About a tone deaf NHL and Kid Rock…Birchard curling with royalty…the CFL QB carousel…Aaron Rodgers’ new main squeeze…the XFL part II…an unfunny Farrell…Freddy calling ’em out in Tranna…media coaching the Maple Leafs…a “brazenly” gay figure skater…so long Red…and a few other things on my mind

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

Kid Rock

Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.

Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”

Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”

He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.

The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.

I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”

Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.

Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:

Kid Rock and Pam Anderson

He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)

Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.

Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”

That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?

Shannon Birchard

Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.

Darian Durant

I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.

Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a boffo signing.

Danica Patrick: Always in someone’s face.

On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.

So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:

  • All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.

  • They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.

  • Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.

  • Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.

  • Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”

  • McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.

  • There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.

  • Players received flat, per-game pay: Quarterbacks $5,000; running backs $4,500; kickers $3,500.

  • TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.

The unfunny Will Ferrell and the great Roger Federer.

Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:

Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”

For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.

Frederik Andersen

There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”

Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.

“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”

But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:

“He said what had to be said,” maintained Hockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”

I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.

Mike Babcock

Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print  and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.

Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.

The Seattle Kraken?

Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.

Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.” Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.

Red Fisher

I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.

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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.

 

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.