Baldwin hopes for Oscar luck

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

For a crazy dreamer and schemer, Howard Baldwin has had one hell of a run.

He won the first World Hockey Association championship with a New England Whalers team he bought with someone else's money.

He won his only Stanley Cup as part-owner in Pittsburgh -- before the franchise declared bankruptcy -- in the sad season in which Bob Johnson passed away and they turned to Scotty Bowman to take his place.

And now this, the great Sunday-night wait, not for a championship, but for a trophy better known around the world and far more difficult to attain.

"It's the last award," Baldwin said.

"We have to sweat it out right to the end."

The last Academy Award of the evening is presented for Best Picture and Howard Baldwin, the lovable hustler who used to work in the ticket office of the Philadelphia Flyers, is among the nominees. He is one of the producers of the terrific film, Ray.

Win or lose, this has been his championship season. All his life he has been rolling the dice, and often as somebody's front man, and this time he has finally cashed in large.

"This is a great, great thrill," said Baldwin, who has owned parts of sports franchises in a various leagues and dabbled in entertainment products for years, often on the periphery. "It's like when we won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins. The process is similar. First, you just want to get in the playoffs. Then you want to win the first round. Then you want to get through the second round. And you want to keep going.

"With this, you watch the election process work. I watched the nominations announced on live TV from home the way everybody else did. And now that you're in the finals ... "

And you want to win it.

"It's like the Stanley Cup in that takes a tremendous team effort," Baldwin said. "It's a helluva road you take. It's not one guy. It's everybody. I'm just part of the team."

When Baldwin was front man for the Hartford Whalers, he hired a general manager and coach named Jack Kelley. Kelley's son, David, was the Whalers stick boy for a while and after that he went he law school and after that started writing scripts. He won four Emmy Awards for his writing of LA Law. He won five more for developing Picket Fences, The Practice and Ally McBeal. In between he married an award named Michelle Pfeiffer.

Somehow showbiz and Baldwin just seemed a right fit. As a kid, David Kelley enticed Baldwin in the wonders of the entertainment industry. He wrote a script for a movie called From The Hip that made Judd Nelson famous for a moment but Baldwin no more wealthier.

From that and another taste, Baldwin was hooked. A lot of movies made, few of them memorable. Until this one.

The amazing story of Ray Charles, with the incomparable Jamie Foxx. It cost $40 million US to make, has grossed $75 million at the box office and another $100 million in DVD sales. The kind of money NHL owners can make but never from their hockey business.

"What I love is the idea of taking a story and trying to bring it to film," Baldwin said. "It can be in your head, but trying to get it on screen, the way you want it, that's the part that's so exciting."

Every movie is like building a team from scratch and most seasons are losing seasons. This was the big one for Baldwin, who was financed in this project by another comrade, Los Angeles Kings owner Phil Anschutz.

No matter how Baldwin tries, he can't seem to get away from his old ties. He has talked about buying back in to another NHL team, talked about putting a team back in Hartford (he is heartbroken that the Whalers are in Carolina).

LOVES HOCKEY

Give Howard Baldwin a few minutes and a stage and he'll talk about almost anything.

"I love hockey and I love the people in it," he said. "I've pretty much seen everything that's happened. I went through the WHA. I went through the merger. You can blame the owners (for today's problems.) I know, I was one of them."

And if he's fortunate enough to win Best Picture on Sunday night and he gets the microphone (there are three producers) don't expect a political speech from Baldwin.

"But I'd like to say to (Bob) Goodenow and to the players, they are way out of line. It's not like the owners are being mean and nasty here. They have no choice. I know, I was one of the problems."


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