There will never be another soul quite like Bobby Plager. That’s a fact.
For being one of the most aggressive defenseman in St. Louis Blues history on the ice, Plager was the sweetest soul a fan could ever ask for away from it. How many athletes have you ever interacted with made you feel like Bobby did after a chat? Could you walk up to another former Blue, call him by his first name, and get such an easygoing smile?
If you saw him at the Enterprise Center before the game or at his restaurant Bobby’s Place afterwards, he would stop and talk hockey with you. Wherever he was, a story blossomed and pictures were taken. You didn’t need to ask him for the time; he just gave it to you. That was his gift.
He stuck around, too. After his playing days were over, Plager never left St. Louis. He never left the Blues. Like Mike Shannon after his time, Plager worked with the team in various ways, all of them revolving around “Being Bobby.” If we could all be more like him, the world would be a better place. That should be the biggest takeaway from this tragedy and loss, which still feels so raw. Live like Bobby. Treat people like Bobby. Use your personality to enrich people’s lives instead of breaking them down, especially strangers.
He treated accolades like happy-go-lucky accomplishments, pushing credit to others and lifting people up when it was needed. Plager never needed a microphone or the podium; he was too busy talking or getting to know everyone in the room. Blues hockey and its fans were his currency. Outside of his family and friends, did he love anything more?
For a guy who could dish out a lethal, bone-crunching hip-check during his heyday, Plager had the most gentle of voices. It came on slow yet deliberate, getting more animated during stories before downshifting back into that friendly vibe that just pulled people in from around the bar and room. The fact that nobody will get to hear that lovely voice again is another example of how cruel and unfair this world can be. We needed more time with him. I’m sorry, but in this unique case, 78 years wasn’t enough. Plager’s passing is the epitome of the world losing a sweet knight. If anyone was going to live forever, I would have nominated Bobby.
Who is going to nervously walk behind the suites during home games now, like a guy being chased down by the game he loves that he can’t quit?
Who is going to tell all those stories, but only half as well?
Who will give any fan the time of day that Plager always did?
Everybody has a Bobby story, and here’s mine.
May, 2019. The Blues had just finished off Dallas in two overtimes, and the team was heading to OB Clark’s in Brentwood. You didn’t need to wonder if Plager was going to be there; it was a certainty. I was five minutes away and ditched an Uber shift to go hang with the boys of the winter who were trying to make this one spring luminous. Craig Berube and his coaching staff were there, and so were many of the players. As I made my way to the patio, I found Plager sitting at a table talking to a couple Blues alumni. After they left, I walked up and said, “how you doing, Bobby?”
Sporting that signature gentle voice that trembled a little extra that night, he responded with, “Oh, I’m just so happy for the boys, you know.” Over the course of five minutes, we talked about the team, the San Jose Sharks, and whatever else came up. You were never star-struck by Bobby Plager; he was just too personable for that. I could have sat there for an hour going on and on. But there were more people wanting to talk to him. Not Jon Hamm, who was a few feet away. Just Bobby, who wore and still holds the title of Chief Ambassador of the Lou.
I am going to do my best to be like Bobby. The best way to honor someone is by taking life by the horns like Bobby and treat people like he did. No matter where he was, life was a privilege to him and he lent that to you for a few minutes in his presence. He didn’t want extra credit, just the time of day to talk about the sport he loved unconditionally. Instead of tearing people down or running away from them, Plager stayed and made them feel like a friend.
We were all Bobby’s friends. St. Louis was his place. The only solace I can find in this terrible loss is that he is reunited with Barclay again. They now hang in the rafters at Enterprise together and will make sure everybody upstairs knows about hockey and its goodness.
Thank you, Bobby. I didn’t know you well enough, but you sure made it seem that way. That was your gift, and that won’t die anytime soon. Rest easy now. You will never be forgotten in this town.