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Rewind: The Bet Of A Lifetime

Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger bet on games and were banned. An apology may have altered things.

"If we had known that he had bet,” recalled Boston Bruins teammate Milt Schmidt, “I don’t think he would have gotten out of the locker room. I think we might have killed him.”

The NHL was rocked by a gambling scandal that was a major news story for months across North America in 1948. It was hockey’s version of the Black Sox Scandal that saw eight members of the Chicago White Sox banned from baseball for fixing the 1919 World Series. The hockey culprits were Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger and, like the baseball players, they were also banished for life.

Taylor was a 28-year-old Winnipeg native in his seventh NHL season. He was one of the league’s top scorers in the 1940s and won a Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1942. The season before the scandal, he led the NHL with 46 assists and was third in scoring with 63 points.

Gallinger was a 22-year-old center who had the distinction of being the first player to jump from Jr. B to the NHL. He was one of the youngest players in the NHL when he joined the Bruins at 17 in 1942-43. By 1947-48, he was in his fifth NHL season before the age of 23. “Everybody in the NHL, including myself, knew that if you mentioned Billy Taylor’s name, in their eyes he was a bookmaker,” said Gallinger to the Boston Globe in 1999. “He learned all this betting initially with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He owned a pool room in Oshawa that was run by a friend or two of his, and it would take bets, and that went on for years.”

So when Taylor asked Gallinger if he’d like to make some easy money, Gallinger’s ears perked up. Gallinger said he had already placed bets on Bruins games before the scandal, but he emphasized he always bet on his team to win. “As long as I was betting on Boston to win, I felt morally I had done nothing wrong,” he said.

That changed when Gallinger and Taylor linked up as Bruins teammates to start 1947-48. Gallinger said in 1999, when he was 74, that Taylor convinced him he could double his salary if they bet on the B’s to lose.

They justified it by reasoning they were not fixing games but merely taking advantage of information they had about injuries, how their team was playing and how the opposition was playing. During the four months Taylor and Gallinger were teammates, they bet a half-dozen times against Boston, winning some, losing some.

Taylor struggled on the ice that year (just four goals and 20 points in 39 games) and was traded to the New York Rangers. Even after moving on, he was in talks with Gallinger about betting on games. And this is where James Tamer, a convicted bank robber and one of Detroit’s most notorious gangsters, came into play. He was the one who took Gallinger’s action when the player made the bet that ultimately led to he and Taylor getting caught.

On Feb 17, 1948, Gallinger placed a phone call to Tamer that sealed his fate. Taylor and Tamer also communicated with one another, which resulted in Taylor putting money on the Bruins to lose. Little did they know, the police had wiretaps on Tamer’s phone lines for non-gambling related reasons.

When the dust settled, Taylor and Gallinger were exposed as heavy gamblers. They fit the profile of players that would bet on games, so they were on the NHL’s radar for a while. Gallinger grew up with Hall of Famer Ted Kennedy in Port Colborne, Ont., and the pair were known as hustlers at the local pool hall. Taylor owned a pool hall and was known league-wide as someone who gambled.

NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended the pair for life. The NHL was following the precedent set two years earlier whenBabe Pratt got a lifetime sentence for betting on games. Pratt admitted to it right away but denied betting against his team. After promising to quit, he was reinstated and was later inducted to the Hall of Fame. If only Gallinger and Taylor had learned from Pratt.

Taylor was near the end of his playing days and had business ventures outside the game, including scouting. He didn’t feel the urge to apologize, though he didn’t deny it either. As the story goes, Taylor met up with Maple Leafs builder Conn Smythe at a hockey banquet in 1970. Smythe felt sorry for Taylor, then 51, and asked Campbell to pardon him. So both Taylor and Gallinger were reinstated by the NHL in 1970. Taylor died at 71 in 1990.

Gallinger didn’t feel the need to apologize in order to keep playing. He stayed away from hockey and didn’t really talk about the scandal at length until 1999 to the Boston Globe. He died a year later.

Former Bruins player Ed Sandford, 91, says that if Gallinger had confessed to betting on hockey, things could have played out differently for him.

Sandford paraphrased a conversation he had with Bruins GM Art Ross in the 1960s. Ross told him to the effect: “My biggest disappointment in life was we weren’t able to help Gallinger. I had talked to the NHL board of directors, and we had it all set up that, if this kid would say he’s sorry, that he would be suspended for a year, then reinstated. But I couldn’t tell him that unless he told me he was sorry, and that son of a gun would never do it.”

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