagleson or in having members of the Leafs play the Soviets, and the move was widely seen to be a means to generate favourable public relations. At the conclusion of the series, Ballard sent a bill to Hockey Canada for use of the building.
In August, just weeks before the series began, Ballard was convicted on 47 counts of fraud and grand theft. Two months later, he was sentenced to nine years in a federal penitentiary. After a brief stay at
Kingston Penitentiary, he was moved to a minimum-security facility that was part of Millhaven Institution. During a three-day pass, he told reporters that inmates at Millhaven received steak dinners every day--sparking nationwide outrage and a debate in Parliament. He finished his sentence at a half-way house in Toronto, and was paroled in October 1973 after serving a third of his sentence.
Leafs under Ballard's sole ownership
Ballard was a very hands-on owner who quickly became known for being irascible and cantankerous. He tried to micromanage the team, interfering with coaches and players. Soon after taking over as majority owner, he forced out several longtime front-office personnel and replaced them with his own men. For example, he cut the salary of chief scout and former Leafs star Bob Davidson by almost two-thirds, forcing Davidson to resign. Davidson had served in the Leafs organization for almost 40 years in various capacities.
Ballard's opposition to European players was so virulent that a Leafs scout used Ballard's time in jail to sign
Börje Salming, one of the NHL's first great European players.
After Ballard took control during the 1971–72 season, one of the first challenges he faced was the creation of the
World Hockey Association(WHA) as a competitor to the NHL. At the time, NHL teams relied on the reserve clauseto keep players from jumping to other teams in the league, but the clause couldn't prevent players from leaving the NHL to join a different league.
At the end of the 1971-72 season, the Leafs only had three players signed to contracts for the next season:
Rick Kehoeand veterans Jacques Planteand Bobby Baun. But Ballard did not take the unproven WHA seriously as a competitor and so was outbid on the services of several players in the Leafs organization. The biggest loss was goaltender Bernie Parent, a superstar in the making, who was offered a WHA contract with financial terms far beyond what Ballard was prepared to match. Along with Parent, Rick Ley, Jim Harrison, Brad Selwood, and Guy Trottierall left the Leafs for the WHA before the 1972-73 season, as did some minor league prospects in the Leafs' system as well as the team's minor league coach, Marcel Pronovost. Paul Hendersonand Mike Pelykfollowed a year later. The players who stayed could use the threat of joining the WHA to negotiate better contracts, and Ballard always blamed the WHA for inflating players' salaries. Ballard never forgave the WHA for this, and became the leader of the hardline faction of NHL owners who opposed any merger with the upstart league.
With the formation of the WHA's
Toronto Toros, Ballard deliberately made the lease terms at Maple Leaf Gardensas onerous as possible.Fact|date=October 2008 The Toros were owned by John F. Bassett, the son of Ballard's former partner in the ownership of the Leafs, John Bassett. The Toros' lease with Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. called for them to pay $15,000 per game, which was negotiated by Ballard's son Bill while the elder Ballard was in jail.Fact|date=October 2008 However, by the time the Toros played their first game, Ballard had regained control of the Gardens. Much to the younger Bassett's outrage, the arena was dim for the first game. It was then that Ballard demanded $3,500 for use of the lights. Ballard also denied the Toros access to the Leafs' locker room, forcing them to build their own at a cost of $55,000.Fact|date=October 2008 He also removed the cushions from the home bench for Toros' games (he told an arena worker, "Let 'em buy their own cushions!"). These demands forced the Toros to move to Birmingham, Alabama. [ [http://www.hockeytraderumors.com/article3760.html Hockey Trade Rumors - NHL Rumors from around the league - 37 Year Cup Drought - The Legacy of Harold Ballard ] ]
When the NHL finally did take in four WHA teams after the 1978-79 season, Ballard refused to support the deal. He was not only angry at how the WHA had decimated his roster earlier in the decade, but also wasn't enamored at the prospect of reduced television revenue.Fact|date=October 2008 The WHA had insisted on bringing in all three of its surviving Canadian teams, meaning revenue from CBC telecasts now had to be split six ways rather than three.
