Gretzky T.O. appearance leaves some grumbling

TSN's Rod Black, and hockey legends Gordie Howe, centre, and Wayne Gretzky attend a private...

TSN's Rod Black, and hockey legends Gordie Howe, centre, and Wayne Gretzky attend a private function to raise money for the Toronto East General Hospital Wednesday night in Toronto. (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

JOE WARMINGTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

What was up with Wayne?

Some would argue The Great One had a not-so-great appearance at the Toronto East General Hospital Wednesday.

In fact, a number of people who were there for the “photo opportunity” say on that day they would describe him as The Grumpy One.

In his defence, those close to the 50-year-old superstar says he was just The Overwhelmed One.

Whatever it was, it has left some disappointed.

“Brutal,” said one on hand, excited to get a glimpse of the legend. “He didn’t even look at us and you could tell he didn’t want to be there.”

“He only stayed for a couple of minutes, didn’t say one word and then left,” added another. “We all said to each other, ‘That’s it?’”

The news release said “Wayne Gretzky (#99) will be at Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 for the unveiling of the da Vinci Surgical System (aka “The Robot”), to help treat patients with prostate cancer” and that “with his appearance, Gretzky brings important awareness to this revolutionary technology, the world’s most advanced robot system that allows for minimally invasive removal of the prostate.”

What it didn’t say was that he wouldn’t sign any autographs, pose for pictures or do media interviews — and he didn’t.

But no one expected how little he actually did.

After being introduced, he was handed a lab coat, posed for a few fast frames with Dr. Rajiv Singal, Michael Burns, chairman of the TEGH Foundation Board of Directors and Rob Devitt, CEO, Toronto East General Hospital, then walked through the crowd on his way to a waiting car.

“It was bizarre. He came in, stood there and hardly made any eye contact and hardly smiled,” said Toronto Sun photographer Michael Peake who has covered Gretzky at least 25 times before and has “never seen anything like this.”

Same goes for CP24’s George Lagogianes who joked Gretzky arrived with “the same number of body guards Madonna would have and acted the same way we would expect from Barry Bonds.”

There is no question the media had many questions for Wayne — from his involvement in this terrific project to Sidney Crosby’s concussion to the Don Cherry controversy on fighting in hockey. He doesn’t have to oblige but no one expected he would not utter even one word.

“We never set any expectations,” explained Burns, adding Gretzky did the planned photo op and “it did great for us, helping us raise enough money for us to almost reach our $5-million goal. This was a huge win all around.”

A person travelling with Gretzky said it was merely a case where he was expecting it to be a short pop in and out. But when he saw the crowd of hospital workers and patients, as well as 10 TV cameras, he became disconcerted knowing there were people who paid $5,000 a ticket waiting for him.

He normally handles such dilemmas better.

But St. John’s Telegram sports editor Robin Short also noticed at a paid event for TD Bank on the Rock Tuesday that Wayne “didn’t seem especially affable, you might say. Tired? Perhaps.”

He will write a follow-up column Saturday on how “it can’t be easy being Wayne Gretzky.” He’s right because even icons are entitled to their off days.

One of his readers commented “I was there at the breakfast with the Great One, as well with some excited boys who were very disappointed, and upset to not be able to get an autograph or picture” while “family members of the sponsors managed to get numerous items autographed.”

What later happened at the TEGH does seem strange for Wayne who is normally very accommodating to the media and generous to the fans. Perhaps he did not understand there were some patients on hand — including some in wheelchairs.

“Wayne didn’t realize any of that,” said the Gretzky insider. “We had to get him in and out of there for the private event where he was going to help raise the money for the machine.”

In fact, said the pal, not only did Wayne join fellow hockey legend Gordie Howe at a $5,000 a ticket event for 80 at a private residence but he “was the last person to leave and signed and did pictures for everybody.”

Although commendable, it does not erase the real disappointment of those who were hoping to see greatness in the flesh would have resulted in a better memory.

Perhaps a Gretzky comeback is in order? If not to the NHL — at least to the Toronto East General Hospital.

 


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