Let’s talk about the Unholy Trinity’s snub of Andrew Harris…no crying after this World Series…and the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien

A farewell to October smorgas-bored…and be kind to the little kiddies tonight…

I agree, news snoops shouldn’t be part of the story.

It’s just that sometimes it’s unavoidable.

It happens, for example, every time Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire fail to win a ticket to a tiny burg in central New York State. By the numbers, all three certainly belong in Cooperstown, but they’re known needle-pushers and the jock journos who hold sway in these matters tend to frown on drug cheats.

They have decided that sticking needles in your butt and fixing games are the most egregious crimes in the rounders game. You can choke a woman or thump out a disabled fan, as Ty Cobb did; you can start a barroom brawl, as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and other 1957 New York Yankees did; you can spit at the paying customers and call them “buffoons,” as Ted Williams did; and they’ll make room for you in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But any player guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs or betting on ball games need not apply for residency.

Perhaps one day, but not now.

Which makes news snoops part of the story each year they take a pass on Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others from baseball’s steroid era.

Andrew Harris

And so it is with Andrew Harris and the Football Reporters of Canada.

When it came time to vote for regional Canadian Football League year-end trinket nominees, the boys on the beat—Ted Wyman, Jeff Hamilton, Darrin Bauming and Knuckles Irving—had their say and the ayes outnumbered the nays in judgement of Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ tainted tailback exiled for two games mid-season on a drug rap.

It doesn’t matter that Harris has lugged the rock farther than any other ball carrier in Rouge Football this season. Squints in white lab coats discovered something iffy in his pee, and that was enough for Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming to bypass No. 33 in the most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian categories.

Here it is in their own words:

Bauming, TSN 1290: “I thought long and hard on this. It weighed on my conscious quite heavily and, at the end of the day, I have to be comfortable with myself to make a decision I feel is best and just. I’m not comfortable with the precedent that it would set.”

Ted Wyman

Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “As a voter for the local nominations, I chose not to vote for Harris because of his positive drug test. How would it be fair to all the other players in the CFL who did not test positive if I cast a vote for Harris? What would it say to athletes around the country if a player who is known to have tested positive for a performance enhancer during the season wins one or two major awards? I’m certainly not trying to be high and mighty here and I did not take this decision at all lightly. It comes after months of thought, discussion, and research and in the end, I simply could not see casting my vote in any other way.”

Hamilton, Winnipeg Free Press: “Though I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit agonizing over this decision, the truth is, the choice was an easy one. Simply put, my personal feelings towards Harris, someone who I have great respect for and have enjoyed my professional relationship with, doesn’t outweigh my journalistic integrity. Voting for him would be sending the wrong message, while also setting a new precedent in professional sports: it doesn’t matter if you test positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so long as your stats are good enough.”

Harris, of course, has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but don’t all the culprits once caught? Yes, they do. Still, Knuckles Irving of CJOB and the longtime play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC is of a mind that Harris has already paid the piper.

Knuckles Irving

“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” he tweeted. “I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough—I proudly voted for him.”

It must be pointed out that a fifth vote was cast, and we can assume that Mike O’Shea wrote the name Andrew Harris on his ballot, since the Bombers head coach declared his tainted tailback “absolutely innocent” when the dude’s world began to fall apart in July and August.

So Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller are the Winnipeg FC nominees in the MOP and MOC categories, and the snub of Harris makes news snoops a large part of the story.

That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s the way it is.

Not surprisingly, many among the rabble consider Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming an Unholy Trinity for a couple of reasons: 1) The fawning faithful believe Harris to be innocent; 2) they believe news snoops to be a bunch of wonks. Well, Harris isn’t innocent. Squints found an illegal somethingorother in his piddle, both the A and B samples. As for jock journos, some of them are wonks, but I don’t think these three guys got it wrong. You can’t have a player who’s been banished on a drug rap propped up as the grandest performer in three-down football.

Why does Irving have to keep reminding people that he works for CJOB, not the Bombers? He voted for Harris because he believes the guy’s been punished enough and he’s been Winnipeg FC’s best performer. That doesn’t make Knuckles a PR flack for the team. Got it?

You know who’s delighted that the Unholy Trinity snubbed Harris? Football reporters across the land. Had Harris made it through the initial stage of the voting process, he’d have fallen into their laps, and I’m not sure many of them would have had the stomach for it. The dean of football scribes, Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town, probably put it best with this tweet: “Whoa. There you have it. Winnipeg media saves national voters a headache by not nominating Andrew Harris for CFL Awards after his failed drug test.”

Gotta agree with Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood of TSN 1290, when he and others suggest Harris’ suspension should have rendered him ineligible for any individual trinket. “The CFL shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the media to decide if someone qualifies for the player awards,” Westwood tweeted. “The league would do itself a favour to attach to a positive PED test that you no longer qualify for the CFL player awards. End the debate and project best to the public.” Your move, commish Randy Ambrosie.

Donald Trump

So here are my two takeaways from this year’s World Series: 1) There’s no crying in baseball and, even if there was, I can’t imagine anyone outside of Houston is weeping over the Astros Game 7 loss. The Astros, from the head down, are cads. 2) Will the champion Washington Nationals go to Washington to visit the Trumps at the White House?

And, finally, the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it? I mean, Big Buff arrives in Good Ol’ Hometown but doesn’t show up for Winnipeg Jets training exercises. Then we’re told he’s gone away for some navel gazing, to determine his future in life and the National Hockey League. Now we find out that he’s had ankle surgery, without input from the club, and he won’t be available until early 2020. Unless, of course, he retires, which remains a possibility. I recall head coach Paul Maurice saying “there’s nothing sinister to this” when Buff took a powder, but I’d say it’s become totally messed up. I’m inclined to suggest Byfuglien is playing the Jets for a bunch of mooks, and the time has arrived—finally—for True North to come clean about his mysterious disappearance and continued absence.

About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.