At the time Ballard took over, the Leafs' captain was
Dave Keon, who had been with the team since 1960. Ballard and Keon never got along, and when Keon's contract expired in 1975, Ballard let it be known that Keon had no place on the team. However, he insisted on receiving compensation for Keon, and set the price so high that potential suitors shied away, which in effect had prevented Keon from joining another NHL team. Keon was forced to move to the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints. In 1980, when Keon received an offer from the soon-to-be dynasty New York Islanders, Ballard still owned Keon's NHL rights and blocked that deal, forcing Keon to finish off his career with the mediocre Hartford Whalersas the WHA was absorved into the NHL. Keon never forgave Ballard for how he had been treated, and it was more than 20 years before he was reconciled with the Leafs. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Hockey:Say It Ain't So | work = | publisher = CNN Sports Illustrated | date = | url = http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/news/2001/02/16/sayitaintso_mapleleafs/#keon | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-05]
Relationship with Sittler
Ballard's desire to control players and their salaries also put him at odds with
Alan Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players Associationand a player agent whose clients included Keon's successor as captain, Darryl Sittler. Ballard had once called Sittler "the son I never had", but relations between the two took a turn for the worse with Sittler's increasing prominence in the NHLPA. Around that time, the Leafs had made it as far as the conference finals in 1978, losing to the two-time defending champions Montreal Canadiens, but Ballard was criticized for not spending the extra money to take the team over the top (see below).
1978–79 NHL season, Ballard fired and then rehired coach Roger Neilson, which saw Sittler lobby on the players' behalf for Neilson's reinstatement. An apocryphal tale suggested that Ballard tried to make Neilson wear a paper bag over his head behind the bench.
In July 1979, Ballard brought his longtime friend, former Leafs coach and general manager
Punch Imlach, back to the organization as general manager. Imlach was as staunchly anti-union as Ballard; during his first stint in Toronto, he had been one of Eagleson's most ardent foes. With Ballard's support, Imlach moved to dismantle the roster and undermine Sittler's influence, despite many analysts viewing the team as having a promising future. Sittler was apparently untouchable as he had a no-trade clause in his contract and, through his agent Eagleson, had insisted on $500,000 to waive it. When the Leafs traded Sittler's close friend Lanny McDonaldto the moribund Colorado Rockies on December 29 1979, a member of the Leafs anonymously told the " Toronto Star" that Leafs management would "do anything to get at Sittler""Lanny McDonald trade has Sittler in tears," Jim Kernaghan, " Toronto Star", December 29 1979, p. 1.] and was bent on undermining the captain's influence on the team. Angry teammates trashed their dressing room in response, while Sittler ripped the captain's "C" off his sweater, later commenting that a captain had to be the go-between with players and management, and he no longer had any communication with management. ["Daryl Sittler's longest year," Frank Orr, " Toronto Star", March 16, 1980, p. C3.] Ballard would liken Sittler's actions to burning the Canadian flag. ["Maple Leaf forever? Sittler will stay put at least this season," Ken McKee, " Toronto Star", March 8, 1980, p. C3.] Eagleson called the trade "a classless act."
Through the summer of 1980, Ballard insisted that Sittler would not be back with the Leafs. Ironically, as Imlach prepared to trade Sittler to the
Quebec Nordiques, he had a heart attack in August and was hospitalized. Ballard used the opportunity to name himself acting general manager and hold talks with Sittler, and the two agreed that Sittler would return to the team for the 1980–81 season. Both men appeared together at a news conference described as "all smiles and buddy-buddy""Peace is wonderful, but ...",Frank Orr, " Toronto Star", September 5 1980, p. D1.] to announce that Sittler would be at training camp, with the "C" back on his sweater which meant that he was reassuming the role of team captain. Ballard told the press that the real battle had been between Imlach and Eagleson, and Sittler just got caught in the crossfire. Ballard also signed Börje Salmingto a new contract with terms that Imlach had refused to offer.
Ballard remained as "de facto" general manager even when Imlach recovered. In September 1981, after Imlach had another heart attack, Ballard told the media that Imlach's poor health meant that "he's through as general manager". Imlach was never officially fired, but when he tried to return to his office in November, he found that his parking spot at Maple Leaf Gardens had been reassigned and Gerry McNamara had been made acting general manager. Imlach never returned to work and his contract was allowed to expire.
