Monday, December 17, 2012

No gluten for Juice Newton Hooten(and other Monday morning musings)

There were several statement wins on Week 15 in the NFL, but none more emphatic than Atlanta's 34-0 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The one-sided whipping all but clinched a number one playoff seeding for the Falcons, whose season-long invincibility at home makes them the theoretical - if not the practical - favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Giants, meanwhile, played like they've already booked their January vacations, slipping into a three way tie for the lead in a weak division they could have clinched weeks ago with any kind of consistency...Whether or not Minnesota makes the playoffs, the NFL MVP race turned into a no-brainer yesterday. Adrian Peterson's season-best 212 rushing yards in the Vikings' win over the Rams put Peterson within striking distance of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record and Minnesota in the thick of the NFC wild card race. All of that on a team otherwise devoid of offence, allowing opposing defences to load up for Peterson, who shreds them anyway...So, it's not that Toronto isn't a CFL town - it's not a football town, period. Fourteen thousand empty seats for the Bills and Seahawks in a market of 5.5 million should tell the NFL everything it needs to know about Canada's largest city as a potential expansion market...Kudos to ESPN for recognizing there are limits to an ethnic group's license to mock its own. Suspending columnist Rob Parker for saying Robert Griffin III doesn't embrace his blackness enough sends a strong and appropriate message about racism and the acceptable boundaries of journalistic debate...If pop singer Juice Newton married retired baseball pitcher Burt Hooten, played trumpet in a college football band, inherited a billion dollars and developed a wheat allergy, she'd be rootin' tootin' high-falootin' Juice Newton Hooten, sans gluten. No need to thank me; it's all a public service.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Halls of Fame all the same

I'm not an expert on the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, but I do know that it's a lot like the baseball and hockey Halls of Fame in that it makes borderline induction choices while snubbing candidates who truly belong.
Just like there's a Cammie Granato for every Brendan Shanahan or a Bill Mazeroski for every Lee Smith, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opens its doors to the likes of Donna Summer and Public Enemy, who neither rock nor roll, at the exclusion of bands like Deep Purple and Yes, who remain classic rock radio staples 40-plus years after breaking into the business. Summer and Public Enemy are successful in their own right, but for rock and roll purists, the disco and hip hop genres are the designated hitter and overtime shootout of the music world.
In the better late than never category, Rush being named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a good ten years after they'd earned it was an honor akin to Paul Henderson getting a long overdue call from the Hockey Hall or Cooperstown finally deigning to embrace Tim Raines.
One area that the sports halls pay lip service to but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't concern itself with is the so-called character clause, which dictates that members at least give the appearance of being morally and ethically upstanding. As heavy a toll as strict enforcement of that clause would take on the pantheons of sport, if you weeded all the drunks, drug abusers, cheaters, gamblers and other assorted miscreants out of rock and roll, you'd be left with the Osmonds and...well, you'd be left with the Osmonds.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Costas is bang-on

Whether or not you agree with his take, Bob Costas was the right person in the right place at the right time to talk about gun control when he tackled the issue head-on during NBC's Sunday night football telecast.
There's been criticism from the usual trigger-happy suspects that Costas was outside his areas of jurisdiction and expertise, but if there's one thing America loves more than guns, it's football, so what better place and time for addressing a murder-suicide committed by a gun-toting NFL player than a prime time football broadcast on network television the day after the crime? And spare me the claptrap about Costas being a one-dimensional jock sniffer who's not qualified to comment on broader social issues. He's an intelligent, articulate, measured voice of reason in any debate within or outside the sporting arena, and he's got the resume to prove it. Even if Costas wasn't one of the most informed, well-rounded broadcasters on television, his detractors conveniently overlook that along with their cherished right to bear arms, the US constitution guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. By acknowleding a divisive issue at a sensitive time, Bob Costas wasn't only within his rights, he was relevant, appropriate and professionally responsible.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chiefs' win changes nothing(and other Monday morning musings)

There needs to be an audible on the hyperbole in the aftermath of the murder-suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher. The Chiefs' win over Carolina yesterday was neither inspired nor uplifting. It was a dauntless performance under devastating circumstances, but there's nothing inspirational about orphaning your infant daughter by brutally murdering her mother before taking your own life. It's a cowardly, despicable act, and winning a football game does nothing to diminish the tragedy...If nothing else, the latest wrinkle in the NHL lockout talks - an expanded players/owners meeting - suggests the two sides are committed to exploring alternative avenues to break the impasse. At this point, there appear to be three possibilities for a successful conclusion: 1. mutual compromise, which is the least likely scenario, 2. the players accept that even under the unsatisfactory terms they're being offered, they'll still enjoy financial security well beyond what most of the rest of us can even begin to comprehend, or 3. the owners recognize that they've already won and stop piling on...NBA Commissioner David Stern took the first step down a slippery slope when he fined the San Antonio Spurs 250 thousand dollars for not dressing four starters in a game against Miami - the Spurs' fourth game in five nights on a six game, nine day road trip. Maybe Stern should get his scheduling act together before second-guessing a championship coach who's trying to do what's best for his team while simultaneously making a legitimate point about an unreasonable workload...So this is what it's come to: on a December day when Canadian sports television should have been awash in highlights from a full Saturday night slate in the National Hockey League, the featured Sunday morning fare yesterday included the Premier League soccer rundown, NCAA basketball scores and the Top 10 Amazing Curling Moments. I'll grant you that there's at least marginal interest among Canadians in English soccer and American college b-ball, but there's no way there have been 10 amazing moments in the history of curling.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Baseball tradition trumps trend in MVP vote

Baseball tradition carried the day in the final voting results for the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player Award, which Miguel Cabrera won in a relative landslide over Mike Trout in a showdown of old school versus new school statistical analysis.
By a margin of more than 3-1, baseball writers gave more weight to Cabrera's Triple Crown than they did to Trout's WAR, or wins above replacement - a more all-encompassing statistic that measures baserunning and fielding as well as hitting. There's nothing wrong with advanced science, but batting average, home runs and runs batted in still resonate with the overwhelming majority of fans and within the baseball community. They're not outdated notions in the same sense that denying women the vote or using hot plaster smeared with pigeon dung as a treatment for kidney stones have been discredited.
Baseball traditionalists don't reject the new way of looking at things as much as they resent the unchecked arrogance of the sabermetric community. It's perfectly legitimate to argue the case in Trout's favor, but to call Cabrera's MVP win an embarrassment or a travesty is the height of pretense, and smacks of the worst kind of know-it-all attitude - one that not only presumes to know better, but summarily dismisses dissenting opinion regardless of its legitimacy. That's a special brand of pomposity, and it's gratifying to see it put in its place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Porn star mascots and other Monday musings

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the right call when he cancelled the New York City marathon and postponed the Brooklyn Nets historic NBA home opener in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Sporting events were important to New York's recovery from the September 2001 terrorist attacks, because except for the localized physical devastation around Ground Zero, the 9-11 trauma was psychological, and sports gave New Yorkers an opportunity to come together by tens of thousands to commiserate and grieve. Picking up the pieces from Sandy is a logistical nightmare on such a vast scale that it would have been insensitive to divert public resources from the recovery process to a glorified foot race and a basketball game...New Jersey authorities decided to go ahead with yesterday's NFL game at the Meadowlands, although as a Giants fan I wish they'd put the kibosh on that one, too...If you only watch or listen to one highlight from the weekend in sports, make it the postgame locker room speech by Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who's on leave of absence while he battles leukemia. It's a powerful and humbling demonstration of leadership and courage...Does anyone really believe that Jesse Marsch's departure from the Impact was by mutual agreement, or that the only thing mutually agreed upon wasn't that the outgoing coach would bite his tongue about what was obviously a dismissal in exchange for a golden handshake? As hands-on owners go, Joey Saputo is giving Jerry Jones and the late George Steinbrenner a run for their money, with decidedly mixed results...The newly relocated Brooklyn Nets of the NBA are considering renaming their mascot after learning that Brooklyn Knight was already taken - by a porn star. Presumably, the short list for a new name doesn't include Flick Shagwell, Candy Bangs or Buster Hymen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alf Iafrate and other alternative hockey content

Photoshop by Josie Gold

Just because there are no actual NHL games doesn't mean we have to be starved for pro hockey-related entertainment this winter. In the event of a prolonged lockout and as a public service, I'd like to take this opportunity to pitch the following show ideas to any and all interested television networks.

