The River City Renegade


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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.


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John Gibbons: What the frock was the Toronto Blue Jays manager thinking?

Given that I have never met John Gibbons, anything I know about him is based entirely on what I have read and heard or witnessed on my flatscreen.

By most accounts, the Toronto Blue Jays manager is a “man’s man,” which I believe is guy-talk meaning he likes his beer cold, his woman warm and, lord knows, he’s the last fella you’d ever catch wearing a dress.

Born on the northern Great Plains and under the big sky of Montana, but mostly raised in the shadow of the Alamo in the Texas Triangle, Gibbons has the swagger of a trail boss when he ambles out to the mound to remove his starting hurler or a beleaguered member of his bullpen. His body language is saying, “Why can’t this horse’s ass throw strikes?” even if that isn’t exactly what he’s saying when retrieving the baseball from the poor wretch’s failing right or left pitching hand.

John Gibbons

John Gibbons

Jock journalistis in the Republic of Tranna seem to impart favor on the square-jawed Gibbons, no doubt because he’s up-front, a straight-shooter who isn’t afraid to call a steer a longhorn, and, I suspect, in part because he’s old-school.

Some sports scribes, it should be pointed out, delight in the ways of the old-school operatives, if for no reason other than the reality that they themselves are old-school. Trouble is, there’s old-school in the ways of Major League Baseball and there’s horse-and-buggy thinking in the ways of the 21st century.

Gibbons, it would seem, has earned his degree in both schools.

If you missed it, the Blue Jays lost a game they believed they were positioned to win the other night against the Rays in Tampa, the nub of the matter being a ninth-inning development by which Jose Bautista’s slide into second base was ruled illegal. The Jays rightfielder slid across the bag, but reached out with his left arm and made contact with the right leg of Rays second sacker Logan Forsythe, whose errant throw to first allowed the go-ahead run to cross home plate. It was a harmless play. You’ll see more meaningful contact in a kindergarten class. In today’s baseball, however, to touch is taboo. Thus, after video review of the play, Tampa was awarded a game-ending doubleplay.

While much of Jays Nation rose up in a “We wuz robbed!” rallying bleat, Gibbons took the dialogue in another direction, going all Ty Cobb during his post-match chin-wag with news scavengers. He talked about baseball being a “hard-nosed game” and barreling into second base “is good baseball. That’s been baseball forever.” And he’s right. The Georgia Peach would slide into second with freshly sharpened spikes flashing knee high. And, hey, Charlie Hustle didn’t get that nickname by arriving at second base or home plate like Fred Astaire in a tux.

“It turned the game into a joke,” Gibbons muttered. “That’s embarrassing. It’s a joke.”

If only his gums had stopped flapping there.

“Maybe,” Gibbons added, “we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

For the record, nary a member of the Blue Jays Nine was adorned in a spring frock when they lost another game on Wednesday, but here’s what I found astonishing in the fallout of the manager’s comments, deemed sexist by the many who delivered him a stern tsk-tsking on social and in mainstream media: Gibbons was surprised to learn the politically correct police had been mobilized.

“My mom, my wife, my daughter found it kind of funny,” he said. “They know me. I do think the world needs to lighten up a bit. I cannot understand how that would offend anybody, to be honest with you, if it doesn’t offend my mother, my daughter and my wife, who have a great understanding of life. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I understand there’s an uproar, I don’t get that.”

So there’s something else about Gibbons that I now know: Apparently, he’s prone to flashes of naivete.

I’m not prepared to hop on a high horse and throw down on our man from Montana/Texas for his misguided attempt at sexist humor, but I am shocked that he’s shocked his comments ruffled some female feathers, not to ignore the plumage of some male members of the media who either were genuinely affronted or merely put 700 words together in an effort to earn some valuable brownie points with the missus on the home front. Whatever the case, I would ask this of Gibbons: “What the frock were you thinking, man?

Arnold Palmer, the King

Arnold Palmer, the King

I mean, thirty-one years ago this wouldn’t have caused a ripple of controversy. It would have been nothing more than a baseball guy talking about baseball. We know this because we can draw a parallel to something similar the great Arnold Palmer uttered at the MONY Tournament of Champions in May 1985, when 36 professional golfers, including nine seniors, teed it up.

As a concession to the older players, the policy board on the seniors tour voted to allow them to hit from the front tees on certain holes.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s embarrassing,” a bitter Arnie barked. “You walk past the regular tees up to those blue tees. I’ll wear my dress tomorrow.”

So there. The King had spoken. And no one said boo, because social media didn’t exist and the politically correct police had yet to marshall all of their forces.