Though Imlach was gone, Sittler's relationship with the Leafs worsened again in the 1981–82 season. At the end of November 1981, Sittler told Ballard and acting general manager Gerry McNamara that he would waive his no-trade clause if he was sent to the
Philadelphia Flyersor the Minnesota North Stars. In the first week of December, Eagleson agreed to terms with Flyers' owner Ed Sniderand North Stars' general manager Lou Nanne. ["Sittler saga finally ends," Wayne Parrish, " Toronto Star", January 21, 1982, p. D1.] But it took another seven weeks for the Leafs to make a deal. During that time, Sittler added the Buffalo Sabresand the New York Islandersto the list of teams he could be traded to.
January 5, 1982, on advice from his physician, Sittler walked out on the Leafs, saying he was "mentally depressed" because a trade was taking so long to complete. Finally, on January 20, 1982, the 31-year-old Sittler was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rich Costello plus the Hartford Whalers' second-round pick in the 1982 draft (used by the Leafs to select Peter Ihnačák), and future considerations, which ended up being Ken Strong. Only Ihnacak would play regularly for the Leafs. The irony was that in 1980, Imlach had rejected an offer from the Philadelphia Flyers, who were said to be willing to trade Rick MacLeishand André Dupontfor Sittler. ["Leafs seek youth in any exchange for Darryl Sittler," Ken McKee, " Toronto Star", February 19, 1980, p. F1.]
The McDonald trade sent the Leafs into a downward spiral. The team did not post a winning record again until after Ballard's death, going a franchise-record 13 consecutive seasons without a winning record. The low point came in 1984-85, when the Leafs finished the season with the worst record in the league, 32 games below .500. They nearly duplicated that dubious achievement in 1987-88, ending the season one point up on the last-place
Minnesota North Stars. Many players refused even to consider playing for the Leafs because of Ballard's reputation.
Off the ice, the Maple Leafs under Ballard were one of the league's most financially successful teams. However, this was because Ballard routinely kept the Leafs' payroll among the lowest in the league, despite playing in the fourth-largest market. Ballard had little financial incentive to spend money on star players to improve the quality of the on-ice product and attract fans, as all games were sold out regardless of how poorly the Leafs played. Even so, many Leafs fans consider the Ballard era to be the darkest period in team history. Indeed, the Leafs only had six winning seasons in Ballard's 18-plus seasons as majority owner, and never finished above third in their division.
Maple Leaf Gardens under Ballard
After Ballard's release from prison, he had an apartment built at the Gardens facing Church Street where he would live through most of the year, while spending summers at his cottage in
The storied arena fell into disrepair during Ballard's tenure. For example, when the roof leaked, he did little more than order plastic sheets to catch the rainwater.
Other incidents and anecdotes
Other notable incidents and
anecdotes during Ballard's time as majority owner of Maple Leaf Gardens:
* In August 1979, to make room for private boxes, he had
Foster Hewitt's historic broadcast gondola dumped into an incinerator. This was in spite of protests from the Hockey Hall of Fame, who wished to acquire it. This happened about a year after Ballard had taken the radio broadcast rights to Leaf games away from Hewitt's CKFH (AM) and sold them to CKO. Hewitt unsuccessfully appealed the deal to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission.
* Remarking on
Barbara Frum's CBC program " As It Happens" that "Women are best in one position -- on their backs." After being rebuked, he called her a "dumb broad." [http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-74-368-2102/people/frum/clip6]
* When the NHL decided to put surnames on sweaters, Ballard refused, citing program sales. After being forced to put names on the jerseys, he did, by putting blue names on blue jerseys and white names on white, making them unreadable. Later threatened with a fine, he backed down and put the names in the opposite colors.
* Angered (or maybe jealous) by
Conn Smythe's success with the club and his inability to bring a Stanley Cupto Toronto under his sole ownership, Ballard sold all of the Cup banners that had hung from the rafters of Maple Leafs Gardens for years. Ballard had managed to get his name on the Cup four times while part-owner of the team. When the Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centrein 1999, the NHL presented the team with new banners to replace those Ballard had sold.