- Real Housewives of Magnitogorsk: While their KHL husbands cruise the broad boulevards and gallivant in the 5 star hotels of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Olga Malkin and Ludmila Gonchar work the night shift at the iron ore smelting plant and line up for stale bread and horsemeat in the soot-encrusted shadow of the Urals.
- I Love Lucic: a locked out Boston Bruin has some 'splainin' to do after his fiance catches him in the hot tub with Zdeno Chara.
- Alf Iafrate: a bald alien with a terrific slapshot moves in with a suburban Washington family and cobbles together a couple of decent seasons for the Capitals.
- Lap Dancing with the Dallas Stars: chronicles the gentlemen's club adventures of noted ballet enthusiast Mike Ribeiro.
- The Verdun Dragons' Den: retired members of the now-defunct North American Hockey League franchise collect drug debts for biker gangs. Link Gaetz stars.
- The Biggest Loser: retired Toronto Maple Leafs argue their respective cases for having all traces of their lamentable careers expunged from the NHL record books. Co-hosted by Rocky Saginuk and Bates Battaglia.

Considering the current dearth of hockey content and what passes for award-winning prime time television these days, I have no doubt that these shows would be ratings winners.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home is where the hut is

As a rule, I don't much care what individual hockey players have to say about the NHL lockout, because they're even less articulate about labor relations than they are about hockey, where they at least have the benefit of experience and a time-honored collection of shopworn cliches to fall back on. It only gets interesting when a Krys Barch goes on a liquor-fuelled Twitter tirade or a Sergei Kostitsyn weighs in with something so absurd that it demands commentary.
In a report from a Russian sports publication reprinted in the Globe and Mail, Kostitsyn says he hopes the NHL season is cancelled so he can continue to play for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Our man Sergei says he's had trouble adjusting to the North American lifestyle. What is it about North America that's an uncomfortable fit for you, Sergei? Is it that pesky First World prosperity, the limitless social opportunities for someone in your position of wealth and privilege, or the dearth of cousin Vasily's homemade potato vodka? Ever the discerning traveller, Kostitsyn is no fan of Columbus, Ohio, which he calls the "gloomiest" city in the NHL - as opposed to Omsk, with its backyard view of the endless Siberian steppe.
For the comforts of home - such as they are on the border with Kazakhstan - Kostitsyn is willing to give up a three million dollar NHL salary and a first class lifestyle in some of the world's most beautiful and modern cities. You might want to be careful what you wish for, Sergei, lest you get traded to Magnitogorsk, which makes Columbus look like Cape Town and Omsk look like Oahu.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Junk punches, googly eyes and other Monday morning musings

The NHL's fundamental strategy in the current collective bargaining process is tantamount to a money grab, which doesn't make the league a whole lot different from other corporations in a changing economy. The difference is that salary cuts imposed on lucratively-compensated professional hockey players for no other reason than to enrich their employer are significantly less likely to cause the kind of living standard changes experienced by middle class workers who get take it or leave it offers for jobs with workloads two or more times the relatively recent norm. None of that makes the NHL's money-grubbing any less shameless, but the wealth and privilege that NHL players would continue to enjoy - even if they settled on the owners terms - put them at a complete disconnect with fans who know real hardship at their employers' whim...Twitter and Facebook have only been around for a few years, and there's already a well-documented litany of social media blunders by pro athletes, but Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry is using the medium try to set things straight. Within 24 hours of getting kicked out of Saturday's game for punching Saskatchewan's Brendon Labatte in the groin, Emry was on Twitter apologizing to both teams, the league, the commissioner and the fans. Given the nature of the offence, it might not be enough to avert a suspension, but Emry's quick mea culpa and seemingly genuine contrition are a blueprint for social media damage control...A win is a win, but I feel better as a Giants fan almost losing to RG3 and the Redskins than I would as a Patriots fan needing overtime to put away Mark Sanchez and the Jets...The best part of Friday's NBA game at the Bell Center was the Toronto Raptors inflatable mascot. It's not that the basketball was boring - the mascot was that entertaining. Nice to see someone put more into it than a matted fur suit and a googly-eye.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You can't spell slimy without sly (sort of)

Gary Bettman isn't anyone's idea of a dance partner, but the NHL Commissioner choreographed a beautiful labor relations two-step to break the impasse in the hockey lockout.
Since the league tabled their original summertime offer calling for a reversal of the existing 57-43 revenue split in the players' favor, the public opinion pendulum has slowly swung in the owners' direction. After an initial surge of sympathy for the players, whose most aggressive position was maintaining the status quo, the owners have made serious hay from the oft-discussed notion that 50-50 would be the ultimate meeting point and represents a fair deal for both sides, if only because it follows the formula that ended the NFL and NBA lockouts. Bettman let the 50-50 model marinate in the media for three months, to the point where it became conventional wisdom, and now that he's put it on the table, the union is under enormous pressure to take the deal. Never mind that it still represents hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue for owners at the expense of the players. The public perception is that it's an entirely reasonable compromise.
You wonder why Gary Bettman gets paid 8 million dollars a year? Given his talent for labor relations manipulation and what it's meant for the owners' bottom line, Bettman's a steal at 8 million.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Video review, pink overkill and other Monday morning musings

A worst case scenario for the New York Yankees is the best case scenario for proponents of video replay review in baseball. We're not talking about two blown calls against the Kansas City Royals in back-to-back games in late May. The umpiring gaffes at Yankee Stadium Saturday and yesterday were at the expense of baseball's most storied franchise in crucial situations during the American League Championship Series. After being publicly embarrassed on that grand a stage, if Major League Baseball doesn't decide to get into the 90s and more fully incorporate technology to settle disputed calls in time for the 2013 season, it'll NEVER happen...The faithful say that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that apparently goes for the baseball gods as well. The loss of Derek Jeter, the undisputed heart and soul of the Yankees, creates an unprecedented opportunity for Alex Rodriguez to rewrite his tarnished legacy at a late stage in his career. Jeter's season-ending ankle injury leaves a leadership void that Rodriguez is more qualified than any of his teammates to fill, whether vocally or by example. Stepping into that breech and leading the Yankees to the World Series in Jeter's absence would go a long way towards rehabilitating A-Rod's image as a self-serving choke artist. So far, no good...By the way, when does Raul Ibanez become part of the "greatest Yankee of all time" discussion?...Still can't quite wrap my head around the Washington Nationals' epic collapse in Game 5 of the NLDS with St. Louis, although I took no satisfaction in it as karmic payback for the demise of the Expos. There's nothing credible or constructive in that kind of mentality - unless it's directed at the Miami Marlins, whose majority owner and team president are genuinely deserving of ill wishes for their part in the demise of the Expos...The Alouettes won't get any style points for yesterday's win in Toronto, but they're sitting pretty atop the CFL East with a four point lead over the second place Argos and just three games to go. It's been a long season fraught with injuries and inconsistent performances, but the Als are still only one win away from being one win away from the Grey Cup game...I'm all for finding a cure, but the breast cancer awareness campaign in pro football on both sides of the border has become invasive, to the point where it smacks of corporate marketing and public relations more than it reflects a sincere grass roots movement to save lives. Maybe some of the money used to pay for all that pink equipment, apparel and other window dressing would be better spent on actual cancer research...Speaking of charity, awfully decent of Don Cherry to donate his hand-me-downs to Greg Zahn.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moneyball, schmoneyball

