Raise Red Kelly’s #4 to the Rafters
Reading this site woke me up to the fact that Nick Lidstrom is the first defenseman honored with his number being retired. Guess I never thought about it before, because the Wings have had some excellent defenseman over the years. Black Jack Stewart, Bob Goldham, Bill Quackenbush, Bill Gadsby to name a few who were award winning or multiple all star selection players. Quackenbush won the Lady Byng as a defenseman in the late 40’s with zero penalty minutes, and was promptly traded to the Bruins because GM Jolly Jack Adams did not want a defenseman of that reputation playing for the Wings. This guy was an early version of Lidstrom, but bonehead Adams (more on his jackass trades later) traded him for a bunch of nobodies.
Red Wings Retired Numbers
The Wings have a strange process when retiring numbers. Ever see a number 6 playing for the Wings? No, you haven’t. Here is the story behind that retired, but not in the rafters, number. Larry Aurie was a forward that played on the Wings’ first Cup winning teams in the 30’s. He was a solid player for his time, but wasn’t even the best forward on the team. That would have been Ebbie Goodfellow or Marty Barry, or even Herbie Lewis. Aurie was, however, the favorite of Jolly Jack. When Aurie left the team, Adams decided no player would ever wear his number 6 again. He recinded his own edict in the late 50’s when Aurie’s cousin, Cummy (there’s a name for you) Burton was up with the Wings for a cup of coffee. That is the last time a player has worn number 6. For those of you old enough to remember, Aurie’s jersey used to be framed and hung on the wall of the concourse in the old Olympia. Upon moving to Joe Louis it, along with Aurie, was lost to history.
The Case for Red
Leonard “Red” Kelly was brought up to the Wings as a 20 year old kid in 1947. He immediately became a mainstay on the blueline. He was a star on a team of stars such as Howe, Lindsay, Abel, Sawchuk and others. In 1950, they captured the Cup in 8 straight games that started the playoff “octopus” tradition we now hold as our own. It also started the Wings’ dominance of the NHL winning Lord Stanley’s trophy 3 of the next 5 years. Red played 12+ seasons with the team accruing league all star honors in 8 of those years. He also won 3 Lady Byng trophies (guess Adams got over his aversion to that). He won the first Norris trophy ever awarded, and would have won more if not for Doug Harvey of the Canadiens. Harvey was considered the greatest defenseman of all time, until a guy named Orr showed up. Red’s departure from the Wings was nasty to say the least.
Old Jolly Jack was upset with his play while nursing an ankle injury and mouthed off in the press. Red shot back, and Adams traded him to the cellar dwelling Rangers for Eddie Shack and Bill Gadsby. Red refused to report and retired. The league intervened and a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs was worked out. The Wings received what amounted to a pack of gum…..no offense to Marc Reaume (who?). To further insult Kelly, Reaume was assigned Kelly’s number 4. Red went on to a second career as an all star center for 8 more years. In fact, he centered the Big M, Frank Mahovlich, during his greatest years, won 4 more Cups, another Lady Byng, and all star nod. The bad taste left by his departure from the Motor City remains. When the last Winter Classic was played he was identified with the blue Maple Leaf, rather than the Winged Wheel during introductions. That in itself was nonsense. He was as much a Red Wing as some others honored with their numbers being retired and had a comparable career. Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay both played for the Blackhawks. Terry Sawchuk played for the Bruins, Leafs, Kings and Rangers. The Wings never would have won all those Cups during the 50’s without Red anchoring their defense. The Wings came close to winning it all a number of times during the early 60’s, and maybe they would have won more if not for foolishly trading Red. It’s time….the man is almost 87…….raise number 4 to the rafters!
Should Detroit retire Red’s #4?