Bobby Baun on life, cancer, and the Leafs


Leaf legend. Four-time Sanley Cup champion. Cancer survivor.

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Hardcore Leafs fans know his name right away. 

Bobby Baun is best remembed for his heroics, courage, and perhaps partial insanity in the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. After blocking a shot, Baun was stretchered off the ice during the sixth game of the series, only to return to action later in the game and score the overtime-winner. That goal forced a seventh game which Baun played in and the Leafs won, securing their third consecutive Stanley Cup. It was later revealed that Baun had broken his leg in game six.

That was nearly 50 years ago.

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"I’ve always known where my body is, and that was part of my game. I played hurt many times where a lot of guys couldn’t play hurt, but that to me was a mental thing. It was mind over matter. Pain never bothered me that much so I had a very high pain tolerance; the doctors have all told me that. They all said ‘you’re crazy’."

This is what the now 77-year-old Baun told me this past week at a Boston Pizza in Ajax, Ontario. He made an appearance to sign autographs at the restaurant in hopes of drawing people to a Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer fundraiser. The event ended up raising over $2,200 for a cause that is close to Baun’s heart.

"I had colon cancer. I’ve got a clear bill of health now. I’ve always been a medical nut. I’ve always had my medicals every year that I’ve played hockey, so it was a normal thing for me from the time that I was about 15-years-old.  Then when both my mom and sister died of colon cancer also, I’ve just stayed on top of it and had regular colonoscopies, and they found it early, and that’s been the big thing. Two years now. We’re hoping everything just keeps going the way it is."

"Every young person should have a medical. I’ve been around the medical field a long time. I’ve been blessed with wonderful doctors in all of orthopedic, cancer, plastic surgery – you name it. We have to look after ourselves, and we don’t always do the best we should. We abuse ourselves at certain points in our life, and we make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If they say they haven’t, they really haven’t lived life. You have to have these medicals every year whether you like it or not, to just know where you’re at, and that’s what I’m saying."

As it often happens in Canada, the conversation transitioned to hockey. 

In a July interview that sent parts of Leafs Nation into an uproat, new MLSE boss Tim Leiweke talked about taking down some photos from the Leafs’ past in hopes of creating a new culture of winning. Darryl Sittler gave his thoughts on Leiweke’s plansrecently, but Baun has his own opinion on the matter.

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"He’s already made a mistake. I think he’s thinking about that one now, Leiweke, when he said he was going to take down all those old pictures and stuff. That’s like going into the New York Yankees and saying you’re going to take down Babe Ruth’s picture and throw it away. You can’t do that in Toronto. They’re such great fans here, and that’s what I care most about, the people who really care about the game."

It’s hard to blame Baun for feeling this way. After all, he was the hero in one of the most memorable moments in franchise history and part of the last four Maple Leafs teams to ever win the Stanley Cup. Whether he thinks MLSE is making a mistake or not, Baun knows mistakes happen.

"You’re going to make mistakes whether you like it or not, so don’t worry about it. I’ve made lots of mistakes and that’s not wrong. It’s learning. You learn not to do it. It’s the fourth, fifth, sixth one of the same mistake that will cause you problems. You’ve got to learn in the first two. That’s what one of my coaches in California (Oakland Seals), Bert Olmstead said. He was probably one of the number one students of the game. Wonderful hockey mind. By Christmas time he was close to having a nervous breakdown. I was the captain, so I talked to him everyday. He says ‘I can understand the guys making two and three mistakes, but it’s the fourth, fifth, and sixth ones!’"

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but the man himself is still here telling his story and making a difference.

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