Tonight in Edmonton, living legend Matt Baldwin will be honoured at the Opening Banquet of the Brier. Senior Columnist Larry Wood has a feature in the current March (Brier) issue of The Curling News titled The legend of Matt Baldwin – that is part one; here is part two…
by Larry Wood
On the last day of round-robin play in Victoria, Baldwin was sidelined with an illness. To this day, third Dr. Jack Geddes is remembered as an undefeated Brier skip for directing a last-round victory over Don Bauld of Nova Scotia. Baldwin returned to the teehead for a successful playoff venture against the Braunstein kids from Manitoba, sitting in a chair back of the ice sheet between shots with ice bags available.
At the 1971 affair, a blizzard-battered Brier if there ever was one, Baldwin’s team lost two of its first five games and decided to move into a palatial suite of rooms at Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac and hold a five-day party interspersed with visits to the arena by snowmobile.
The way Matt figured it, wrote Buckets Fleming, if he wasn’t going to tie Ernie Richardson for a fourth Brier title, at least he was going out in style.
“None of the furniture in that suite was younger than 1890,” Baldwin declared. “It was really something. But the atmosphere at that whole Brier was just too much for everybody. I skinned my knee in a famous wrestling match with my third, Tommy Kroeger. And my second Rick Cust spent so much time doing the town that he wound up not being able to speak a word of English at the finish.”
Baldwin also called one press conference after another to express his opinion of the rocks being used at the Brier. He suggested the Canadian Curling Association lower them to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.
“Those rocks were crazy and you’d go numb watching what they’d do,” Baldwin told any reporter who’d listen. “But nobody would take my word for it. They said it was the ice. But ice doesn’t do those things. A few years later, they finally believed, and they got rid of those rocks.”
A native of tiny Blucher, just east of Saskatoon, Baldwin was one of the first young players to invade a game that was generally considered fodder for old men… and his first commandment was F-U-N.
“I figured it was a helluva sport,” he once recalled. “Four guys can get together and drink, play cards and have a great time. I figured it was too good for the old guys.
“From the time I was a kid in Saskatchewan – I was conscripted to curl when I was 14 because, back in 1940, everybody else was at war – the Brier was the ultimate. Just to get there would be something. I should have paid more attention to my studies when I was in university than I did. I came damn close to screwing it up, simply because of curling. I was addicted to it. I always thought if I could win the Brier, that would be better than getting a degree.”
Turned out he was safe on all counts.
Long-time Winnipeg broadcaster Bob Picken recalls Baldwin’s unbeaten Brier performance at Kingston in ’57 in terms of “individual brilliance”.
“His curling skills and his creative strategy were so exceptional that many Brier veterans describe his performance as the best single-handed display of curling in the history of the event.”
Fate dealt Matt Baldwin a lousy hand where global curling eminence is concerned. The world championship was introduced the year after he won his last Brier.
What they can’t take away from him, though, are his Brier successes and his litany of memories and stories for which recognition has been long overdue.
“You know what?” he said some time back. “I haven’t thrown a rock for a long time… but my hair still stands on end when I hear those bagpipes”.