“Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game” is an appropriate title for Wendel Clark’s new autobiography. Sure, there have been better goal scorers or more skilled players in the Maple Leafs’ history. But arguably, no Leaf has bled, endured, or suffered more than Clark, whose careeer was defined by his physical play and willingness to fight, and marred by constant injuries. Yet, as Clark explains, he wouldn’t change a thing.
Co-authored by sportswriter Jim Lang, “Bleeding Blue” starts with Clark’s memories of a childhood spent working on his family’s farm in Kelvington, Saskatchewan. Clark credits this for shaping his work ethic. The book also covers Clark’s junior hockey days, but mainly focuses on his NHL career. Clark dotes on the good times and his best years in Toronto, glossing over the Leafs’ lean times and his less-than-stellar stints with other teams at the end of his career. Granted, he was injured for much of that time anyway. Still, it is kind of funny that Clark has more to say about hitting the post in his last NHL game, spent with the Leafs, than his 13-game stint with the Chicago Blackhawks.
A good portion of Clark’s career were lost to injuries, so it is only fitting that a lot of his book focuses on this. He explains at great lengths what he had to go through to find a doctor who could help him heal just enough to be able to play through the pain. And even when he was “well,” Clark still had to undergo four hours of therapy per day just to be ready for the next game.
Quote that epitomizes “Bleeding Blue”: “Because in my mind, that’s what it all boiled down to — I loved playing hockey, and I would do anything it took to play. In life, you either like something or you love it. Playing hockey was something I loved, and it was what I truly knew how to do. I had never had another job, and I didn’t want one. There was never a Plan B for me, so I was willing to do whatever it took to make my hockey career last. Even as I lay on the table, pain firing through my legs as my back fought whatever new treatment it was going through, I had no regrets about the way I played. I loved the game and I only knew one way to play. I am the man I am today because of the way I played the game. And I wouldn’t have been the only guy from my era who paid a physical price to play the game we love. Looking back, if I had been smarter when I was a young player, I might have done some things differently. But I played the cards I was dealt, and the bottom line is that the pain, the lost time, and the rehab were worth it.”
What I like about “Bleeding Blue”: The book is a brisk read at only 210 actual story pages, not counting photos, title pages, table of contents and the blank pages at the end of the book that the publisher counts in the total for some reason. Thus, the book clips along at a nice pace and never gets dull. Sixteen pages of photos illustrate “Bleeding Blue,” giving us a good look at Clark’s childhood and his playing days.
What I do not like about “Bleeding Blue”: Like many autobiographies of former athletes, Clark dodges anything that might cast him in a bad light, or saying anything negative about anyone. One example is his contract dispute with the Colorado Avalanche, which led to his trade to the New York Islanders. Clark merely states “I guess there turned out to be a sticking point with what had become the Colorado front office.” Of course, he doesn’t mention that he wasn’t honoring the final remaining year on his current contract, that he refused to report to the Av’s training camp, or that Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix was willing to meet Clark halfway on his demands. Also, his time with the Blackhawks was particularly bad; who wouldn’t have loved a little well-deserved mud-slinging from Clark here, particularly at former Chicago GM Bob Murray, who berated Clark to the press before putting him on waivers and ultimately releasing him.
Wendel Clark worked hard during his 15-year NHL career. It is little wonder that Maple Leafs fans loved him because of it. Read his book and you might end up becoming a fan of Clark too, just out of sheer admiration of what he had to do so that he could do what he loved. ■