About crunch time for Winnipeg FC…no witness protection program for Matt Nichols…Johnny Meh-ziel and Glen Suitor’s groupie-like gushing…the Puck Pontiff speaks…numbers crunching at the Drab Slab…Son of Cement Head…Tyrannosaurus Kipper stuck in the 1970s…lesbians in the owners suite of baseball…and other things on my mind

A smorgasbord on the first Sunday in autumn

And, so, the serious heave-ho of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ crusade is about to commence, and not much of what transpired on Friday night is apt to convince many among the rabble that their football heroes are up for the task.

More to the point, the fourth-quarter iffiness of the Bombers’ 31-14 victory over the inept Montreal Alouettes at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry perhaps confirms that this will not be the year the local lads win the final three-down game in November for the first time since Bill Norrie wore the chain of office at City Hall in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, these were the now 3-10 Alouettes with their now 0-3, all hat-no cattle quarterback and his unearned sense of entitlement.

The Als are Charlie Brown in shoulder pads. Their night normally ends with an oomph and a thud as Lucy yanks the ball away yet again. Three months ago, the Bombers whupped the lowly Larks by 46 points. With a QB as green as St. Patty’s Day. So defeat at the mitts of these Sad Sacks was not an option Friday. Yet the end result remained in question until Marcus Sayles plucked an ill-thrown Johnny Manziel pass a minute and 57 ticks from time, thus halting a four-game skid that had taken Winnipeg FC to the bottom of the Canadian Football League’s West Division mosh pit.

The Bombers remain there today, because the B.C. Lions are proving to be an unco-operative bunch, even as they function without their starting quarterback. (The Leos found a rabbit in a hat on Saturday night, beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in overtime and, at 6-6, have played one game less than 6-7 Winnipeg.)

The sketchiness of the Bombers’ latest skirmish is unnerving if you count yourself among the faithful who do not wear rose-tinted glasses. That is, Winnipeg FC was tooth-and-toenail to best the lowly Larks, so what horrors await them with the Edmonton Eskimos (twice), Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks lying in wait to close out the crusade?

As I said at the top, the serious heave-ho is at hand, and the Bombers will require better play and coaching if they’re to wrestle third place or a crossover playoff spot from the Lions or Eskimos.

Buckle up, kids.

Matt Nichols

Okay, that was the jar-half-full take on the events of Friday night. The positive? Matt Nichols won’t be entering a witness protection program this week. The Bombers starting quarterback played a mistake-free, boo-free game. When I say mistake-free, I mean major gaffes that go the other way for six points. None of us knows where Nichols’ head has been the past few weeks, but I’m guessing he could see his pancreas from there. Nothing but brain farts. He kept his wits about him vs. les Larks, though, and that ought to silence the blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about changing QBs for a few days.

TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, J. Manziel, wasn’t awful vs. the Bombers. He was Johnny Meh-ziel. Fact is, he’s done nothing extraordinary in his three starts, unless you consider four interceptions in one half special. He has yet to win a game. He has yet to hurl a touchdown pass. He has yet to score a TD. Still, Glen Suitor and others at TSN talk as if he’s turned the water he walks on into wine. Manziel’s apologists are swift to point accusing fingers at the Larks woeful offensive line and receivers who couldn’t catch a cold standing naked in a meat cooler. Well, if Johnny Meh is as mobile as they say, he wouldn’t have been sacked five times Friday (a sixth was overturned by penalty), and every QB in the CFL has pass-catchers who drop the football. Fact is, Antonio Pipkin had better numbers than Manziel in three of his four starts.

Glen Suitor: Gush, gush, gush.

Just wondering: Did Suitor ask Manziel for a date after the game? Seriously. It’s quite clear that Suitor has replaced Kate Beirness as the No. 1 groupie in TSN’s Cult of Johnny, and his game-long gushing about the Als quarterback was totally teeny-bopper stuff. And kind of creepy. Early in the skirmish, after Johnny Meh had scrambled for a first down, Suitor gasped, “There’s the magic!” It was as if Johnny Rotten was the first QB to ever escape a pass rush. Suitor also made an asinine comparison between Manziel and Doug Flutie. I don’t know if Suitor reviews his work, but he should be embarrassed by his celebrity-crush natterings on Friday.

I keep hearing that Manziel sells tickets. Ya, and I’ll be selling acorns to squirrels this month. The Bombers and Als performed in front of the smallest audience of 2018 at Football Follies Field, with only 24,349 in the pews. Compare that to the 25,931 head count when the Johnny Rotten-less Als visited last season, and it’s a dip of 1,582 customers. Mind you, the Bombers aren’t much of a sell this year. Through seven home dates, the body count is down 6,981.

