The way you’d like to tell this story, Don Gallinger found his peace and died contented and without any lingering resentment or regret. But sometimes the happy ending just doesn’t happen. It was that way with Donald Calvin ‘Gabby’ Gallinger.
Sixty-five years is a lifetime for a lot of people. It has been that long since NHL president Clarence Campbell banned Gallinger and Billy Taylor of the Boston Bruins for life from the NHL for betting on games involving their team. And even after Gallinger and Taylor had their suspensions lifted 22 years later, Gallinger lived out his life a reclusive, bitter man estranged from his family and the hockey world.
At the time of his death in 2000, Gallinger was living in a 10-by-15-foot apartment in Burlington, Ont. His son Don Jr. said his father’s living space was crammed with old newspapers and articles about his own hockey career and attempts to have his name cleared. Only about a dozen people showed up to his funeral in his native Port Colborne, Ont. One of them was his childhood friend and Hall of Famer Ted Kennedy. Several business ventures had failed and he wasn’t a rich man. His NHL retirement income was $37 a month. His son paid the $8,000 to give his father a dignified burial.
“He died a very lonely person,” Don Jr. said. “He was so hurt. He felt much of his life was taken away from him.”
Gallinger has two NHL records to his name – one almost nobody remembers and another that will live in infamy. In 1943, Gallinger was 25 days short of his 18th birthday when he scored in overtime to give Boston a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of the playoffs, making him the youngest player ever to score an overtime goal in the post-season. (And as long as the NHL has an 18-year-old draft, it’s a record that will never be broken.) The other record, of course, he shares with Taylor for the longest suspension in NHL history.
The season was 1947-48 and Gallinger was making $7,500 in his fifth campaign with the Bruins. He had taken nearly two years off to serve in the Second World War and came back to the NHL to find he was still good enough to play in the league that took him as an underage player because so many players had been lost to the war effort. That was the year Gallinger met Taylor, who’d come to Boston in a trade from the New York Rangers.
Gallinger had already bet on the Bruins to win games, but as the story goes, Taylor convinced him he could make $500-$1,000 a night – double his yearly salary – betting on the Bruins to lose. So they did, but only on games in which they thought the Bruins would lose anyway. They became involved with James Tamer, a Detroit gambler and convicted criminal, and bet on eight games over a period of three months.
One of Gallinger’s biggest mistakes was that he denied any wrongdoing and only confessed to his indiscretions after the evidence against him was so insurmountable it couldn’t be refuted. It was then that, as Don Jr. remembers, “Clarence Campbell looked my father straight in the eyes and told him he would never play in the NHL again.”
Without the protection of a union and with the wrath of Campbell falling upon him, Gallinger was doomed. One thing that irked Gallinger after the fact was that Babe Pratt of the Toronto Maple Leafs was found guilty of gambling on Maple Leafs victories in 1946 and received only a nine-game suspension because he owned up to his misdeeds immediately. Twenty years later, Pratt was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Was Gallinger something of a reprobate? You could probably say so. He left his wife and children in 1962 and had very little to do with his family after that. It was learned later in his life that Gallinger had fathered a son after having an affair with a young Canadian socialite in the 1940s. Prior to leaving his wife and children, he operated several hotels in the Kitchener, Ont., area and made his name as an outstanding baseball player and manager. (Gallinger had been offered contracts by the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies while playing with the Bruins and had a tryout with the Red Sox in 1946.)
Perhaps it was the weight of his ban from the NHL that, combined with other things, changed Gallinger. According to his son, the same man who was so chatty and gregarious basically became a recluse in the 1960s. Almost every conversation after that came around to how he had been screwed over by the NHL and especially Campbell. Don Jr. remembered how his father reacted in 1980 when Campbell was convicted of bribing a Canadian senator to lobby on behalf of a company called Sky Shops, in which Campbell was an investor, to continue operating a duty-free concession at the Montreal Airport.
“He said, ‘There is this man who is a felon and he made me suffer so much,’ ” Don Jr. said. “That put a smile on his face.”
Nobody knows how good Gallinger could have been as an NHL player if he hadn’t gotten involved in the criminal underbelly of gambling. He was a terrific skater, a heads-up player who could play both ends of the ice, and he had a very respectable 65 goals and 153 points in 222 career games when he was banned. It’s doubtful he would have followed his childhood pal Kennedy into the Hall of Fame, but he likely would have enjoyed a long and productive career.
“He’s 22 years old when this happens and suddenly one year becomes two years becomes five years becomes 10 years,” Don Jr. said. “It became a real mental challenge for him because he wanted to clear his name so badly. He did that, but he was never the same.”
This is an excerpt from THN’s book, Biggest of Everything in Hockey.