With the playoff demise of the 2012 Oakland Athletics, the much-celebrated concept of Moneyball remains more of a romantic Hollywood notion than it is a blueprint for a World Series championship.
Nobody's gotten more out of less in the last 15 seasons than Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who's parlayed an eye for talent and a knack for advanced statistical research and analysis into half a dozen playoff berths by low budget teams with little in the way of star power. Beane's new age approach to team-building was the subject of a best-selling book and a movie that earned six Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best actor for Brad Pitt, but in the final analysis - statistical or otherwise - Moneyball was a bigger success at the box office than it has been on the baseball diamond. None of Beane's teams has ever advanced past the first post-season round, for reasons that were amply demonstrated yesterday, when playoff heroes included Justin Verlander, Jayson Werth and Buster Posey - three players whose salaries combined are just a few million dollars shy of Oakland's entire payroll, and will eclipse it as soon as Posey is rewarded for his MVP calibre season for the Giants. No matter how smart you are with your money, it's almost always the big dogs earning the big bucks who get you over the hump.
Beane has left a lasting legacy on the game and I don't discount his philosophy as a means of getting the most bang for your buck, but you ultimately get what you pay for, which is why the producers of Moneyball hired Brad Pitt and not Pauly Shore.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Axe me no questions, I'll tell you no lies (and other Monday morning musings on a Tuesday)

The Alouettes looked like anything but a Marc Trestman-coached team yesterday at Molson Stadium. Between the turnovers on offence and the blown coverage assignments on pass defence, the breakdown in fundamentals in a loss to the league-worst Winnipeg Blue Bombers gave the Als a lot to worry about and work on just a month and change ahead of the playoffs...Lest anyone labor under the delusion that the New York Jets covered themselves in glory by keeping it close against unbeaten Texas last night, the last time I checked, close still only counted in horseshoes and hand grenades, and 14 for 31 with one touchdown and two interceptions were not even respectable quarterbacking numbers, let alone elite. The case for starting Tim Tebow over Mark Sanchez gets stronger every week...Kansas City tackle Eric Winston's rip job on Chiefs fans should be required reading for the thousands of dunderheads who cheered Sunday when quarterback Matt Cassel left the game with a concussion. The price of a ticket does not include the right to celebrate serious personal injury, unless you're completely morally bankrupt, in which case you'd be better off in a mental institution...Never mind that visiting teams have won as often as not in the baseball playoffs. The 2-3 division series format is a joke by any measure. Not only does it force the team with the better record to open on the road, the format robs that team of millions of dollars in revenue in the event of a sweep by either team - hardly a reward for a superior regular season record...Before you join the Atlanta Braves pity party, ruminate on this: the blown infield fly rule call in the National League wild card game didn't cost the Braves the game. It cost them a chance to rally from a three run deficit of their own making through three errors leading to four unearned St. Louis runs. That doesn't excuse the call, but it gives it perspective that was sorely lacking in the game's immediate aftermath...Nice to see Ryan Smyth playing right field for the Oakland A's during the hockey lockout...I'm going to start saying "exspecially", "exscape" and "all's I know" in hopes of landing a job on an NFL Sunday panel show. I just hope nobody axes me to spel.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Put Henderson in the Hall - NOW

Two days shy of its 40th anniversary, the author of a seminal moment in Canadian history is still denied his rightful place in one of the country's most revered institutions. There's added urgency in the campaign to have Paul Henderson inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame because he's fighting a losing battle against leukemia. Not that terminal illness is a qualification, but considering that the honor is long overdue, it would be nice to get around to it while Henderson is still alive. And spare me the shopworn argument that Henderson didn't have a Hall of Fame career. That ship already sailed with the induction of Clark Gillies, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Dick Duff, Bob Pulford, Larry Murphy and Bernie Federko to name but a handful of second-tier players who've been embraced by the Hall of Fame. Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was inducted in 1989, and his biggest claim to fame was giving up the winning goal to Henderson in each of the last three games of the Summit Series. And don't even get me started on Angela James and Cammi Granato, whose induction must have given every legitimate Hall of Fame candidate a severe case of vagina envy. Paul Henderson capped a more than respectable hockey career with a history-changing performance that made him a Canadian icon. Whether by comparison or on his own merits, he's worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and under the circumstances, denying Henderson is as petty as it is lame.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Even simulated Phil Simms agrees - David Carr blows(and other Monday morning musings)

Everything Jim Devellano said publicly about the hockey lockout and was fined by the NHL for saying is true. The irony is that the Detroit Red Wings vice-president's brutal honesty probably won some undecided fans over to the league's side. Devallano's "owners as ranchers, players as cattle" analogy is a bit harsh, but as he hastened to add, these are well-treated prize cattle who live a charmed, first class existence off the owners' largesse. They're biting the hand that feeds them in the name of principle, and it's a battle they can't and won't win...Is there no end to the Alouettes' offensive depth? After spending most of the season sharing space on the bench, Victor Anderson and Trent Guy scored two touchdowns apiece in yesterday's win over the visiting Argos in what might have been the Als' most complete performance this season. It's almost as if they thrive on adversity...A week after being publicly chastised by Giants coach Tom Coughlin for a perceived late-game cheap shot on New York quarterback Eli Manning, Tampa Bay head coach Greg "That's How We Did It At Rutgers" Schiano was true to his word yesterday, not only ordering his defence to bull rush Tony Romo when the Dallas QB took a knee in the dying seconds of the Cowboys win over the Bucs, but calling two timeouts so they could go after Romo again. I give it 18 months at the outside before Schiano is back at Rutgers, if not coaching his kids' Pop Warner League team...The Giants were off yesterday but they played San Diego last night on my son's Madden NFL 13 game. In order to test my theory that they could still compete without Eli Manning, I specifically requested that Sam start David Carr at quarterback for the Giants, and the results were not encouraging. Carr completed 3 of 22 passes for 12 yards, one interception and a 20.6 quarterback rating in a 9-0 loss to the Chargers, and was so predictably bad that simulated Phil Simms was pre-programmed to make disparaging comments about him. Clearly, I was the last one to know.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Banjo-hitting Vizquel passes Sultan of Twat

I'm guessing I wasn't the only one who snickered yesterday when Omar Vizquel passed Babe Ruth on major league baseball's all-time hits list.  I mean, really - Omar Vizquel and Babe Ruth in the same sentence?  Well, upon reflection and with a little statistical research, why not?  Vizquel is fifth in career hits for a shortstop, behind Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount and Derek Jeter - baseball legends one and all.  He's the all-time leader in games played at shortstop and double plays for a shortstop, has 11 career Gold Glove Awards - only two fewer than Ozzie Smith - and a .272 career batting average, 10 points higher than Smith, who was a first ballot Hall of Famer.  And with due respect to the Babe, who's the better role model - the 45 year old committed professional who can still hit major league pitching and play any infield or outfield position in middle age, or the syphilis-ridden alcoholic who drank and philandered his way into an early grave?  All things considered, it's actually a credit to Ruth that it look Vizquel this long to catch him.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The closet is still closed

Anyone who thinks that a public outcry and three game suspension against a baseball player for a homophobic slur represent a societal turning point might want to dial back their expectations. In the bigger battle for acceptance, it's not enough for social and mainstream media do-gooders to satisfy their own consciences with fish-in-a-barrel lip service against a hapless target like Yunel Escobar.
The gay athletic community needs a Jackie Robinson. The dynamics are different and the struggle is no less daunting in many ways, but men's professional team sports are more ready for an openly gay superstar in 2012 than America was prepared for a black major league baseball player in 1947. In breaking baseball's color barrier, Robinson exposed himself to enormous hostility and abuse but never wavered, and in time became an accepted and respected American icon. Robinson couldn't hide the fact that he was black the way a gay or lesbian athlete can fly under the radar if he or she so chooses, and that's the choice the overwhelming majority have made. Up to and even into this century, that was the expedient and even prudent course, but the past 10 years have been a watershed - socially, politically and legally. The Escobar episode demonstrates that there is not only support for but PRESSURE to support same sex equality, to the point where even the most moderate adversaries are summarily branded as bigots.
Jackie Robinson changed history with a handful of advocates at his side. An openly gay baseball, basketball, football or hockey star in the existing socio-political climate would be an instant hero to tens of millions of people. If ever there was a time for a team sport athlete of significant stature to come out publicly and do for their community what Jackie Robinson did for his, it's now.
So where is he?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lockouts, protocol breaches and R&B tight ends

With the third hockey lockout in the past two decades now officially on the books, it's more abundantly clear than ever that the overwhelming share of the blame and responsibility is on the owners. Whatever the players' ulterior motive in offering to start the season without an agreement, it can at least be construed as a gesture of good faith. The same goes for the players' willingness to amend the previous CBA at their own expense, if not to the extent that the league is demanding. And whatever valid business reasons exist for the flurry of player contract signings before the lockout deadline, they are dwarfed by the owners' hypocrisy. Their frenzied, last minute use of a system they claim is broken blows gigantic holes in the league's credibility...Not that the players can lay complete claim to the moral high ground: the fact that NHLers who've signed with European clubs are taking jobs from players overseas suggests there is a selective solidarity among members of the NHLPA, and that they have no compunction about taking food off someone else's table for their own benefit...Even in the violent world of professional football, there are such things as etiquette and protocol, and Tampa Bay rookie head coach Greg Schiano breached both yesterday when he ordered his defence to fire through the New York line as the Giants took a knee on the last play of the game. Schiano's "it's not over 'till it's over" and "that's how we did it at Rutgers" rationalization was beyond lame, and if you think I'd feel differently if the Giants were on the other side of the ball - well, you're probably right...After spending most of last week calling former NHL defenceman Normand Rochefort "Leon" Rochefort, it did my heart good yesterday to hear someone of Troy Aikman's stature repeatedly refer to Jake Ballard as "Hank" Ballard. At least I confused two hockey players with one another. Aikman had a deceased R&B singer playing tight end in the NFL...I suppose it's fun to play spoiler when you're so far out of contention that there's nothing else to play for, but there's something undignified about baseball also-rans celebrating September walk-off wins like they just clinched the pennant. Are you listening, Red Sox and Royals? Have some humility. You've earned it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Laughingstock Leafs laugh all the way to the bank

While it provides fresh fodder for the time-honored recreational pursuit of Toronto-bashing, a new ESPN survey ranking the Leafs as the worst sports franchise in North America doesn't stand up to real world scrutiny.
The fundamental flaw is in the survey's methodology. It's based on fan perception, which incorporates the mistaken assumption that what the fans think actually matters. Based on eight criteria including bang for the buck, fan relations, stadium experience, affordability, past championships and championship prospects, and quality of ownership, management and players, the Leafs are dead last among the 122 NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball teams. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, are ranked as the seventh best franchise despite being in a chronic state of financial turmoil and ownership uncertainty. So much for credibility.
What the survey doesn't take into account is that the Leafs are the NHL's biggest cash cow; that despite their unmatched run of competitive futility, their's is hockey's most lucrative brand with a franchise value well north of half a billion dollars. Success in professional sports in 2012 isn't measured on the scoreboard or in the standings. It's measured on the balance sheet. Championships are incidental to the bottom line. It's a credit to their organization's business acumen and marketing savvy that no matter how bad the Leafs are on the ice, their fans can't get enough of them, whether it's in ticket sales, media content or merchandise.
ESPN got it backwards. Far from being the worst modern franchise, the Leafs are the envy of the corporate sports business world as the template for making massive profits off a mediocre product.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Show of solidarity or unity test?

This is a defining week in the NHL labor dispute, and not just because the deadline for a collective bargaining agreement to avert a lockout is this weekend. A union meeting in New York today that's expected to draw upwards of 250 players and is being touted as a show of solidarity could also end up being an early test of player solidarity.
While their united front under veteran sports labor negotiator Donald Fehr appears to be stronger than it was under the turbulent leadership of Bob Goodenow during the last lockout eight years ago, the fact remains that the players are going to suffer more and sooner than the owners will hurt from a work stoppage, which is why photo ops with star players standing shoulder to shoulder behind Fehr is a bit disingenuous. Those players have substantial monetary reserves and/or enormous earning potential. They don't represent the majority of players who have shorter careers at lower salaries, and whose window of earning opportunity would take a more critical hit from a lockout of any significant duration. Time is money, and the owners have more of both than the players have.
The players caved in last time, and with no real leverage, there are more reasons than not to suggest they'll eventually fold again, and the sooner they acquiese, the quicker they can get back to earning more money than most of them will make in their post-hockey lives, even under the terms of an agreement favorable to the owners. With that stark reality in mind, keeping his membership from wavering during a lockout could ultimately be at least as great a challenge for Donald Fehr as negotiating a settlement.

Monday, September 10, 2012

NFL replacement refs, Serena and HOLY *&%# LOOK AT ANNA!

I saw a lot of terrific performances and intriguing developments in Week 1 of the NFL season: RG3's phenomenal debut, Peyton Manning's triumphant return and the Jets serving up some crow to the haters, to name but a handful of compelling plot twists. What I didn't see was substandard officiating cost anyone the game, their job or their health. I'm not saying it didn't happen. I'm saying I didn't see it, and I watched some of the games and most of the highlights. You'd have to catalogue every missed call in every game to say with certainty whether the replacement officials were better or worse than the locked out referees, and it seems to me that anyone who would go to those lengths is looking for a reason to complain...The case to be made for the Alouettes as the best team in the CFL fell apart Saturday in Vancouver, where the BC Lions schooled the Als and served emphatic notice that the Grey Cup will not be easily relinquished. The good news is that the 2012 Grey Cup game is in Toronto, meaning if the Alouettes get another crack at the Lions this season, it won't be at BC Place, which has consistently brought out the worst in the Als during a 10 year span that they've otherwise pretty much dominated...He's not as typically unprofessional as John Tortorella, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi is starting to share the Rangers coach's open disdain for certain media members. After a loss in Baltimore Saturday, Girardi went nose-to-nose with the New York Post's Joel Sherman, who reportedly gave as good as he got in the exchange, which would represent a rare moral victory for sports reporters routinely subjected to psychological bullying by self-important athletes, coaches and managers...If she didn't already belong, Serena Williams is now a legitimate part of the conversation about the greatest woman tennis player of all time, alongside Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. On the cusp of 31 in a young woman's sport, Williams is on one of the best runs of her career, adding yesterday's US Open title to the Wimbledon and Olympic championships she won earlier this summer..Meanwhile, I would conservatively estimate that men's professional tennis is at least 30 percent faster than the women's game - not necessarily better or more entertaining, but played at significantly greater speed and with correspondingly more power. It might not be politically correct to say so, but pointing out the obvious doesn't make me sexist. What makes me sexist is that Anna Kournikova is still my favorite tennis player.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Touching

No one knows what to expect on the field when Penn State football kicks off the post-Paterno era this weekend, but one thing it appears we can count on is a tight playlist on the stadium sound system.
University officials have confirmed that Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" will no longer be played at Nittany Lions home games, although they insist it has nothing to do with the song's lyrics, which include "Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching you, touching me." According to a Penn State spokesman, Sweet Caroline was dropped as part of a routine playlist rotation, and the decision is unrelated to the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal. And if you believe that, perhaps I can interest you in some Florida swampland, a prime patch of Brazilian rain forest or a lovely stretch of Mongolian desert. Presumably, if a song as innocuous as Sweet Caroline is getting the hook, we won't be hearing the the Doors' "Touch Me," Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" or MC Hammer's "You Can't Touch This" at Penn State games. While they're at it, maybe they should ban the term "touchdown" in favor of the less offensive "six point scoring play."
It's one thing to forego due process and throw a dead man under the bus with the benefit of little more than sanctimonious hindsight - and even though I don't agree with it, I understand the expediency in making Joe Paterno a scapegoat to the point where he's come to symbolize the scandal more than the actual perpetrator - but the Sweet Caroline episode is confirmation that panic and paranoia have officially trumped common sense at Penn State.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A mosquito by any other name is a Skeeter

Regardless of his motives and whether or not he actually makes it back to the major leagues, Roger Clemens' return to baseball at the age of 50 has introduced us to one of the most delightfully named franchises in all of professional sports.
If you had asked me before yesterday who or what the Sugar Land Skeeters are, I'd have guessed an indie rock-a-billy music trio or a brand of candied yam available only at IHOP franchises south of the Mason-Dixon line. I also like the Toledo Mud Hens, Vermont Lake Monsters and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, but for a combination town AND team name, it's tough to beat the Texas-based Sugar Land Skeeters, not only for the name itself but because of how it rolls off the tongue of a native Texan.
The Skeeters also represent part of an inadvertent public relations campaign that continues to rehabilitate the image of a relatively useless, highly annoying and sometimes lethal insect. From being the namesake of the RAF's most celebrated fighter bomber of World War Two to having an entire youth sports league division named after it, the mosquito has enjoyed an unprecedented run of good press compared to other disease-bearing or parasitic life forms. That I'm aware of, there are no Quad City Dengue Beetles, Amarillo Ringworms or Fort Wayne Rabid Fruit Bats competing in any of the various professional and semi-pro leagues across North America.
But for this week, at least, the Skeeters are the darlings of baseball, all thanks to a snake.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ewww! Girls!

The slam dunk/point after/empty net goal commentary on women members finally being allowed into Augusta National is the one that celebrates the demise of a notorious sexist bastion and heralds the dawn of a new era of gender equality.
This is not that commentary.
Breaking the gender barrier at a high-falootin' country club doesn't exactly rank up there with women getting the vote or equal pay for work of equal value. It's the grownup version of girls forcing their way into a tree fort for no other reason than the boys decided that girls aren't allowed, and it's not going to make Augusta National any less exclusive in the bigger picture. Just because two women of enormous wealth and privilege have been embraced as members doesn't kick down the door for bored middle class housewives, empty nest retirees or the local ladies auxiliary.
This isn't a victory for women's rights. That war was won on issues of real substance. It's a victory for political correctness and spite, and a hollow victory at that.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to join Curves.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cheerio, London(and other Monday morning musingss)

In the debate over who should have carried the Canadian flag in the closing ceremony at the Olympics, one person's opinion mattered more than the rest, and she was good with the final choice. Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan - Canada's only gold medal winner in London - went on Twitter yesterday to congratulate soccer bronze medallist Christine Sinclair as a worthy bearer of the Canadian colors. MacLennan gets it. Sinclair is the face of a national women's soccer team that provided the defining moments of a bittersweet Olympics for Canada. Having her hoist the Maple Leaf sent the signal that shabby officiating can sully a championship, but it can't destroy a champion's spirit...Canada's men's track sprint team did an honorable job of manning up after being stripped of the bronze in the 4 by 100 meters. Jared Connaughton didn't hesitate to take the hit for running outside of his lane, and while the infraction was minimal and inconsequential to the outcome, Canadian coach Glenroy Gilbert said the rules are the rules, and it was the right call. Their dignity in defeat was at least as uplifting as their performance...Nice jean jackets on our athletes at the closing ceremony. Don't we get stereotyped enough by the rest of the world without playing into the cliche by wearing the time-honored Canadian tuxedo to a global party? The only things missing were tuques, stubby beer bottles and a pack of Export A sticking out of the jean jacket pocket...So, let's see, there's Anorexic Spice, Botox Spice, Boob Job Spice, Tummy Tuck Spice and Somewhat the Worse for Wear Spice...I haven't fleshed it out, but somewhere in that Wozniak vs. Wozniacki Rogers Cup tennis match there's an Abbott and Costello skit.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Phelps, Flav and other Monday morning musings

Every four years without fail, the Olympics boil down to 10 seconds - or 9.63 seconds, which was Usain Bolt's winning time yesterday in the signature event of the Summer Games. The men's 100 meters is the one event that's appointment television for the entire world, notwithstanding millions of Americans being willingly duped by network television coverage that's tape-delayed for the sake of ratings and advertising revenue. In the social media age, you'd have to be pretty deep in the Kentucky backwoods, Dakota hills or Louisiana bayou to not know Bolt had won the race by the time NBC got around to airing it last night...Good for Andy Murray that he won Olympic gold by avenging his Wimbledon final loss to Roger Federer, but don't even try equating the two championships. Olympic tennis is still a glorified exhibition compared to the Grand Slam tournaments, and Wimbledon is by far the most esteemed of the four professional majors. That Murray himself said beating Federer yesterday "sort of" made up for Wimbledon tells you everything you need to know about which event carries more prestige...At the risk of diminishing Rosie MacLennan's gold medal performance in trampoline, I'm hoping Team Canada can pad MacLennan's medal with gold in a more traditional Olympic sport, like speed walking, rhythmic gymnastics or chariot racing...Among the landslide of quality online wisecracks spawned by the first full-blown twitter Olympics, I have two favorites: MacLean's magazine columnist Scott Feschuk's fervent wish that a thousand hornets build a nest in Bob Costas's colon, and Sports Illustrated contributor Steve Rushin's observation that 22 - 18 of them gold - accurately describes not only Michael Phelps' medals but also Flavor Flav's teeth.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mea culpa

I've offended a lot of people over the course of my radio career.  It comes with the territory of being paid to give an opinion, and I've long believed that trying to be all things to all people makes you nothing to anyone.  Yesterday, though, I managed to offend even myself by committing the cardinal broadcasting sin of cracking wise about something on which I was uninformed. 
That I'm aware of, no one complained about the short guy jokes about Brian Price, the diminutive coxswain of Canada's silver medal-winning men's eight rowing team, but I'm compelled to call myself out after learning that the 5 foot, 4 inch, 120 pound Price is a cancer survivor whose childhood battle with leukemia stunted his physical growth.  If I'd been paying attention in 2008 when Price was part of a Canadian gold medal effort, I'd have known his story, but I wasn't so I didn't, and yesterday I ended up publicly mocking someone who not only faced more adversity by the age of 12 than most people face in a lifetime, but whose strength of spirit represents the Olympic ideal as much or more than any of the athletes we so gushingly celebrate. 
Brian Price's power of example makes him someone to be respected rather than ridiculed.  Consider the lesson learned.   

Monday, July 30, 2012

The vilification of Tim Thomas(and other Monday morning musings)

It doesn't take much time on Tim Thomas' Facebook page to realize there's a lot more visceral hatred and sanctimonious piety directed at Thomas than there is in his statement supporting the traditional definition of marriage. Automatically equating support for traditional family values with homophobia is a false and dangerous assumption that's at best disingenuous and at worst a deliberate distortion aimed at whipping up hysteria to push a sociopolitical agenda. Tolerance is a two-way street, and in the debate over what defines a marriage, there's no exclusivity on the moral high ground...If there's even a kernal of truth to reports it'll take 30 million dollars over four years to lock up Shane Doan, the 36 year old unrestricted free agent can save himself the trouble of visiting Montreal this week. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has set a clear course of responsible spending on sensible contracts. With all due respect to Doan, Bergevin is already saddled with enough salary cap deadweight without exacerbating the bloat by overcommitting to yet another veteran whose best years are behind him...It's a measure of the monarchy's waning influence that Queen Elizabeth had to stay up well past midnight to attend Friday's opening ceremony at the London Olympics. Henry VIII would have had the organizers beheaded and married their widows by half-past eight...There's nothing audacious or disrespectful about Lebron James and Kobe Bryant saying the 2012 US Olympic mens' basketball team could beat the 1992 Dream Team. As a rule, elite level athletic champions don't defer to anyone, whether the opponent is real or imagined...Call me insensitive, but every time a world class gymnast does the one-legged windmill before falling off the balance beam, I involuntarily laugh out loud. Such is the comedic power of the pratfall, no matter how majestic the stage...Olympic table tennis players apparently take umbrage when their event is referred to as ping pong. Seems rather presumptuous for a sport that's at its mass appeal zenith on rainy days at summer camp.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Digging up the dead to throw more dirt on them

There are no conclusions in the Freeh Report on the Penn State scandal that the media and public didn't already jump to several months ago. Otherwise responsible journalists led the rush to judgement by abandoning their professional code of ethics and declaring Jerry Sandusky guilty of child sex abuse before Sandusky even went to trial, and demonizing the late Joe Paterno for participating in a cover-up that still hadn't been proven.

So, now that Sandusky's in jail for the rest of his life and Paterno's complicity is documented, we're going through the same exercise in holier-than-thou condemnation that we went through before it was actually justified. I guess people wanted to get their shots in on Paterno while he was still alive and weren't going to let a minor detail like due process stand in the way.

What's equal parts fascinating and predictable is that despite being a peripheral figure whose worst crime was exercising poor judgement in an impossible situation that was not of his own making, Paterno has become an even bigger villain than the actual child rapist. We are a celebrity-obsessed culture, and as the highest-profile name in the case, Paterno is the natural magnet for vilification, because if there's one thing our culture enjoys more than building someone up to demigod status, it's tearing them down again, whether it's for their own good or to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, no amount of abasement, mortification or even forgiveness is going to make any difference now, because Joe Paterno is dead, and his reputation and legacy were destroyed before he died.

Apparently, though, there's nothing like pissing on a dead man's grave for that smug feeling of moral superiority.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The straw that stirs the shit

There's something unsettling about the fallout from Reggie Jackson's comments in Sports Illustrated regarding Alex Rodriguez and the Baseball Hall of Fame. In pondering the legitimacy of A-Rod's statistical legacy in light of his acknowledged use of steroids and questioning the credentials of relatively recent Hall of Fame inductees Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, Don Sutton, Phil Neikro and Jim Rice, Jackson was weighing in on a legitimate debate that millions of baseball fans engage in on a regular basis, but the reaction from the baseball establishment was over the top. The Yankees, whom Jackson serves as a special advisor, banned him from the team indefinitely for supposedly disparaging Rodriguez, who's done a more than adequate job of soiling his own reputation over the years. Wally Backman, a former Carter teammate with the Mets, called Jackson's comments "a disgrace."

Publicly debating Hall of Fame credentials may have been lacking in tact for someone of Jackson's standing, but who better to take the measure of a ballplayer than a Hall of Famer himself? And with players from the Steroid Era coming up for eligibility en masse, shouldn't it matter what someone who's been around the game for 45 years and earned his way to Cooperstown thinks?

The Yankees, Wally Backman and anyone else are free to disagree with Jackson, but he should be just as free to give an honest opinion on a relevant topic without being subjected to semi-hysterical censure.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Habs drop the ball on Big Bird (and other Monday morning musings)

They are life's most compelling and enduring mysteries: how was the universe created, are there intelligent beings on other planets, and why don't the Canadiens hire Larry Robinson? More to the point, why do they go out of their way to not hire a nine-time Stanley Cup champion with proven credentials and a stated desire to coach in the city where he's celebrated as a hockey icon? It's the kind of no-brainer that makes you wonder sometimes whether there's intelligent life on this planet...If John McEnroe says Roger Federer is the greatest player who ever stepped on a tennis court, that's good enough for me, but beyond the incredible record of athletic achievement, the dignity and humility with which Federer unfailingly comports himself might make him the greatest champion of all-time, in any sport...Congratulations are in order for Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount for winning the junior girls' championship at Wimbledon, but lest anyone burden her with unfair expectations, it's worth noting that the 18 year old Bouchard is ranked 309th on the women's pro tour, and that among the elite players, Serena Williams won the US Open at 18 and Maria Sharapova won a Wimbledon women's championship at 17. That's not a devaluation of what Bouchard accomplished as much as it's a testament to the enormous competitive challenges at the professional level...Even Jack Todd admits there's no longer any credibility in dismissing Formula One as boring and predictable. Between the consistent race-to-race drama and the see-saw battle atop the standings, 2012 has been the most entertaining season since before Michael Schumacher's heyday. I understand F1 is not everyone's cup of tea, and if you don't like fast cars and beautiful women, that's your business...If disappointing attendance figures at Impact games are a commentary on Saputo Stadium's east end location, how do you explain the Alouettes coming up four thousand short of a sellout for their home opener on a beautiful Friday night downtown? The empty seats at sporting events might have more to do with the economy than anything else. These aren't exactly boom times for the middle class, but the good news is when you use the money you would have spent on tickets to pay the hydro and cable bills, you can still watch the game on TV.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

In dog we trust

It's the great American paradox that the western world's leading industrialized nation and only global superpower represents the best and worst of everything, and at no time is that more apparent than on the 4th of July, when festivities commemorating the birth of the Union are highlighted by a hot dog eating contest.
According to Major League Eating - the sanctioning body for all professional eating competitions - the ESPN broadcast of the Nathan's Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest has generated a higher rating than any major league baseball telecast in the U.S. on July 4th.

I'm not making this up.

In keeping with Independance Day tradition, thousands of people gathered in Coney Island, New York yesterday to watch six-time champion Joey Chestnut retain his title by cramming 68 dogs down his gullet in 10 minutes.

How's that for a celebration of the founding fathers' principles, resolve and sacrifice? Do you suppose Thomas Jefferson took a break from writing the Declaration of Independance so he could go over to George Washington's house and see which one of them could eat more of Martha's pies? What are the odds that Betsy Ross got apple sauce on the original star spangled banner because she sewed it together right after competing in a pork chop eating contest at Ye Olde Schweinhaus in Germantown, Pennsylvania?

While there's no direct reference to competitive eating in the US Constitution, the freedoms outlined in the document can be reasonably interpreted to include eating as many hot dogs as you want. Still, that's probably not what the Second Continental Congress had in mind when it approved the Declaration of Independance, although - ironically - John Hancock's signature is smudged with tartar sauce from the 13 Colonies Crab Cakes eating championship.

Okay, that part I made up.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

UFA in the Twitter age

Ryan Suter & Zach Parise are in Day 3 of NHL free agency with some wondering why they haven't made a decision on where to play - KILLING US
Zach Parise,Ryan Suter make a decision already!! It's ONLY a game that you will get 80-100 mil to play , been there
Congrats to Zach Parise for giving everyone in the hockey world a serious case of blue-balls.

As so-called "frenzies" go, this year's NHL free agent hullabaloo has been about as compelling and provocative as a Pauline Marois pole dance.
When undrafted journeyman defenceman Jason Garrison signs the most lucrative contract in the first 36 hours of UFA activity, you know we're not dealing with a bumper crop of elite talent, but the internet-driven 24/7 news cycle has blown the process entirely out of proportion.
There was actually a Twitter backlash against Zach Parise when he announced he hasn't made up his mind where he'll sign, as if he somehow owes us a hasty decision just because we've spent the last two days refreshing our browsers every 30 seconds. Any other businessman concluding a deal worth tens of millions of dollars would never be expected to proceed without due diligence, but fans and media alike take Parise to task for not catering to our short attention span and insatiable appetite for instant gratification.
At the risk of turning this into a "back in my day" rant, there was a time not so long ago when we got the news from the morning papers or evening newscasts, and that was good enough. In between, we lived our own lives and didn't obsess over the latest status updates from total strangers. Social media can be a wonderful distraction, but like any other recreational amusement aid, it's best used in moderation.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Habs, Hot Wheels and other Monday morning musings

Slim pickings in unrestricted free agency was probably a best case scenario for Marc Bergevin in his first UFA shopping spree as Canadiens general manager. In the almost complete absence of marquee names, there was minimal fan and media clamoring for Bergevin to target a so-called impact player, and he was able to focus on adding depth and character without breaking the bank. On their own, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon won't win you the Stanley Cup, but you can't win it without them or players like them...If I were a Torontonian and/or a Leafs fan, I'd be less put out by general manager Brian Burke spending free agent frenzy day at the city's Gay Pride parade than I would with the timing of the parade. It seems more than little presumptuous to upstage Canada Day when you've got an entire summer season to break out the Birkenstock sandals and assless chaps...Watching Spain dismantle Italy in the Euro 2012 final reminded me of the old Soviet Red Army hockey team, in the way they took precision execution to a level that not only defeated but demoralized their opponents. It didn't hurt that Italy had nothing left in the tank after hard-fought wins over England and Germany, while Spain was able to save its best for last...It's early and things can change, but the CFL West served emphatic notice this weekend that it still owns Canadian pro football bragging rights. Not only did all four Eastern Division teams lose their season openers, three of the four - including the Alouettes - were laid out by western opponents who might have resented the pre-season hype about how much better the East was going to be in 2012...The 10 year old boy in me loved the spectacle of two stunt drivers successfully navigating life-sized Hot Wheels cars through a giant orange replica of the Double Loop Dare at the X Games in Los Angeles, but I'd have been even more impressed if they'd done it in a Big Jim Sports Camper.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Faster, higher, stronger, chaster(and other Monday morning musings)

The only way the Canadiens could possibly have done better at the 2012 NHL draft is if they were the Buffalo Sabres, who got centers Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons with the 12th and 14th picks of the first round.  Time will tell how general manager Marc Bergevin and scouting director Trevor Timmins fared relative to the rest of the league, but it bodes well that the Canadiens' first three choices - Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg and Dalton Thrower - have been favorably compared to Anze Kopitar, Daniel Alfredsson and Kevin Bieska.  Add that kind of potential to a young core that already includes Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty and blue chip prospects Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, and it's not a complete stretch to hope for a serious championship run within the next 3-5 years...Not to rain on anyone's parade, but sometimes I wish people were half as excited and proud to be Canadian as they are about the loose affiliation they have with the country their grandparents were born in when it wins a soccer game.  That said, people who know more about soccer than I do tell me that when your next opponent is Germany, it's a good idea to celebrate while you still can...Just when you thought the Formula One season couldn't get any more dramatic, yesterday's incident-filled European Grand Prix in Valencia produced an improbable and emotional win for crowd favorite Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher's first podium finish since 2006.  Whether by coincidence or design, F1 is finally generating parity and competition to keep fans interested beyond the halfway point of the calender...It's an encouraging sign for human rights in the Islamic world that Saudi Arabia is sending female athletes to the Olympics for the first time, but I don't like their chances in water polo or the high hurdles if they're still forced to wear the burka.

Friday, June 22, 2012

l'affaire McGuire: The Morning Show Strikes Back

It was like the Americans attacking their own fleet at Pearl Harbor yesterday when Pierre McGuire used the Melnick in the Afternoon program on TSN 990 as a platform to disparage the radio station's Morning Show for supposedly misquoting him two days ago.  While it's true that his position on a hypothetical trade between the Oilers and the Canadiens was misrepresented, it was a caller who initially misquoted him, and a clarification was made within minutes and repeated later in the show - both times with the actual clip of Pierre being played for the sake of accuracy and transparency.  So it was surprising, disappointing and ironic that the integrity of the morning program was impugned by the same kind of misrepresentation, completely out of the blue.  It was a deliberate and calculated public broadside from someone who - in theory, at least - is on the same team. 
Is that how Pierre McGuire would have handled a misunderstanding in the Canadiens organization if he'd been hired as general manager - by publicly throwing other members of his organization under the bus on the basis of second hand information for his own satisfaction rather than privately seeking their side of the story?  I wasn't privy to the particulars of the hiring process, but it's probably safe to assume that hypersensitivity and a petty preoccupation with always being right were not as high on the list of qualities that Geoff Molson and Serge Savard were looking for as poise, professionalism, emotional maturity and a thick skin. 
There are myriad reasons why Marc Bergevin was the right choice for the job, and one of them is that he recognizes he has larger responsibilities than constantly obsessing over what other people are saying about him.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vegas can have what happens in Vegas

With due respect to Evgeny Malkin, who was the best player in hockey this season, the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP should have gone to Will Arnett for saving last night's NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. Arnett's recurring Brendan Shanahan spoof was the only remotely redeeming feature of a broadcast that was only marginally more refined than a middle school variety show.
Between Nickelback's ill-suited noisemaking and Matthew Perry's overly self-deprecating opening monologue, the show stalled out of the gate and never got off the ground. The "no host" experiment was a flop, as the awards lurched awkwardly from one presenter to the next, interspered with the occasional nod to social media from the obligatory Barbie doll in the predictably revealing evening dress, and off-the-cuff chats between the award winners and Hockey Night in Canada's Kevin Weekes, who does a good enough job as a game analyst but was clearly out of his element as an interviewer.
It didn't have to be that painful, and the resources to make it a more palatable presentaton are right under the league's nose. TSN's James Duthie as host and Hockey Night's Elliott Friedman handling the interviews would have given the awards show the professional polish it lacked from a couple of experienced broadcasters who know how to build and maintain momentum and aren't afraid of a live audience. And how about letting some fans in, rather than packing the place with hockey people who look like they'd rather be anywhere else? A good show needs a good room, and last night's crowd came across like they were sitting shiva, complete with the feeling that the whole thing lasted a week.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The clothes make the man (and other Monday morning musings)

There's a difference between vintage Tiger Woods and the Tiger Woods of old. The fourth round charge to victory at the Memorial earlier this month was vintage Tiger Woods. The Tiger Woods of old would have ridden that momentum all the way through the U.S. Open, instead of falling apart in the final two rounds. Between Tiger's inconsistency and the fierce competition on the PGA Tour - as in different winners in the last 14 majors, including an unprecedented nine straight first time major champions - the smart money says Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories is safe for at least another generation...It's unnerving to watch, read and listen to sports writers and broadcasters with 30 or more years of experience talk about Jerry Sandusky as if he's already been found guilty. That may well be the eventual verdict in the Penn State football sex abuse scandal, but for journalists to publicly declare Sandusky guilty while he's still before the courts is a fundamental breach of their own professional ethics. The universal rush to judgement makes it easy to pile on in the Sandusky case, but even the worst offender has the right to a fair trial...If feel-good sentiment counts for anything, this weekend's series of sold out events to celebrate the 1981 Expos was a small but significant step on the formidable road to bringing professional baseball back to Montreal. That Gary Carter's memory was honored in perpetuity and the reunion raised 20 thousand dollars for cancer research made it worthwhile in any event... Just because he's a phenom doesn't mean there won't bumps along the road to greatness for 19 year old Bryce Harper, who went oh for 7 and struck out five times in Washington's 14 inning loss to the Yankees Saturday. It's a measure of his enormous ability and poise that Harper bounced back and went 2 for 4 yesterday with a double and a single...I'm as much of a stickler for tradition as the next baseball purist, but after watching Phillies manager Charlie Manuel waddle out to the mound looking like he's wrapped in sausage casing, I think it's finally time for the grand old game to get managers out of uniforms and into street clothes. The NFL doesn't force Andy Reid into form-fitting football tights and the NHL doesn't make Ken Hitchcock wear hockey pants during games; baseball should extend the same courtesy for the sake of everyone's dignity.

