Emile was my hockey friend. An NHL legend. Most notably with the New York Rangers front office from 1964-1976. He was the head coach and general manager for much of that time. We would have long chats about hockey and baseball. Everything he told me about hockey is in my books. There was a time I wrote to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to try and get him inducted. He had a great baseball career.
Here’s how it started. “The Cat” told me an amazing story. It started in the Canadian armed forces.
“I was in the army, and I lied about my age. I told them I was 18 when I was 16. During my tour there as a Sargent, we were in camp, and everybody had to register, and you had to show them a birth certificate,” Francis revealed. “Here I was a Sargent, and I knew I was going to get caught, so I got up and said to myself, ‘I’m going to get the hell out of here. So, I took three steps, and the Sargent major said, ‘Where the hell are you going?’. I said I had to go to the toilet, and he responded, ‘get back in line, you can go to the toilet after. I was caught.
“I had to go in front of the Colonel and commanding officer, and when they asked why I lied about my age, I told them I wanted to help fight for my country. They didn’t throw me out because they said I was doing too good of a job. But they stopped paying me as a Sargent. They made $1.80 a day. We’re going to pay you as a “boy” soldier, 60 cents a day. I had always been in charge of something in my life.”
Francis was proud to talk about his baseball career.
“What happened all the years I played hockey, I played baseball for a living.,” Francis recalled. “We certainly didn’t make enough in the winter to take summers off. When I was 24, I was also asked to be the manager of the team. So, I was a player/manager for ten years. I won seven championships with the North Battleford Beavers. I had everybody, Canadians, Americans, Blacks, Cubans. I think there were only six teams in the National League (NHL) when I retired and three of them made me offers to come to join their organizations. I had offers from Detroit, Chicago, and I selected the New York Rangers because I’d been with them as a player longer than anybody.”
The man was bigger than life, and I was lucky enough to hear some of his stories, and he enjoyed talking to me. I’ll miss him but I’ll never forget him. You’ll never find a nicer man and a better promoter for the game of hockey. He was 95.