A natural salesman, Jack Kent Cooke was born in Hamilton but moved to The Beaches area in Toronto in 1921. By age 14, he was a successful door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, and after a string of prosperous business ventures, including owning radio stations and publications, Cooke purchased the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951.
Under his flamboyant reign, the club drew more than 3.3 million fans to Maple Leaf Stadium from 1951 to 1963. Creative and sometimes off-the-wall, Cooke’s promotions made attending a game in Toronto an event. For his efforts, he was named minor league executive of the year by The Sporting News in 1952, when the Leafs drew 446,040 fans – an attendance mark that topped some major league clubs. While Cooke was the owner, the Maple Leafs won pennants in 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1960.
The ambitious owner passionately believed that Toronto was worthy of a big league team and harangued local politicians to build a larger stadium. While in Toronto, Cooke made attempts to purchase the St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers. But when his dream of bringing the big leagues to Toronto was thwarted, he moved to the U.S., where he would eventually own several pro sports franchises, including the Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings.