The River City Renegade


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About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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.

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About RIP for Winnipeg Jets 1.0…good reads…a tip of the chapeau to Shapo…separated at birth…a wedgie for Frasier and Niles Crane…big-belly baseball…fancy skating music…and great balls of Three Stooges humor

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

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are gathered here today to pay final respects to a dear friend, one who warmed our hearts on many a frigid winter night even as our car batteries froze and rendered our vehicles blocks of ice: The Winnipeg Jets 1.0 are dead. Officially.

Cause of death: Retirement, Shane Doan.
Time of death: Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Place of death: Phoenix, Arizona.

Shane Doan

Jets 1.0 will be remembered for many things and when Doan, the final remnant of that storied but not gloried National Hockey League franchise, excused himself from active duty last week in a letter to an Arizona newspaper, his surrender to Father Time at age 40 stirred submerged recollections and raised them to the surface.

Doan was the last on-ice link to Jets 1.0, but I remember those who were there at the beginning, a motley, rag-tag assortment of earnest but overmatched men who conspired to win just 20 of 80 skirmishes in 1979-80, the first of the franchise’s 17 crusades in River City before fleeing like carpetbaggers to the southern United States, specifically the Arizona desert, where the Jets morphed into the Phoenix Coyotes and Doan played another 20 seasons.

There will be no attempt here to romanticize Winnipeg’s first whirl in the NHL, because each year the hope of autumn was trumped by the disappointment of spring and, of course, the day of the long faces arrived in 1996 when the moving vans pulled up to the loading docks at the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.

That, however, is not to say we were without events (Tuxedo Night) and moments (Dave Ellett’s overtime goal) to remember. And people. Especially people.

None cast a longer shadow than John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, heart-on-his-sleeve, Jets-tattoo-on-his-butt general manager who stoked unbridled passion in players and patrons. Fergy, crusty on the outside but a cream puff inside, brought the Jets into the NHL and delivered at least one outfit (1984-85) of genuine Stanley Cup mettle. Alas, Dale Hawerchuk’s shattered ribs (a pox on your house, Jamie Macoun) and the Edmonton Oilers stood in their way.

We tend to posit that the Oilers forever stood in Jets 1.0’s way, but that isn’t accurate.

At the outset, for example, the NHL conspired to ransack the roster that had captured the final World Hockey Association title in the spring of ’79. Repatriated by their original NHL clubs were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long and Kim Clackson, among others. Left behind was no-hope.

Still, I harbor a healthy fondness for that outfit, led by jocular head coach Tom McVie and Lars-Erik Sjoberg, the original team captain with the Barney Rubble body and the Zen-like calm on the blueline.

The Shoe is gone now, as are Fergy, assistant head coach Sudsy Sutherland and, with the retirement of Shane Doan, the Jets 1.0. What remains, materially, is a paper trail of franchise records, an all-time roster and a couple of banners that hang in the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., where they don’t belong (that’s a discussion for another day).

So the book on Jets 1.0 is closed. It’s not a great book (it needed a Stanley Cup for that), but it’s a good book. Having been there and known a lot of the characters, it’s one of my favorite books.

On the subject of preferred reading material, here are my top-five all-time fave sports books…
1. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
2. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
3. The Game, Ken Dryden
4. Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer
5. Paper Lion, George Plimpton

I’d never be so presumptuous as to suggest I know more about tennis than Mats Wiland, but I’m thinking the multi-Grand Slam-champion Swede might want to put the brakes on his gushing about our guy Denis Shapovalov. “It’s like watching a combination of (Rafael) Nadal and (Roger) Federer at 18 years old,” Wilander says. “He has the fire of Nadal and the speed around the court of Nadal and he has the grace of Federer. It’s unbelievable.” Geez, why stop there, Mats? Surely Super Shapo is also faster than a speeding bullet, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and changes into his tennis togs in a phone booth. Sorry, but comparing Shapovalov to Nadal and Federer is a tad premature and likely the kind of hype the Canadian kid can do without.

Martina Navratilova and Denis Shapovalov: Separated at birth?

Is it just me, or does anyone else notice something eerily and strikingly similar between Shapovalov and tennis legend Martina Navratilova? I know they weren’t separated a birth, but it’s almost as if Shapo is channeling the great champion. The athleticism, the left-handed power, the one-handed backhands, the muscles, the oversized left forearms, the animation, the hair, the look. It’s as if they’re mother and son.

Globe and Mail headline this week: “How much should Canada expect of Denis Shapovalov?” Well, we don’t have the right to expect anything of him at the current U.S. Open, where he bowed out in the round of 16 on Sunday, or at any of his globe-trotting ports of call. All we can do is root, root, root for our home boy and hope he doesn’t pitch an on-court fit and whack another match umpire in the eye with a tennis ball.

Alexander Zverev

I’m not sure what was worse, Alexander Zverev wearing a pair of ghastly knee-high socks in his one-and-done match at the U.S. Open, or that the high school cheerleader things cost $35 a pair. I’m thinking that the German whiz kid’s outfit is something that would have earned the nerdy Frasier and Niles Crane a series of wedgies while at prep school.

TSN’s excellent reporter Dave Naylor has promoted the notion of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pursuing bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, while Steve Simmons of Postmedia has floated the idea of a Manziel-Toronto Argonauts union. I have a better idea: The Canadian Football League just says “no” to any players or coaches with a history of domestic violence.

Still can’t wrap my head around the sports media reacting with such ferocity over the Ticats hiring of contaminated coach Art Briles, who apparently looked the other way while his players at Baylor University were sexually assaulting and raping women, yet they spent a week in Las Vegas glorifying a man who spent two months in jail for beating up a woman. How can they possibly rationalize their position that Briles should not be allowed to work but serial woman-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. should be?

CC Sabathia

New York Yankees hurler CC Sabathia was in a high-class snit last week because the Boston Red Sox had the bad manners to bunt on him. Yo! CC! Next time you see McDonald’s golden arches, skip the Big Macs and large fries and it might not be so hard to bend down and pick up a baseball.

The good news is, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will pay players anywhere from a floor of $2,000 to a ceiling of $10,000 in the upcoming season. The bad news is, $2,000-$10,000 probably works out to about .20 cents-to-$1 a shift. Kidding aside, there is no bad news. It’s a good place to start. And it doesn’t matter that each club’s salary cap ($100,000) is less than CC Sabathia’s monthly grocery bill.

Apparently, the great “mystery” has been solved: Canada’s fancy skating team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will perform their free skate at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea to music from Moulin Rouge. I don’t know about you, but I’m soooo relieved to know that. I mean, I was convinced they’d be skating to something cheesey by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Nickelback. I’ll sleep so much better now. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger

In the Department of WTF, it appears that video of men getting whacked in the testicles by baseballs, cricket balls and tennis balls is what now passes for high humor on TSN’s Sports Centre. I say that because two of the station’s stable of gab girls, Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger, devoted a segment of their late-night show on Thursday to dudes getting drilled in the knackers, or, as Hedger described the male genitalia, “pills.” Was it just me, or did anyone else find it awkwardly inappropriate that two women would be having great sport with men taking one to the junk? I mean, I suppose it’s giggle-worthy in a Three Stooges kind of way, but c’mon, girls don’t dig the Three Stooges. Leave the nyuk-nyuks and noogies to Jay and Dan.

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.


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About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?

Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

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.


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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.

 


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

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.


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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe

A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.

Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

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.