Monday, March 23, 2009

The best piece on Poddubny...

Allan Maki doesn't always get his due writing for a Globe & Mail sports section which has its Blair-and-Brunt 1-2 punch, but he often finds great material in his native Thunder Bay. His profile of the recently deceased NHLer, Walt Poddubny, was about perfect.
"It would be a cautionary tale, he had said over a handful of conversations. He would talk at length about the highs — being a Toronto Maple Leaf and a 40-goal scorer with the New York Rangers — to the lows: being out of the game, too hobbled to hold a regular job, too broke to undergo surgery; a guy who was living in the basement of his sister's home."
A man who lived for the game that left him behind; Walt Poddubny had a hard life after the NHL, but was eager to share his story as a cautionary tale for those with hockey dreams. He died before he had the chance (Allan Maki,; via


Dennis Prouse said...

Neate, I'm about to be a bit of a contrarian @$$ here. Apologies in advance:

As a reader, I was frustrated with this article, because it seemed incomplete. It seemed to me like Maki danced around the subject of Poddubny's alcoholism. It was referenced, sure, but it was very light on details of Poddubny's life in the last decade. In his effort to keep Poddubny's dignity intact, though, Maki weakened the article.

Walt Poddubny played 12 years of pro hockey in the post-WHA era, and while he wouldn't have become independently wealthy like today's players, he would have made enough money to live very comfortably. Dude made 350K one season, back when that was huge money. Having played 400 games or more, he also qualified for the pension and the balloon payment given NHLPA members at the end of their careers, which I believe is at least 250K. Where did all that money go? I have a pretty good idea, but we weren't told in this article.

In addition to going light on his financial problems and his alcoholism, we also learned very little about exactly why it was that he couldn't find work after his playing career. What happened, for example, during Poddubny's coaching career? Why did it keep ending? Did Maki try to talk to any of his former players? If so, this piece didn't say.

In a country where there is socialized medicine, why was he, "too broke to undergo surgery"? Stuck on a waiting list? That I believe, but "too broke"? That's a heck of a story unto itself, but it too is left unexplored.

Poddubny died broke and alone, which I agree is tragic. Maki, though, gave Poddubny's story a clean-up and tried to leave us with the impression that somehow the game of hockey failed the guy. Sorry, but I'm not buying, at least not without some better detail.

sager said...

No need to apologize, Dennis ... those are good questions to pose to Al Maki (amaki AT globeandmail dot com) if you're so inclined.

I liked it because the emotion and the compassion Maki felt for the man was evident without the author imposing himself into the story (showing, not telling).

I can't answer for Mr. Maki; I believe the thrust was to say Walt Poddubny was more than just a sad statistic, another ex-big leaguer who died young.

That's a good question about surgery. I don't have that answer. It is possible OHIP looked at what he needed as elective surgery, and yes, that would be a good story.

Points well taken ... I was mostly looking at the emotional side, not the enquiring minds want to know aspect.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

I enjoyed the article, but I agree with Dennis that more detail might have helped it more. It might be a fine line to walk, though; I'm not sure if I'd want to publicize all the details of the case if I thought it might hurt the family. His death also changes it quite a bit in my mind; there's plenty of precedent for stories about struggling players while they're alive, but writing one as an obituary seems perhaps a bit harsh, as obits tend to focus on the positives. Tough to make that call on what to include without knowing the exact circumstances of the case.

Poddubny's by no means an isolated case on the broke or injured front, though. There was a great article in this week's SI on why many athletes can't seem to manage their money that's worth a look.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Oh, and more details are available via Adam Proteau of The Hockey News (found it via From The Rink). Another good read, and might answer some of the questions Dennis posed.

Dennis Prouse said...

Great link, Andrew - it does indeed answer some of the questions. Proteau's piece was a little more forthcoming without being too crass in speaking ill of the departed. It was indeed a good point that you tend to play up the positives in obituaries, but as mentioned I thought Maki tried just a little too hard to create an angle suggesting that the game had forsaken Poddubny.

That Sports Illustrated article is indeed relevant here. The statistic suggesting that 60% of former NFLers are broke within five years of their careers ending was shocking. That Hockey News piece tells us that Poddubny earned $850,000 in the last three years of his career in the mid to late 80s. That is about $1.5 million in 2009 dollars. (I would dearly love hockey to forsake me in this manner.) That kind of money can disappear in a hurry, though, with a few bad investments, a divorce, and poor lifestyle choices. We know that Poddubny had at least the latter two.

Anonymous said...

As he pointed out in the article, Maki didn't have all of the answers because Poddubny died too soon. Maki was going to meet with him in the summer and conduct some more indepth interviews. Had Walt lived, I am sure Maki would have written a much more detailed account of Poddubny's life and what role hockey played in destroying it.

Sadly, Maki couldn't get the story and we are left wondering about the demons that stalked this former NHL player.