Monday, September 3, 2007

Amby Moran

Umpires don't tend to be popular. But Amby Moran was. He had called balls and strikes and outs in the PCL then worked in the shipyards in Bremerton during the war before resuming his umpiring career in the WIL in 1946. That's all I knew about him until stumbling on this column by the late Jim Coleman in the Lethbridge Herald of November 21, 1950.

Jim was always a great writer, and here he is about Amby Moran. It doesn't deal with Amby's time in the Western International League, but you'll like the story.

This is about "The Remarkable Reformation of Ambrose Jason Moran, The Man-Who-Scored-A-Goal-While-Skating-Backwards." We ran into this story in Vancouver last week and we offer it in the spirit of humility because we think that it provides a strong object-lesson for any young athlete who wanders from the Primrose Path.
Young gaffers of today probably don't remember Ambrose Jason Moran, but he was one of the fabulous figures of the Torrid Twenties. He was the locomotive fireman from Winnipeg who played hockey for Brandon, Regina, Vancouver, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, Tulsa and way-stations.
He was one of the best all-round athletes ever developed in Winnipeg, In the space of two years, he played on six championship teams—in lacrosse, hockey and baseball. There is no telling how far he might have gone if a fellow-railwayman hadn't given him his first drink of gin at the age of 19. There are competent western sports critics who will tell you that Amby Moran could have been elected to Hockey's Hall of Fame, on the strength of his playing-ability—if he hadn't been an unregenerative screwball.
You've heard the old legend of how Cyclone Taylor is reputed to have scored a goal while skating backwards. Taylor has never confirmed that story. The fact remains that Amby Moran did score a goal while skating backwards.
Despite the fact that he weighed 250 pounds, Moran was a speedy and skillful skater. When he was checled by the opposing defence, he had a trick of pirouetting like a ballet dancer. One night, he was playing for Regina Capitals against Calgary Tigers in the old Western Canada League. He was hit by Red Dutton and Herb Gardiner of the Calgary defence.
Amby pirouetted, retained possession of the pick, skated backwards all the way from the blue line and blasted the pust past Bill Binnie in the Calgary goal.
* * *
However, we're writing this piece with Moran's blessing because he hopes that others may profit from his mistakes. To be brutally frank about it, Amby was a lush. Looking back on it, he believes he was the unchallenged, catch-as-catch-can champion of Canadian professional sport.
The other day, in Vancouver, we asked Amby if ever there was an occasion when he was on the wagon.
"Sure," said Mr. Moran affably, "I was on the wagon every time they had me locked up in the can."
Mr. Moran's visits to these houses of correction were the direct result of the chemical reaction of alcohol on an Irish temperament. Moran never deliberately hurt an opponent in the course of a game but, when he got his nose into the grog, in extra-curricular activities, his actions were somewhat unpredictable.

* * *
Moran owes all his misfortunes to his affection for alcohol. He was one of the outstanding athletes of his era but he was tossed aside reluctantly by sports promoters who couldn't keep him on a straight line. He blew his jobs and he blew his chances with the unreasoning nonchalance of the alcoholic.
Today, Amby should have been one of baseball's top umpires, holding a job in the National League.
The National League sent a scout to report on Moran, who had been recommended highly by Big League players who barn-stormed in Canada. The scout caught up with Moran who was umpiring a Labor Day double-header in Winnipeg. It was one of those "synthetic" double-headers with a single game in the morning and another in the afternoon.
After the first game, the scout wired National League headquarters: "Hire this man at once. He's outstanding."
During the luncheon interval, Amby dipped into a jar of jungle-juice. The crowd appreciated the umpire's antics during the second game but, reluctantly, the scout telegraphed National League and told them to forget about Moran.
* * *
It was only his remarkable constitution which kept him going. He skidded and skidded and then, one night 26 months ago, he reached the end of the road.
He was sitting alone in a little hotel room in North Vancouver. He tried to read the newspaper and his eyes couldn't focus on the type. The perspiration ran down him in streams. The walls were closing in on him and there was no one on whom he could call for help.
It was at that precise moment that two strangers walked into his room. One an impulse, they had driven 10 miles through a blinding rain-storm to see him. They were Alcoholics Anonymous.
Analyzing it now, we believe that those were the first two real friends that Amby Moran ever had in his life.
He hasn't had a drink since that day. Now, at 55, he looks so wonderfully clear-eyed and happy that his old friends wouldn't recognize him. In our Vancouver hotel room the other day, he told us the story simply and sincerely and he told us that he's devoting the remainder of his life to helping other men and women.
We were mobed genuinely, when we heard him say: "We don't want to add years to their life—we want to add life to their years."
Well, if ever an old athlete needs help, he should remember the name of Ambrose Jason Moran.

Amby Moran died in North Vancouver on April 4, 1958, age 61.

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