I’m sorry, but every time I see a guy wearing a Manziel jersey, I see someone who supports a man who beat up a woman. And when I see a woman with that guy, I wonder about her. Like, why would she keep company with someone who supports a man who beat up a woman? Seems to me that would be a deal breaker. Just saying.

Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton will be a marshal for this year’s Grey Cup parade in E-Town. I’ve often wondered what a parade marshal does. Other than sit in a car and wave, that is. Whatever his duties, I’m sure Large will be a boffo parade marshal.

Mark Chipman

Well, this is interesting: Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman talks to local news snoops on the record about as often as it snows in August, yet he found time for a recent chin-wag with Calgary scribe Eric Francis. Nothing the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll told Francis was enlightening, but the fact he granted an out-of-towner an audience says something. I don’t know if it says Chipman has a low regard for jock journos in River City, or if they’d rather not talk to him, but I strongly suspect it’s the former.

So now we know why the Winnipeg Free Press dumped Scott Campbell as its freelance columnist on all things Jets—to make room for Andrew Berkshire. And that means advanced stats, charts and graphics up the ying-yang. Spare me. I mean, my eyes glaze over when I attempt to read a Murat Ates offering in The Athletic. He crunches more numbers than a nerdy kid with a slide rule. So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on Berkshire in the Drab Slab. I don’t want to make my brain hurt and my eyes bleed any more than necessary. But I wish him well.

Max Domi

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Max (Son of Cement Head) Domi of the Montreal Canadiens shakes the hockey glove off his right hand, he forms a fist with that hand, he punches Florida Panthers defender Aaron Ekblad flush on the nose, then says, “By no means did I want to hurt him. Obviously, I was not trying to hurt him.” In whose universe are you not trying to wound someone when you punch him in the beak? Talk about a slab of concrete not falling far from the cement mixer.

The National Hockey League suspended Domi for the remainder of the Habs pre-season exercises. Is that supposed to be punishment or a reward?

Nick Kyrpeos

If Domi acting like a cement head doesn’t take the prize for stupidity, surely Nick Kypeos’s take on the incident does. Speaking on 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna, Tyrannosaurus Kipper basically blamed the victim, saying Ekblad chose “not to protect himself.” Wrong. Ekblad chose not to fight. Someone at Sportsnet ought to inform Kypreos that it’s safe to leave the 1970s behind.

There’s only one way to describe the new look on the Sportsnet website: Dog’s breakfast.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss

Well, I now have a reason to once again root, root, root for the Los Angeles Dodgers: Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss have become minority owners. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s now three lesbians in the owners suite of Major League Baseball, the other being Laura Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs.

And, finally, Tiger Woods won a golf tournament Sunday afternoon. Who knew that to be possible? Not me.

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About Olympians who are not also-rans…passing on Johnny Manziel…shitholes and Presidents…writing in bits and pieces…angry lesbian tennis legends…and Tonya is still a thug

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

Well, okay, the names aren’t sexy.

There’s no glitz and glam.

They’re more lunch pail and brown bag than champagne and caviar.

A gloomy Gus is apt to suggest that they’re scrubs on skates. That the men’s hockey tournament next month in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be the Spengler Cup dressed up as the Winter Olympic Games.

Wojtek Wolski

To that I say “no.” They’re Olympians. Our Olympians. The 25 lads selected to wear the Maple Leaf—from Rene Bourque to Wojtek Wolski—got there the hard way. They earned it, playing hither and yon in remote outposts as far removed from the National Hockey League as Minsk is from Manhattan. And I harbor zero doubt that they’ll deliver good, Canadian pluck and backbone in abundance. That might earn them a gold, silver or bronze trinket. It might not be enough. Doesn’t matter. They’re our guys. Hop on board the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room.

Pierre LeBrun gets it. Steve Simmons…(as usual) not a freaking clue.

Here’s LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto and TSN on men’s shinny rosters at the Winter Games: “We all agree the Olympics without NHL players stinks. But let’s have respect for the players selected in their place. They’re proud Canadians living out their Olympic dream.”

Here’s Postmedia’s Simmons after the U.S. declared its roster: Those named to the team are “also rans.” Read: Bottom feeders. Which means he also believes the Canadians are bottom feeders.

