Book Review: Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr
by Bobby Orr
Penguin Group, 2013
With a Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadians National Hockey League (NHL) playoff round on the horizon, why not read Bobby Orr’s book now? His book offers a fitting backdrop to their fierce rivalry.
I was born at the right time for full Bobby Orr fan appreciation. I was eight years old in 1970 when he scored the goal captured forever in the famous photograph on the cover of his book. In the years that followed I cheered for him and Boston against my least favourite team at the time—those Montreal Canadians.
My memories of that time and the similarities in our small-town Ontario upbringing meant I settled into Orr’s book with a comfortable sense of nostalgia. His recollections of his childhood carried me right back in time to my youth. I smiled thinking about skating—in hand-me-down skates—outside for hours and hours until my toes ached in the cold. I remembered the free-spirited play of children at the time. “In those days,” Orr wrote, “we rarely waited for an adult to organize our social time or sports experiences. We took that upon ourselves. We were the ones who decided which game to play, where to play it, when to assemble, and who would be on whose team.”
“I can remember my absolute joy when I received my very first pair of new skates.” up to that point – hand-me-down or bought second hand. Yes, one of the greatest learned on used skates.”
If you’re looking for shocking new insights, late-life confessions or gossip about former teammates, you won’t find it in this book. Even Alan Eagleson gets a fairer shake than he deserved. I admit that Bobby Orr has a challenge in finding something new from his well-documented life to share with an audience, but I think he could have revealed himself to readers a little more. He writes: “I’m no different than anyone else—there are things I did at certain times during my career that I am not particularly proud of. Some of those things happened on the ice, some off it.” That’s like a friend whispering to you that they have a secret, but then refusing to tell it. What weren’t you proud of, Bobby Orr? We want to know.
So, no skulduggery, just a life story told with charming simplicity. He writes of his family life in Parry Sound and his first jobs: picking dew worms for bait, selling men’s wear and doing custodial work at an elementary school. He describes his early hockey years in Oshawa and his NHL career where he played the game with the puck on his stick as often as possible.
He offers advice to young players contemplating a career in professional hockey: “Any skill or skill set is the result of a combination of a couple of things. First, you must have an ability to do it, and second, you must have a willingness to pay the price to perfect it.”
He counsels the parents of those players to not try to live their lives through the child’s success because it never works: “I was shaped by my own passion.”
He offers his insights into the game, past and present. He remembers a time when coaches “acted like gentlemen as they were leading the team, and they encouraged players to act appropriately, both on and off the ice.”
Orr received some writing support from Vern Stenlund, but Stenlund says: “The words and thoughts in this book are all Bobby’s, from start to finish.” It’s Bobby’s voice all right, and Stenlund drew out stories and memories from him, but in some cases the story telling could have been stronger. Several times Orr describes occasions as “. . . a very special evening indeed” without detail or explanations about what made it special. What made it special, Bobby Orr? We want to know.
Bobby Orr’s shy, humble personality shines through his story and solidifies my respect for him as a person and a player. He is a naturally gifted athlete who believes that “. . . sports are not there for the gifted. They’re there for everyone.” He’s an NHL all-time-great who learned to skate on used skates and played baseball in the summer. He’s a human being who trusted and got burnt and who picked himself up and carried on.
“The important things in life don’t change when your luck turns against you, and those things are no different for celebrities than they are for anyone else. No one is going to succeed without taking their lumps. No one is going to succeed on their own either—what sometimes looks like an individual accomplishment is always the result of a team effort. And when you get knocked down, there really is only one thing to do.”
(For more on Bobby Orr, please read Searching for Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt. Or anything by Stephen Brunt, for that matter.)
Posted on April 23, 2014, in Autobiography, Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Memoir, Penguin Group, Sports and tagged Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadians, NHL, Vern Stenlund. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.