Don Baizley was born in Kenora, Ont., but raised in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Riverview. He attended Churchill High School, where he met his future wife, Lesley. His father, Obie, was a chiropractor and the Minister of Labour in the Manitoba Legislature and engendered in his son a lifelong passion for politics, especially U.S. politics. As a teenager, Mr. Baizley played both field lacrosse and hockey, and was good enough at the latter to play two seasons in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Mr. Baizley eventually graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1963 and completed his law degree in 1967. Beyond his life in hockey, Mr. Baizley was also “a bloody good lawyer,” said Justice Alan D. MacInnes of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, a lifelong friend who worked with Mr. Baizley for more than a decade at the firm of Thompson Dorfman Sweatman.
“He was very experienced and highly regarded as an arbitrator, primarily in labour matters,” said Justice MacInnes. “He wanted to be seen as a lawyer who had professional athletes as clients.”
For a time, Justice MacInnes assisted the Jets in handling contract talks and thus occasionally found himself on the opposite side of the negotiating table from Mr. Baizley.
“It made me appreciate why there wasn’t a general manager in hockey who didn’t like or respect Don,” said Justice MacInnes. “There were two things Don believed in. The first was that you were better to be slightly underpaid than to be overpaid because if the general manager believed he got a good deal, he would be protective of you if things weren’t going well. If you were overpaid, the general manager would have to wear that, so he’d be mad at you.
“The other was, Don’s clients honoured their contracts. His view was, ‘Do your deal and then don’t worry if, in two weeks’ time, someone you don’t think is as good as you signed for more money.’ I think that’s another reason GMs loved him – they knew, once they had a deal, they had a deal.”
Mr. Baizley was a quiet crusader for safety in professional hockey. Back when TSN Senior Managing Editor, Content, Steve Dryden was editor-in-chief of The Hockey News, he invited Baizley and former NHL general manager Brian Burke to engage in a point/counterpoint discussion on the controversial issue of fighting. Burke argued why fighting was needed in the game; Baizley took the opposite view and explained why it should be banned.
Baizley also lobbied hard for the NHL to improve concussion diagnosis and treatment for its players, long before concussion awareness and the lingering effects of head trauma became a public health issue.
“Don Baizley was an extraordinary force for good in the game,” said Steve Dryden, senior managing editor of content at TSN. “That may sound kind of silly – as if you’re in an episode of Get Smart – but he used his powers for good. He was a builder in the literal and figurative sense of the term. He was a builder of careers. He was a builder of consensus. He had an immense amount of intelligence and common sense. He had so many sharp smart views on the game and he always had the players’ best interests at heart.”
Mr. Baizley was passionately committed to the city of Winnipeg, and though he had chances to move to different cities in various capacities, he always resisted. According to Mark Chipman, chairman and governor of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, people in Winnipeg may not even have been aware of how influential Mr. Baizley was because he kept such a legendarily low profile.
Mr. Baizley also believed in strict client confidentiality. In a field where agents routinely leak information to the press, he rarely provided gossip to industry insiders.
In March, he was honoured for his contributions to hockey in Manitoba at a Fire & Ice dinner. He was also a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall Of Fame.
Dryden had the members of the TSN hockey panel – James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun – tape a spoof of one of their regular between-periods discussions.