Brian Gionta

Rather than insult the American Olympians, the rude Simmons might have done some research. He’d have discovered that at least 18 of Uncle Sam’s reps are champions at the NHL, NCAA, American Hockey League, Major Junior or European professional level. Which disqualifies them as “also rans.” (Sourpuss Steve might want to invest in a dictionary.)

Check it out:

Mark Arcobello: Champion with SC Bern of Swiss National League and champion with Yale University in 2009;
Chad Billins: Calder Cup (AHL) champion with Grand Rapids Griffins; Johnathon Blum: Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion with Vancouver Giants;
Will Borgen: NCHC champion with St. Cloud State University;
Chris Bourque: Three-time Calder Cup champion and Deutschland Cup champion;
Bobby Butler: Calder Cup champion;
Matt Gilroy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian Gionta: Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey Devils and NCAA champion with Boston College;
Ryan Gunderson: Swedish Hockey League champion with Brynas IF;
Chad Kolarik: Two-time CCHA champion with University of Michigan; David Leggio: ECAC champion with Clarkson University and SM-Liiga champion with TPS;
Broc Little: ECAC champion with Yale;
John McCarthy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian O’Neill: ECAC champion with Yale;
Bobby Sanguinetti: Swiss Cup champion with EHC Kloten;
Ryan Stoa: WCHA champion with University of Minnesota;
Troy Terry: NCAA champion with University of Denver;
Noah Welch: SHL champion with Vaxjo Lakers HC; two-time ECAC champion with Harvard.

Johnny Manziel

Good reads: 1) Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star on Nigerian born and raised Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Tranna Raptors; 2) Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail on a ticking time bomb named Johnny Manziel. No one in Canadian sports writing gets to the heart of a social issue quite like Arthur, while Kelly’s crystal ball has him convinced that Manziel is destined to become a Grade A pain in the ass to whichever Canadian Football League outfit is foolish enough to recruit him.

Donnovan Bennett has a go at Manziel on the Sportsnet website, listing five reasons why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should pawn off the former Heisman Trophy winner. He makes a compelling case. Unfortunately, Bennett doesn’t list the main reason why Johnny Football ought to be persona non grata in the Hammer or any other CFL port o’ call—he beats up women. That’s where any discussion of Manziel should begin and end.

Best lip service this week: Ujiri was, understandably, unamused when U.S. President Donald Trump referenced immigrants who arrive in America from Africa’s “shithole countries.” Said the Raptors GM: “If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”

Lias Andersson

It’s about that Swedish kid who hucked his world teenage hockey tournament silver medal into the stands after the title match in Buffalo: So Lias Andersson didn’t want to take his trinket home and stuff the thing in a box. His choice. Get off the kid’s case. I mean, why did Andersson take such a fierce paddywhacking on social media? It’s not like he’s the first athlete to get rid of a trinket. New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins legend Bryan Trottier sold two of his Stanley Cup rings. Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon sold a Stanley Cup ring. The noblest of them all, Jean Beliveau, peddled a Stanley Cup ring. So, in Andersson’s case, there’s really nothing to see there.

Best tweet about a twit this week is courtesy of veteran broadcaster Dave Hodge: “Less than a month til the Winter Olympics, or as the U-S (sic) President calls them—games involving athletes from non-shithole countries.” That made me laugh out loud and reminded me of the type of banter I used to hear in the press boxes of North America. It’s all adult humor and quite profane, of course, but press boxes were funny, funny places back in the day. I’d like to think they still are, although the humor doesn’t show up in much of the sports writing I read.

Red Smith

A while back Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press reviewed his least-read columns from 2017 and, among other things, he said “a bits column is just lazy. Pick a topic—and then write about (it) in an interesting way. It’s not that hard.”

Two things here:

1) Herb Caen wrote a “bits” column in San Francisco for 60 years. That’s a whole lot of lazy. It’s so much lazy that the Pulitzer Prize people awarded him a special honor. It’s so much lazy that there’s a walkway in Frisco named after him. The aforementioned Simmons does a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver writes a weekly bits column. Lazy. Doug Smith and Kevin McGran write regular bits columns for the Toronto Star. Lazy. Legendary Winnipeg Tribune scribe Jack Matheson penned a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Frankly, if done well, bits and dibs columns can be more enjoyable reads than a lengthy essay on a boring topic. It isn’t lazy.

2) There’s nothing easy about producing a daily sports column. It’s bloody hard. Here’s what notable New York scribe Red Smith had to say when asked if churning out a column was a chore: “Why no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.” Smith’s take on writing is a lot closer to the truth than Wiecek’s.

Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King

Noted lesbians Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova insist that they’d boycott the Australian Open if required to perform in the Margaret Court Arena.  When anti-gay preacher Court compared gays to Hitler and communism, then submitted that same-sex marriage would bring an end to Christmas and Easter in the Land of Oz, she lost considerable, if not all, cred as a voice of reason and her verbal attack on the LGBT community was repugnant for its rancor. While it’s easy for the long-retired tennis greats to say they’d boycott the AO because of Court’s hurtful words, neither King nor Navratilova has ever been a shrinking Violet, so I believe them when they say they’d skip the event. I just wish some of today’s players would do it.

By most accounts, former fancy skater Tonya Harding remains every ounce the charmless thug who spent the past 24 years as the queen of denial re her role in the mindless and chilling plot to assault fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m in no hurry to watch the movie I, Tonya, which apparently portrays Harding as a victim of life. Hey, I feel bad for anyone who’s been physically abused. Especially kids. It’s horrible and I can relate. I felt the sting of my dad’s belt buckle on my backside and the back of his hand to my head more than once. And he once put the boots put to me (literally) so hard that I piddled in my pants. But it never occurred to me to take a club to his or anyone else’s kneecaps. So let there be no pity party for Harding.

About Genie Bouchard and the weight of the Maple Leaf…terrible tennis towels…the real CFL West Division standings…male golfers in short pants…and bad-ass athletes

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

Donna Vekic and Genie Bouchard

Genie Bouchard wants no part of the “burden of Canada.” Furthermore, she thinks it’d be real swell if “the media doesn’t put pressure on me, that would be nice.”

Good thing she isn’t a hockey player.

I mean, Bouchard wants to talk about the “burden of Canada?” Try trading places with Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Carey Price. Or Shannon Szabados and Marie Philip Poulan.

We’re Planet Puckhead, from the bottom of Sid the 30-year-old Kid’s skate blades to Don Cherry’s white chin whiskers. Our men (or teenage boys) lose a shinny competition and there’s blood in the streets. Heads roll. Parliament is recalled. There are demands for a Royal Commission. National angst isn’t quite as intense and irrational when our women stumble and fall, but expectations of success might actually be greater for the girls, given that they compete in a field consisting of two thoroughbreds and a collection of pasture ponies.

No such emotional outlay and investment exists when One-and-Done Genie steps on court to lose yet again in the opening round of a tennis tournament, as she did on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, this time qualifier Donna Vekic nudging her wayside, 6-3, 6-4.

Since no one has ever accused Canada of being a tennis nation, we don’t huddle around flatscreen TVs at home or in pubs and hold our collective breath on the Quebec belle’s every groundstroke or double fault. Large numbers hope she wins. Few expect her to win. Thus, whatever weight she feels from the Maple Leaf is self-inflicted, not fan or media imposed.

Unlike others, I won’t pretend to analyze the reasons behind Bouchard’s plummet from world No. 5 to No. 70 in the three years since she advanced to the Wimbledon final, whereupon she received a 6-3, 6-0 paddling at the racquet of Petra Kvitova in less than an hour. As she hastened to instruct news snoops and those who would draw a link between her increased social media/cover girl activity and her on-court faceplants, “You have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like.”

True that.

In terms of Genie’s game, though, it doesn’t take a Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King to recognize distress. From 2-2 in the second set vs. Vekic, it was painfully evident that the Rogers Cup would be another one-and-done tournament for our tennis diva. Her body language was ghastly. It was defeatist.

Hard to believe that all those scattered shots had anything to do with the heft of the Maple Leaf. She’s just as lost in the Republic of Tranna as she is in Istanbul, Monterrey, Acapulco or Indian Wells.

Men just can’t do without their terrible tennis towels.

Just wondering: How is it that the elite of women’s tennis can start and finish a match without reaching for a towel every 10 seconds, whereas the men feel the need to wipe themselves down—from stem to stern—after every…single…point? It’s actually quite disgusting if you’re a ball girl or boy. Icky.

All best wishes to Eddie Olczyk, one of the good guys who wore Winnipeg Jets linen before the National Hockey League franchise fled to Arizona. Eddie O is battling colon cancer.

So, it turns out Jeff Reinebold was the problem in Hamilton. And here I thought the head coach, Kent Austin, was responsible for the Tiger-Cats’ 0-6 record. Silly me. Austin fired biker boy coach Reinebold as his defensive coordinator this week, just in time for a visit from Coach Harley’s former group, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. If the Tabbies fail to get off the schneid on Saturday, who does Austin next blame for his own misgivings?

