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Black recalls hockey-playing father

Black recalls hockey-playing father

SAN DIEGO -- He never saw his father play hockey. He wasn't even born. But Harry "Bud" Black Jr., the manager of the Padres, has heard the tall tales and read all the stories. It is a cherished chapter in his heritage.

Enshrined in a wooden frame, is a yellowed copy of an article from the Los Angeles Times dated April 9, 1991, that sports a black-and-white picture of his father, Harry Sr., dressed in full hockey regalia. On his face is an intent look of determination as he skates toward the puck. The likeness is unmistakable.

The article says that his father weighed in at 150 pounds.

"He wouldn't have been able to play today," Bud Black told MLB.com on Wednesday. "It's a different game, a different athlete. Bigger, stronger, faster, right?"

In the midst of another Stanley Cup finals between the Black Hawks and the Flyers, Harry Black Sr.'s hockey pedigree hearkens back to a lost time during the 1940s and a nearly forgotten four-team league that played in the Los Angeles area.

During the 1943-44 season he played center for the Hollywood Wolves of the Southern California Hockey League, the team that defeated the Boston Olympians in six games for the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States. Don't let the word amateur throw you. The Olympians were the National Hockey League Bruins' top farm team and all the players on both coasts were paid.

Black scored two goals in a 6-4, Game 4 victory, which evened that series.

"The offensive spark of the team was provided by former Trojan Harry Black ... who might have been the cleverest puck carrier to play in Los Angles until Wayne Gretzky," the Times reported. "That year he led the league in scoring for most of the season, averaging slightly more than two points a game."

Harry Black was playing junior hockey in Edmonton when USC decided to put together a collegiate hockey team to compete with crosstown rival UCLA.

"They went up and recruited 12 Canadians," Black recalled. "Those guys figured that rather than play professional hockey at that point, they'd go to USC on college scholarships. My dad was one of them."

After four years, the Trojan players flourished while the program faded away. Rather than play in the old six-team NHL -- which had franchises then in Chicago, New York, Boston, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal -- Harry Black decided to remain in Los Angeles because he couldn't afford to leave. The new league paid him more money.

The Wolves played in the Pan Pacific Auditorium, a relatively fresh hockey palace located near Gilmore Field, then the home of Minor League Baseball's Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League. On those grounds today at the intersection of Beverley Boulevard and Fairfax is the famous Farmer's Market.

After World War II, the Wolves folded and Black was absorbed by the rival Los Angeles Monarchs. With the Monarchs in 1947, he won another league championship. But that was it for his hockey career.

By the time his son was born in 1957 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Harry Black was a business man and hockey was an afterthought. The family bounced from northern to southern California as Harry was transferred and ultimately landed in Washington State. When little Buddy was old enough, his dad gave him a baseball glove and that became the sport of choice.

The younger Black says he has skated maybe a dozen times in his life and to this day can only skate forward, not backward. He has the memory of skating with the family on a trip to Big Bear when he was seven or eight years old, but that's the only time he can recall seeing his dad on blades.

"My dad really loved baseball," Bud said. "That became something we followed together. He was a sports fan in general. Hockey was something for me that I began to follow down the line. I followed the NHL, but not as intently as I followed baseball, basketball and football. We rooted for those great Edmonton Oilers teams in the 1980s. Now, I pretty much pick it up at playoff time, although I have no rooting interest this year. I wish I did."

It's not unusual for Canadian hockey players to play baseball. Gretzky, for one, always loved talking about the sport. At the top of that Los Angeles Times article there is a second picture of a hockey player named Jack Carney, Bud's godfather. Carney played baseball for USC after the hockey season was complete.

"He was my dad's best friend," Bud said. "As a Canadian, you played hockey during the winter time and during the summer you played baseball."

Harry Black died of cancer at the age of 65 in the spring of 1985, just months before his son helped pitch the Royals to a seven-game victory over the Cardinals in the World Series.

Nearly 20 years later, when Black was the pitching coach for the Angels, he was stopped at the Anaheim ballpark by a man who said his father had given him one of his game-used sticks during the 1940s.

"He said, 'I have a stick for you that your dad gave me when I was boy watching him play,'" Black said. "We talked a little bit about hockey, a little bit about my dad. And sure enough he came back and gave me the stick."

That day, tears welled up in Black's eyes as his pondered the significant of the moment. The stick and the Los Angeles Times article own a prominent place in his San Diego home. His dad, of course, has a prominent place in his heart.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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