*Early in his tenure, Ballard had imprints of his hands and feet placed in concrete with brass lettering beneath centre ice, which severely vitiated the quality of the Gardens ice.
* Toronto sportswriter Jim Hunt had many run-ins with Ballard. It was Hunt that gave Ballard the nickname Pal Hal, which would be the title of Dick Beddoes biography about Ballard. All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p. 119, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, ON, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ] The first notable incident with Ballard took place as a rebuttal towards Hunt’s comments about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ballard went on the air after the next Maple Leafs game and called Hunt a bastard. All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p. 120, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, ON, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ] He then told TV host Dave Hodge that his comments were about someone whose last name starts with one of the first three letters of the alphabet. Hodge responded by saying Jim Bunt. Ballard responded by saying the name started with the letter C.
* For his 85th birthday, Ballard invited Hunt, who was now with the "
Toronto Sun". The party was on July 30, 1988, and held at Ballard’s cottage in Thunder Bay. Hunt attended the party with a female photographer called Veronica Milne. Hunt and Milne got lost on the way to the party and arrived an hour late. Upon their arrival, Ballard responded by saying, “Hunt, I know why you’re late. You were humping her in the back seat of the car.” All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p. 122, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, ON, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ]
* At the same postgame show Ballard proceeded to get into an on-air argument with Dick Beddoes, which involved Beddoes saying Ballard would be better suited to guessing weights at the CNE rather than running a hockey team. Ballard responded by saying that Beddoes should be a barker at a girlie show. This continued until hockey legend
Red Hornerappeared, dressed as Santa Claus. When asked what he was bringing Ballard, Horner replied penicillin. Cole, Stephen. Slapshots: The Best and Worst of 100 Years of Hockey ]
* Stan Obodiac was a devoted follower of Ballard, working in the Maple Leaf Gardens publicity department for 26 years. He once wrote a letter to the Toronto Star stating that Ballard was worthy of the
Order of Canada. All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p. 125, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, ON, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ] On his deathbed in 1985, Obodiac called Ballard to thank him and praise him as a great man. After Obodiac died, Ballard avoided the next-of-kin at the funeral, and the next morning had a Gardens employee go to his house and pick up Obodiac's company car.
Ballard and the Tiger-Cats
In the early 1970s, Ballard made an application for a second
Canadian Football Leagueteam to be based in Toronto, to play at Varsity Stadium, but the proposal never went anywhere. In 1974, when his former partner John Bassettput the Toronto Argonautsup for sale, Ballard offered to buy the team for $3 million, but his offer was rejected. Shortly after, Ballard tried to buy the Hamilton Tiger-Catsfrom owner Michael DeGroote, but that offer was also rejected. Three money-losing seasons later, in January 1978, DeGroote contacted Ballard and sold him the club for $1.3 million. ["Leafs' owner Ballard spends $1.3 million to buy the Tiger-Cats," Rick Matsumoto, " Toronto Star", January 24 1978, p. B1.] Federal Labour Minister John Munro—from Hamilton—led an unsuccessful campaign against the deal. Later that year, Ballard helped block Bassett's attempt to repurchase the Argos.
Under Ballard's ownership, the Tiger-Cats made it to the
Grey Cupchampionship game in 1980, 1984, and 1985, and won the Cup in their fourth attempt in 1986. As owner of the Tiger Cats, Ballard claimed to be losing a million dollars a year. All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p. 124, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, ON, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ] In 1986, Ballard publicly called the Tiger Cats a bunch of overpaid losers. After the Tiger Cats beat the Toronto Argonauts in the 1986 Eastern Final, Ballard said “You guys may still be overpaid, but after today, no one can call you losers.” A few days later, the Tiger Cats won the 1986 Grey Cup by beating the Edmonton Eskimos 39–15 and Ballard said it was worth every penny.
Ballard sold the team after the 1988 season. During his tenure, he repeatedly threatened to move the franchise to Toronto (45 miles east). He had lost an estimated $20 million over 11 seasons with the Tiger-Cats. ["The Canadian Football League: The Phoenix of Professional Sports Leagues", Steve O'Brien, Lulu Enterprises, 2005, p. 43.]