But now, 31 years after the fact, old-school Gibby surely ought to recognize that, his mother, wife and daughter notwithstanding, his choice of words is quite offensive to numerous women who don’t know him and harbor a “great understanding of life.”

I’m all for old-school baseball (get rid of the designated hitter and let’s have more day games), but horse-and-buggy banter I can do without.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 to her 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.


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Big Buff’s big beef…Jets Nation loves its team…Joey Bats’ big ears and other stuff

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

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

Well, now, wasn’t that a fine bit of bluster that Dustin Byfuglien delivered on Saturday.

If you missed it, Big Buff has a big beef with National Hockey League gimmickry, specifically three-on-three overtime. It might be the one thing the Winnipeg Jets jumbo-bodied defenceman likes less than doing interviews.

It’s terrible,” he harrumphed in the aftermath of some Tampa Bay Lightning OT tic-tac-toe that dealt the Jets a 4-3 loss at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. “It ain’t hockey. It’s stupid.”

Geez, Buff, tell us what you really think.

It strikes me as rather odd that Byfuglien would pooh-pooh a bit of pond hockey, because he’s the ultimate freelancer. I mean, if not for the boards surrounding the freeze, we’d probably never see the guy again. He takes more detours than a lost dog. But he’d rather play five-on-five, or four-on-four, to break a stalemate.

I have a better idea: If it’s deadlocked at the end of regulation time, let’s give each outfit a point, turn out the lights and send everyone home. You know, just like they used to do.

By the end of this NHL crusade, Dustin Byfuglien will be 31. There’ll be 30 candles on Andrew Ladd’s birthday cake in December. Both, therefore, are diminishing assets and, in captain Ladd’s case, the decline from front-line forward status might be rapid. Although still useful workers, it would be folly for Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff to offer either man a contract greater than five years in length. It would be equally follysome to allow them to arrive at unrestricted free agency. It seems to me that it has become a matter of when, not if, one or both are moved. I wouldn’t expect anything to happen prior to U.S. Thanksgiving, but between then and the trade deadline all bets are off.

WINNIPEG, CANADA - DECEMBER 6: The Winnipeg Jets salute the fans after defeating the Boston Bruins 2-1 in NHL action at the MTS Centre on December 6, 2011 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

Jets Nation loves its Jets.

The Winnipeg Jets are No. 69—with a bullet! ESPN the Magazine recently released the findings from its annual fan-fueled poll which ranks 122 franchises in the four major professional sports leagues in North America, and the Jets jumped 28 spots in overall fan affection/satisfaction, going from No. 97 a year ago to 69th. They’re ranked 20th in the NHL pecking order, fourth among the seven Canadian franchises. What you like most about your Jets is team ownership, head coach Paul Maurice and the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. What you dislike most is ticket prices and bang for your buck.

Am I being old fashioned if I expect a game story to include the five Ws—who, what, when, where and why? I ask that because apparently facts have become an option for today’s sports scribes. I read a Ken Wiebe gamer in the Winnipeg Sun, for example, and it did not include the final score of the joust between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning. Nor did it mention what sport he was writing about. Over at the Winnipeg Free Press, meanwhile, my main man Ed Tait wrote a gamer on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Ottawa RedBlacks grass-grabber and, like Wiebe, he failed to tell us what sport he was writing about. Tell me I’m picking nits, but it seems to me that those are rather significant details that ought not be ignored. Yo! Boys! It’s the National Hockey League and the Canadian Football League. Get it in your copy! (Aside to editors at the Sun and Freep: Get a CP Style Guide and get with the program.)

Well, this is guaranteed to take the starch out of Don Cherry’s collars—for the first time in 98 years, less than 50 per cent of NHL players are good Canadian boys. Of the 680 lads on rosters during the first couple weeks of this season, 49.7 per cent were from Planet Puck. The other 50.3 per cent come from countries that wear face shields.

big earsThis is apropos of absolutely nothing, but my what big ears you have, Jose Bautista. Seriously. That’s some kind of wing span on Joey Bats. I never realized it until I watched an interview with the Toronto Blue Jays right fielder following their ouster from the Major League Baseball playoffs. I later learned that, as a child in his Santo Domingo neighborhood, his chums called him El Raton—The Rat—because he was straw-thin and had those big ears. Jose is in Don Mossi’s league. The former big league pitcher had a set of all-world ears. Probably the best ever.

I don’t have a whole lot of must-see TV, but I’ve made a habit of tuning in to The Reporters on TSN every Sunday morning. Now it’s moved to Monday afternoon. I’m not sure if I like that. I really enjoyed listening to the boys banter while munching on pizza left over from the night before. Nothing like cold pizza and hot topics.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.