Review by Budd Bailey
The first test of an autobiography comes down to one question: Do you like the person while reading it?
That seems simple, but sometimes it can be overlooked. The reader will be spending a few hours with the author, and he or she doesn’t want to find the company repulsive.
That brings us to Paul Stewart, the author of “Ya Wanna Go?” I liked him immediately, and thus he was off to a good start.
Paul is the grandson of Bill Stewart Sr., who ranks as one of the most interesting sports figures of the 20th century. He not only was a very good athlete in the day, but became a hockey coach (winning a Stanley Cup) and referee and served as a major league baseball umpire. Wonder if that guy wrote a book? He should have.
Paul’s father, Bill Jr., also was dedicated to sports, but in a slightly different way. He was a teacher and coach at a Boston high school for more than three decades, but he also officiated in football and hockey at high levels. These are two very interesting figures in the family tree, and Paul has good stories about them.
Soon enough, though, we get to Paul. His story is an unusual one as well, as it’s taken him through all sorts of adventures over the years. Stewart was a good high school hockey player known more for his work ethic than anything else. He loved the game enough to do anything to advance in it. It led to a spot on the University of Pennsylvania hockey team, and he worked at a variety of jobs to pay for his education while studying and playing hockey.
Stewart left Penn to join the professional hockey ranks. The problem was that there was only way to stick for any length of time, and that was to be tough. Well, Stewart was willing to do that. The point can’t be stressed enough – hockey’s enforcers usually don’t have another way to the big leagues, because they don’t have the skills. So they are willing to get punched in the face a few times a night if that’s what it takes.
Most of the time, that meant Stewart spent his days in some of the lower classifications of pro hockey, where fights were almost expected a couple of times a night. You’d swear Stewart was taking notes about those bouts, because there are a lot of details included – perhaps too many. It’s easy to get the idea. Those punching talents did lead to a brief stint with the Quebec Nordiques of the NHL, though. How many of us wish they could say they were a major league athlete, even for a few games.
After he finished his time in hockey, Stewart had some odd jobs but still missed hockey. He did have officiating in his family tree, and he decided to give it a try. As he put it, a referee must know the rules, and Stewart figured out a way to break all of them during his playing career. Who better to enforce the law? He was helped by NHL officials supervisor John McCauley, who I knew a bit back in the day and who was one of the true gentlemen of the hockey business in the day. There are plenty of good stories about the business of officiating, as you’d expect – he worked more than 1,000 NHL games.
The third and last major section of the book centers on Stewart’s own battle. He foolishly ignored the signs of physical issues for too long. When he finally went to a doctor for an exam, colon cancer was the diagnosis. Stewart almost didn’t make it. Then again, he points out that he’s been battling obstacles all his life, so what’s one more? He finished the job, and now he’s doing what he needs to do to get by.
This appears to be a self-published book, since there’s no sign of a publishing label. That means the book might lack some polish. Some stories and thank-yous get repeated, especially at the end, which probably is a sign that another look by an editor might have been appropriate.
I have heard around hockey circles that in an officiating business that generally is filled with good people, Stewart is one of the favorites. It’s good to get his story out in “Ya Wanna Go?” and it will be easy to root for him to be healthy in the years to come.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)