Okay, here’s the deal: There are standings within standings in the Canadian Football League. You look at the Bombers as a 4-2 outfit, I see them as 0-2 because what they do against the big dogs in the West Division will determine their fate. They’ve already been beaten by the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, with the Edmonton Eskimos scheduled to pay a visit to Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 17. If they harbor any hope of securing a home playoff date, it’ll take a 4-1 record, if not 5-0, the rest of the way to get the job done.

Here’s a look at the CFL West Division top four head-to-head:

Edmonton    2-0 (6 remaining: at Winnipeg, at Calgary, Calgary, Winnipeg, at B.C., Calgary)
Calgary        1-0 (6 remaining: at B.C., Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C., at Edmonton, Winnipeg)
B.C.             1-2 (5 remaining: Calgary, at Calgary, at Winnipeg 2, Edmonton)
Winnipeg     0-2 (5 remaining: Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C. 2, at Calgary)

What in the name of Chef Boyardee are they feeding the scribes at the Drab Slab? First it was Steve Lyons chirping about the Bombers doing themselves a favor by finishing fourth, and now young Jeff Hamilton and grizzled Paul Wiecek have joined in with the backup vocals. “It may just be the best-case scenario for the Bombers. That would mean a crossover to a weak East Division and a much easier road to a Grey Cup berth,” scribbles Hamilton. Apparently, this is now the weekly mantra of Winnipeg Free Press writers, despite undeniable historical evidence to the contrary. Do the math, boys.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth

Horrors! Male golfers were allowed to wear short pants during practice rounds for the PGA Championship tournament that commences on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Better not tell Paul Wiecek. The Freep scribe is having a tough enough time dealing with Mike O’Shea’s short pants.

TSN had Craig Button do a bit on Canada’s projected roster for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. Geez Louise. We’re only at the front end of August. Can we enjoy what’s left of summer without talking about lineups for a hockey tournament that begins on Boxing Day and wraps up in 2018?

This past Sunday I listed my five favorite all-time athletes (actually, I cheated because I had Arnold Palmer and Rafael Nadal sharing the fifth spot), so today I’m listing the five jocks I have most disliked. They are:

  • Mike Tyson: Convicted rapist. Cannibal.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Convicted woman beater and painfully boring boxer.

  • Angelo Mosca: Willie Fleming of the B.C. Lions was my favorite football player. Mosca, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats D-lineman, took Willie the Wisp out of the 1963 Grey Cup game with a dirty hit. I don’t promote violence, but I was most delighted when Joe Kapp laid out big Angie with a solid right-hand punch to the head at a Grey Cup function a few years ago.

  • Pete Rose: Long before we discovered he was having sex with teenage girls while in his 30s, married and the father of two children, the Major League Baseball hit leader creeped me out. From his stupid haircut to his galloping ego, I always believed there was a phoniness to Rose. He’s forever been fingernails on a chalk board.

  • Jose Bautista: So arrogant. He’s the reason I cannot watch the Toronto Blue Jays.

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.

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 

About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

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

About sports and social issues…women in the Hockey Hall of Fame…sad days in America…that left-wing kook Babs…and other things on my mind

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

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

I have often wondered why more sports scribes don’t tackle societal issues, yet, when they do, I wonder why they bothered.

Consider Michael Grange of Sportsnet, as an e.g.

Grange penned a piece in the wake of last week’s United States presidential election that sends Donald Trump to the White House, and it included this comment: “Sports have generally been perceived as being ahead of the general population on many social issues. While not always elegantly, the major U.S. sports leagues have pushed ahead on inclusivity and tolerance.”

I assume Grange wrote that with a straight face, which is ironic because it’s so laughable.

I mean, hands up anyone who actually believes that major professional sports has been “ahead” of the curve in areas such as domestic violence, gay rights, gender equality, drug abuse, drunk driving, etc. Hmmm, I don’t see any hands. No surprise.

Our major professional sports leagues, all of which are for and about men, have been a leader on these issues like Lady Gaga is a middle linebacker.

Let’s use sexual orientation as an example. Openly gay men can be found in every segment of society, from our military to our music, from our law courts to our classrooms, from our newspapers and our TV networks to our amateur playing fields and arenas. Yet how many openly gay men play in the National Hockey League? The National Football League? The National Basketball Association? Major League Baseball? Zero.

Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.
Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.

Meantime, there are out lesbians performing in the Women’s NBA—Elena Delle Donne, Janel McCarville, Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, etc. Professional women’s tennis has featured many out lesbians, including legendary players such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, as well as Grand Slam champions Amelie Mauresmo and Hana Mandlikova. And that’s not to forget transgender pioneer Renee Richards. The Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour included openly gay Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, Karrie Webb, Jane Geddes, Rosie Jones, etc. Canada’s national women’s hockey team has included lesbians Angela James, Sarah Vaillancourt, Charline Labonte and Jayna Hefford. The rosters in women’s soccer, here and abroad, are pockmarked with open lesbians.

Major men’s professional sports leagues and peripheral affiliates like tennis and golf are, in fact, decades behind society and women’s pro and amateur sports in the acceptance of gays. I doubt they will catch up in my lifetime. So much for inclusivity.

Tolerance? Yes, the NFL exercises tolerance, but in an ass-backwards manner. That is, it tolerates the use of a racist nickname for one of its member teams, the Washington Redskins. MLB tolerates the use of Chief Wahoo, a red-skinned, clownish, crazed-looking Indian as a logo for one of its member teams, Cleveland.

Grange failed to provide examples of how sports has been “ahead of the general population on many social issues,” which leads me to assume he was lazy or couldn’t think of any. And his use of the word “tolerance” shows a lack of understanding of marginalized groups. My gay friends don’t seek tolerance, they seek acceptance.

On the matter of minorities, Damien Cox has used his Toronto Star soapbox to deliver a lament about the lack of female presence in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a wellborn thought, to be sure, but Cox misses the mark when he implies it was a stretch for this year’s selection committee to induct Sergei Makarov ahead of women like Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Manon Rheaume. The committee “showed some genuine creativity in bending over backwards to honour men over women, dusting off the portfolios of former goaltender Rogatien Vachon and one-time Calgary Flames winger Sergei Makarov,” is how Cox put it. Nonsense. Makarov is a two-time Olympic champion, an eight-time world champion, a two-time world junior champion, and he was named to the International Ice Hockey Federation centennial all-star team, along with Wayne Gretzky, Valeri Kharlamov, Borje Salming, Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak. Campbell-Pascall had a commendable international career, but that was largley in a two-country competition. As for Rheaume, she was Phil Esposito’s public relations sideshow in Tampa. Yes, that experiment certainly raised the profile of women’s hockey, but that was of Espo’s doing mostly.

Cox also points out that 28 men and two women have been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the past six years. “So much for even a semblance of equality,” he writes. Cox just doesn’t get it. It isn’t about gender equality or a female quota. It’s about performance and contribution. And, given the female game’s relative newness on a global scale and its overall lack of competitive depth, the pool of possibility is quite shallow for the women. Certainly someone like Fran Rider qualifies for the Hockey Hall of Fame for her contribution to the women’s game. She’ll get in. But not before Teemu Selanne, and it won’t be because he’s a he and she’s a she.

At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election is sadder than the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election was a more mournful day than Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

From the department of “Does He Actually Think Before He Writes?” I give you anti-Trumpster Steve Simmons of Postmedia. On the night our neighbors to the south elected Donald Trump as their 45th president, the Toronto Sun sports scribe tweeted this gem: “The saddest night in American history.” Sigh. Let’s play that Sesame Street game: Pearl Harbor. JFK. 9/11. Katrina. Challenger. Kent State. Trump elected president…which one of these doesn’t belong?

Speaking of speaking without thinking, Hockey Night in Canada blowhard Don Cherry also used his Twitter account to weigh in on the presidential election: “The left wing kook entertainers and the left wing weirdo’s (sic) in the media in the U.S. have said if Trump wins the presidency they will move to Canada. Please, we have enough of these type here now.” Yes, by all means Grapes, let’s keep “kook entertainers” like Barbra Streisand out of Canada. She might do something radical. Like teach Justin Bieber how to sing, act and behave properly in mixed company.

Why are so many Canadians feeling misguidedly smug about the American election? Wasn’t it so long ago when they voted a man many consider to be a xenophobe, a racist, a protectionist, a bigot, a misogynist and a homophobe as the seventh greatest Canadian in history? Yup. That man is Don Cherry.

Yes, now that you mention it, this is an interesting world in which we live. I mean, unvarnished, unscripted, misogynist “locker room talk” gets Billy Bush fired from a TV show and it gets Donald Trump a room in the White House. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.