The Breakaway

E-book – $27.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3889-6

Trade Cloth – $27.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3888-9
Publication Date
October 2018
Page Count
248 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Breakaway

The Inside Story of the Wirtz Family Business and the Chicago Blackhawks
Bryan Smith

When Rocky Wirtz took over the Wirtz Corporation in 2007, including management of the Chicago Blackhawks, the fiercely beloved hockey team had fallen to a humiliating nadir. As chronic losers playing to a deserted stadium, they were worse than bad—they were irrelevant. ESPN named the franchise the worst in all of sports. Rocky's resurrection of the team's fortunes was—publicly, at least—a feel-good tale of shrewd acumen. Behind the scenes, however, it would trigger a father, son, and brother-against-brother drama of Shakespearean proportions. The Breakaway reveals that untold story.

Arthur Wirtz founded the family's business empire during the Depression. From roots in real estate, "King Arthur" soon expanded into liquor and banking, running his operations with an iron hand and a devotion to profit that earned him the nickname Baron of the Bottom Line. His son Bill further expanded the conglomerate, taking the helm of the Blackhawks in 1966. "Dollar Bill" Wirtz demanded unflinching adherence to Arthur's traditions and was notorious for an equally fierce temperament.

Yet when Rocky took the reins of the business after Bill's death, it was an organization out of step with the times and financially adrift. The Hawks weren't only failing on the ice—the parlous state of the team's finances imperiled every facet of the Wirtz empire. To save the team and the company, Rocky launched a radical turnaround campaign. Yet his modest proposal to televise the Hawks' home games provoked fierce opposition from Wirtz family insiders, who considered any deviation from Arthur and Bill's doctrines to be heresy.

Rocky's break with the edicts of his grandfather and father led to a reversal for the ages—three Stanley Cup championships in six years, a feat Fortune magazine called "the greatest turnaround in sports business history." But this resurrection came at a price, a fracturing of Rocky's relationships with his brother and other siblings. In riveting prose that recounts a story spanning three generations, The Breakaway reveals an insider's view of a brilliant but difficult Chicago business and sports dynasty and the inspiring story of perseverance and courage in the face of intense family pressures.
About the Author

BRYAN SMITH is a senior writer at Chicago magazine and a contributing editor for Men's Health. He is a two-time winner and six-time finalist for the National City and Regional Magazine Association's Writer of the Year award. His work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Newspaper Writing, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

TONY ESPOSITO joined the Blackhawks as a rookie goalie in 1969 and recorded fifteen shutouts, a single-season record unlikely to be broken. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988; in the same year, his number 35 was retired by the Blackhawks. For the National Hockey League’s centennial celebration in 2017, Esposito was voted one of the hundred greatest players ever.

“Win or lose, the Chicago Blackhawks are woven into the fabric of the great city. They matter. So, too, this book by Bryan Smith, one of the nation’s best storytellers. Deeply researched, compelling, and beautifully written, call it what it is—a hat trick.” —Tom Hallman Jr., author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing

“The Breakaway is much more than a sports book rushed into publication following a team’s championship, which we’ve seen repeatedly in Chicago. This one has good content on a variety of fronts, with a very readable blend of history, business, and entertainment. Author Bryan Smith gives readers a great peek into the privately-held Wirtz Corporation.” —Mike Conklin, contributing writer for The Chicago Tribune and author of Goal Fever!

"It doesn't matter if you are a Chicago Blackhawks fan, a hockey fan or just enjoy stories of family dynasties and incredible business turnarounds, The Breakaway is a must-read. He paints a picture of the Wirtz family members, with all their trials, tribulations, faults and fame, that sucks you in the moment you start reading. I ended the book wanting to meet every one of them... and it made me an even bigger fan of the storied Chicago Blackhawks." –Dean Plunkett, Managing Editor, The Hockey Writers

"Smith writes in a breezy style, refusing to become bogged down in the tiny details that can make biographies dull and ponderous... It is a true sports success story and Bryan Smith has done an admirable job telling us how it was accomplished." –Illinois Times

“A fascinating peek behind the curtain into the iconic family business that ran one of America’s most beloved and storied franchises.” –Ross Bernstein, author of Raising Stanley: What It Takes to Claim Hockey's Ultimate Prize