About Paul Romanuk’s Where’s Wheeler? gaffe…Brooke Henderson, national treasure…Les Lazaruk’s a beauty guy…Bob Cole is silenced…take me out to the brawl game…god and golf…on bended knee and beating women…he’s sorry but not really…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”

Paul Romanuk

Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Press column that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.

So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.

But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?

That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?

Apparently not.

Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.

“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.

Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.

Blake Wheeler

But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.

None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.

I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:

Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page.
National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page.
Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page.
TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos.
Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.

It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.

“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.

Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.

Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?

Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.

Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.

Ronnie Lazaruk

On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)

Bob Cole

On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?

Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.

Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”

Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:

Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”

Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”

Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?

Colin Kaepernick

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.

Marc Savard, right, on the set with Daren Millard and John Shannon.

When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.

Jimmy Piersall was a funny guy, but there is nothing funny about mental illness

It was in the autumn of 1964 and, as we gathered around our TV set with the black-and-white screen and rabbit ears to watch Hockey Night in Canada, we were puzzled.

Frank Mahovlich, the Big M of the Toronto Maple Leafs, wouldn’t be playing that night.

The Big M, Frank Mahovlich

None of the talking heads (I can’t recollect if it was Foster or Bill Hewitt calling the game, or if it was Ward Cornell or Ed Fitkin as the studio host) provided us with the definitive why and wherefore of the Big M’s absence from the Leafs lineup, except to say something about fatigue. Mahovlich was plum tuckered out. The remainder of the story was a mystery.

How can Mahovlich be tired?” the 13-year-old version of my former self wondered. “The season has just started.”

As history records, the Big M was bedded down in a Toronto hospital that night, a victim of depression. Acute depression. The Leafs and their tyrannical head coach Punch Imlach, later identified as the main source of Mahovlich’s emotional undoing, had to get along without him for a month. And there was always a hush-hushness about his absence. Mental illness, you see, was among the taboo topics of the day. Most folks didn’t talk about their “crazy uncle in the attic.” It was looked upon not as an illness, but a weakness, if not an embarrassment. And, in the case of a National Hockey League star like Mahovlich, any whisper of mental frailty implied a softness, which seldom found favor with fans or media and certainly not Imlach.

The abrupt, abrasive Leafs’ dictator once said this of Mahovlich: “Hockey is a streetcar named desire and too many days Ma-hal-o-vich doesn’t catch the train.”

The Big M, whose life under Imlach seemed so much like a Shakespearean tragedy, managed to flee the tyrant and the Leafs, but not before surviving a second major bout of depression, exactly three years after the first. His escape led him to Detroit, then Montreal, where he played a significant role in two Stanley Cup-winning crusades, then the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Senate and, by most accounts, a happily-ever-after life.

I thought of Mahovlich when I heard about Roberto Osuna, the Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who booked off work the other night because he’s been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird, a little bit lost” and doesn’t know why (been there, felt that). I also thought of the late Jimmy Piersall, the original poster boy for athletes dealing with mental illness.

Piersall was 22 years old and 56 games into his rookie Major League Baseball season when the Boston Red Sox thought it wise to have his head examined, thus they sent him to a mental hospital, whereupon medics probed the young centre fielder’s mind and determined what to do about his bipolar disorder.

Jimmy Piersall ran the bases backwards after hitting his 100th home run in 1963.

Unlike the Mahovlich situation, there was nothing hush-hush about Piersall’s descent into depression. He wrote a book with Al Hirshberg, Fear Strikes Out, which became a TV movie then a feature film, and he followed with his 1985 memoir, The Truth Hurts. People called him an oddball, a kook and a basket case because of his antics and fits of rage that would sometimes lead to fisticuffs. He labeled himself “crazy” and a “gooney bird” and confirmed it by running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th career home run, shimmying up a flag pole during a game and wearing a Beatles wig to home plate.

I remember reading Fear Strikes Out as a teenager and thinking, “Wow, this guy has some serious issues. But he’s funny.”

When his issues struck close to home—visiting a family member in a psych ward and hearing a heavy, metal door clank shut and locked tight—Jimmy Piersall didn’t seem so funny anymore. When I was confronted by my own mental challenges—blackouts from anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation, uncontrollable crying, elaborate mood swings, panic attacks—it wasn’t funny at all.

To this day, I sometimes feel like a recluse because the thought of stepping out of doors can be a serious challenge. Like Roberto Osuna, I feel anxious, weird and lost. Also afraid. And that depresses me.

Osuna is 22. So young, so vulnerable, such a shame. But not helpless or hopeless.

Here’s what Piersall wrote in Fear Strikes Out in 1955: “I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated. We have been sick. The best way to help us get well and stay well is to treat us like human beings—as I’ve been treated. We don’t have to talk about our sickness in whispers or prowl about on the edge of society with our hands to our ears to block out the whispers of others. We have nothing to be ashamed of. All we want is to be understood by those who have never been where we have. There is no better therapy than understanding.”

I’d like to think people will try to understand about Roberto Osuna, even if they’ve never been where he’s at.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.