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Frank Deford
November 28, 1988
Wayne Gretzky can't make Americans embrace hockey
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November 28, 1988

More Than A Man Can Do

Wayne Gretzky can't make Americans embrace hockey

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All the talk this season about how Wayne Gretzky is going to make hockey maniacs out of basketball and football infidels reminds me of two conversations I had a few years ago.

The first was with Henry Aaron. After attending a charity dinner in North Carolina, we stopped for a nightcap, and somewhere in the bar talk I made the brilliant observation about how unfair it was that poor Henry had had to spend his entire career in Milwaukee and Atlanta, and how he would have received much more recognition in New York or Los Angeles. He let me talk, suffering the fool as best he could, and then said, "If I had played in those big places, there would have been so much aggravation to deal with, I don't think I ever would have broken Babe Ruth's record."

In other words, he wouldn't have been Henry Aaron.

The second conversation was with the late Patrick O'Higgins, the author of Madame, a best-selling biography of cosmetic queen Helena Rubinstein. O'Higgins had just learned that the paperback rights had been sold for a fantastic sum.

"That's terrific," I said.

"Especially since it won't sell another copy," O'Higgins replied.

"Why?" I asked, dumbfounded.

"Because," he said, "there are only so many little old ladies interested in Helena Rubinstein, and every last one of them has already bought the hard cover."

Similiarly, there are only so many hockey fans, and all of them are already watching hockey games. I wonder why everybody is so cocksure that more of them will materialize to watch Gretzky in the LA. paperback version, when he was available in the original Edmonton hardcover for nearly a decade.

I don't doubt that Gretzky will make more money in Los Angeles. As a number of sports agents have carefully instructed me, the dolts who decide who-endorses-what five almost exclusively in New York and L.A., and they barely know of the existence of baseball players in Philadelphia or San Diego, let alone ice people in Edmonton. So Gretzky is bound to prosper in his new home.

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