Ballard was well-known for his charitable activities, and even leased out MLG for many functions. He was recognized for this on his citation during his 1977
Hockey Hall of Fameinduction. However, as Ken Drydenput it in his book "The Game", he seemed "like [a] wrestling villain who touches the audience to make his next villainy seem worse."
Dave "Tiger" Williams who played with the Leafs from 1973 to 1980 had a close relationship with Ballard. Years later, Williams would remark that all Ballard would want from his players was an honest day of hard work. In gratitude, Williams shot a bear during a winter hunt and skinned it for Ballard's office.
Outside of hockey, Ballard's life was also turbulent. He fought with most of his family and was often vindictive towards them. Once when he discovered that the son of his estranged daughter was to play in a kids hockey tournament in the Gardens, Ballard had the entire tournament canceled. After he died in April 1990, it was discovered he had been stealing game equipment for many years and selling it to collectors. He was also infamous for keeping a supply of autographed photos on hand. There was the choice of the owner in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform or a Hamilton Tiger Cats uniform. All Work and All Play: A Life in the Outrageous Sport, p.123, John Wiley and Sons Canada Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario, 2005, ISBN 0-470-83552-4 ]
Even before his death, there had been battles between his children,
Bill Ballard, Harold Ballard Jr., and Mary Elizabeth Flynn and his longtime companion, Yolanda Ballard (though she and Harold never married, she had her name legally changed; she claimed to have been with Ballard for eight years at the time of his death). In 1989, Bill Ballardwas convicted of assaulting Yolanda and fined $500. Yolanda was not invited to Ballard's funeral, nor to the reading of his will. She fought with Ballard's family and partners over Ballard's estate following his death. In his will, Ballard had left Yolanda $50,000 a year for the rest of her life, but she considered this inadequate and sued for $192,600 and later $381,000 a year. The court awarded her $91,000. [cite web | last = G. Edmond Burrows, F.C.A. | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Common Law & Co-Habitation | work = | publisher = Pension Valuators of Canada | date = | url = http://www.pension.ca/Common.htm| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-05]
According to Ballard's lawyer, his estate was worth less than $50 million. Most of the money was left to a charitable foundation. Ballard left his personal belongings to his children and grandchildren. Ballard's three children had all previously received shares in Maple Leaf Gardens that they sold for more than $15 million each.
The executors of Ballard's will were
Steve Stavro, Don Giffin and Don Crump. In 1991, Stavro paid off a $20 million loan that had been made to Ballard in 1980 by Molson. In return, he was given an option to buy Maple Leaf Gardensshares from Ballard's estate. Molson also agreed to sell its stake in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. to Stavro. That deal closed in 1994, and shortly after Stavro bought Ballard's shares from the estate for $34 a share or $75 million. [Date-by-date story of Gardens takeover fight," " Hamilton Spectator", November 11 1994, p. C15] The purchase was the subject of a securities commission review and a lawsuit from Ballard's son Bill, but the deal stood and Stavro and his partners in MLG Ventures became the new owner of the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens.
Ballard was also a
Freemason. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = A few famous freemasons | work = | publisher = Grand Lodge of British Columbia | date = | url = http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/textfiles/famous.html | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-05]
Child molestation accusations
In April 2003, a woman publicly identified only as R.M. filed suit against
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., claiming that Ballard had sexually abused her over a period of eight years. The abuse was said to have started in 1963 when she was 10 years old, and to have continued until she was 18. Her uncle had been a painter at the Gardens, and R.M. said she didn't come forward sooner because Ballard had threatened to fire him if she had. She sought damages of $2 million. The suit was settled in March 2006 for an undisclosed amount. ["MLSE comes to terms in suit involving Ballard; Woman alleged 8 years of sexual abuse; Saves company from PR nightmare," Rick Westhead, " Toronto Star", March 10, 2006, p. C10.]
* [http://www.cfhof.ca/index.php?module=page&id=28&builder=Ballard,%20Harold Canadian Football Hall of Fame profile]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=ballard&GSfn=harold&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=10477& Harold Ballard's Gravesite]
* [http://www.hockeytraderumors.com/article3760.html 37 Year Cup Drought-the Legacy of Harold Ballard]
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