Monday, June 11, 2012

City shines despite the riff-raff (and other Monday morning musings)

Lewis Hamilton took the checkered flag, but the big winners at this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix were Formula One, its fans and the city. The race itself went off without a hitch, and no harm was done to any F1 party-goers who had the good sense not to mingle with the unwashed rabble for the sake of a photo op. If anything, Montreal proved a worthy host to a world class event, thanks to the heroic efforts of police and private security and the civilized conduct of the vast majority of Montrealers who don't share the hard-done-by sentiments of students and anarchists...We're finally getting the Stanley Cup championship series most of us expected, but not in the fashion that anyone expected it to unfold. Game 6 tonight in Los Angeles represents a journey into the unknown, as it marks the first time in these playoffs that the Kings will face anything remotely representing adversity...Lebron James' critics can reserve the right to call him out if he tanks in the NBA final, but right now, he deserves nothing but the utmost respect for the way he stepped up against Boston...I didn't watch the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight, but I didn't have to see it to know the decision in Bradley's favor was a disgrace. The consensus is beyond overwhelming, and the perception of professional boxing as a mob-controlled farce has taken ever-firmer root...It doesn't get any smaller-minded than the suggestion that Maria Sharapova's career Grand Slam is somehow diminished by the absence of quality competition. Sharapova's contemporaries on the women's tennis tour have included the Williams sisters, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin. Where are the shortcuts? I don't care if Union Rags won it running backwards with Magilla Gorilla as a jockey, the injury withdrawal of would-be Triple Crown winner I'll Have Another from the Belmont Stakes made it a non-event. No one remembers who won the Belmont unless they also won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. As for I'll Have Another, at last report he was a 4-5 favorite to be the binding adhesive in my son's Secondary 1 geography project.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Clowns and cretins

I was embarrassed at what went on in downtown Montreal last night - not embarrassed BY the protestors, but embarrassed FOR them.

With the city's most pretigious international event as a backdrop to get their message out, the best student demonstrators and their loose coalition of anti-establishment allies could muster was a combined total of about a thousand people, split between several hundred half or fully-naked student marchers who paraded their assets through the downtown core, and a lesser number of anarchist riff-raff who demonstrated outside a Canadian Grand Prix gala fundraiser in Little Burgundy before trying to crash the Formula One party on Crescent Street. They were relatively easy pickings for a strong police presence that rightfully kept the demonstrators contained and away from a substantially greater number of people exercising THEIR right to indulge in their passion, pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy and raise money for the Ste. Justine and Sacre Coeur hospitals.

It's the height of irony when students and the anti-capitalist crowd rage against F1 revellers as the "crass elite." It doesn't get much more crass than marching down the street with Big Jim and the Twins swinging in the breeze, or the profanity-laced website set up by the anarchist group that caused most of the trouble last night (whose spokesman, by the way, was stuck for an answer when asked what they proposed as an alternative to the existing political and economic system).

The demonstrators succeeded in getting their message out, alright, and that message is this: "We are a fringe element of immature, leaderless rabble with a chip on our shoulder, awash in self-righteous entitlement but bereft of ideas or credibility. And check out my tits."

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's barfarrific!! (and other Monday morning musings)

With two wins in a little more than two months, Tiger Woods has re-established himself as a player to be reckoned with on the PGA Tour, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Following yesterday's impressive comeback win at the Memorial, Woods is already being touted as the early favorite for the US Open by some of the same fortune tellers who pegged him to win the Masters, where he finished tied for 40th two weeks after taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods is still one of the best, but he has yet to recapture the consistency that made him the dominant force on the Tour...If he wasn't already part of the playoff MVP discussion, Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty is surely among the frontrunners after logging 32-plus minutes of playing time and scoring one of the prettiest goals of the playoffs in Saturday's 2-1 overtime win in New Jersey for a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup final. It speaks to the Kings' depth, balance and collective resolve that Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner are all legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidates, and that any of them would be happy to see a teammate win it as long as they all win the Stanley Cup...In a meandering, egg-headed defence of Ron MacLean's ill-advised 9/11 analogy earlier in the playoffs, Montreal sociology professor Avi Goldberg demonstrated in Saturday's Gazette how completely out of touch academia can be with the real world. MacLean wasn't writing a thesis when he put hockey players in the same company as emergency response personnel in the worst terrorist attack in history. He was hosting a prime time network broadcast, and his comments were as insensitive and cockamamie as Professor Goldberg's article was harebrained and pretentious...Throwing up is not a staple of supper hour sportscasts, so it was more than a little jarring Friday when TV viewers were subjected to not one but TWO images of athletes losing their lunch: Richard Gasquet barking at the ants on court at the French Open, and a draft prospect projectile vomiting off the exercise bike at the NHL combine. There are websites for people who want to watch stuff like that; I can do without it on my television...Stand by to suspend one of the fundamental rules of English grammar when Euro 2012 gets underway this Friday. Ironically, English announcers are the worst offenders when they pluralize the singular by saying "England win" or "Italy lose," not unlike the Quebec automotive enthusiast who has one cars and two truck.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lose-win for Roddick (and other Monday morning musings)

A week and a half ago, after they stormed to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference final, the Los Angeles Kings were all but awarded the Stanley Cup on the basis of their size, depth, goaltending and a smattering of the team of destiny aura that comes with being an 8th seed that dispatches higher-ranked teams with authority. Fast forward 11 days and the Kings are probably still the favorites in the Stanley Cup final, but only marginally so against a New Jersey team that has size, depth, goaltending and no shortage of its own team-of-destiny identity. It's difficult to imagine either team requiring fewer six games to seal the deal, and for reasons including momentum, experience and home ice - which admittedly hasn't been an advantage against the Kings - I like the Devils...Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjdal's dramatic win in the prestigious Giro d'Italia is a crowning personal achievement for Hesjdal and a feather in Canada's cap abroad, but it's probably the worst thing that could happen for Montreal motorists and recreational cyclists who have to share streets and bike paths with Tour de France wanna-bes who fancy themselves the next Hesjdal. And while we're on the subject, the same rule applies to bicycle pants that applies to capri pants: unless you look like Hesjdal or Rafael Nadal, don't wear them...There's nothing in history or geography that marks Boston and Tampa as natural rivals, but the Red Sox and Rays might have more mutual ill will between them than exists among the other 28 major league baseball teams combined. The printable terms Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon used to describe the Bosox after only the latest bench-clearing incident between the two teams included cowardly, incompetent and idiotic, while Boston manager Bobby Valentine countered that the Rays were immature, out of control and unprofessional. That feud is not over...It would be politically incorrect of me to make a kamikaze reference after Japanese driver Takuma Sato's self-destructive passing attempt on the last lap of yesterday's Indianapolis 500. Watch the replay and draw your own conclusions. Just remember - ix-nay on the anzai-bay...Too bad for former world number one Andy Roddick that he flamed out in the first round at the French Open, but I can think of bleaker scenarios than being stuck in Paris with Brooklyn Decker and nothing to do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baseball goes to the NERDs

There was a time when a baseball player's value was determined in relatively simple terms - batting average, home runs and runs batted in for hitters, and earned run average, innings pitched and wins for pitchers. If you wanted to get more exotic in your analysis, you could delve into numbers like slugging and on-base percentages, opponents' batting average and strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
However, since sabermetrics entered the baseball maintream some 35 years ago, the defining measure of a player's value has shifted towards statistics like on-base plus slugging, or OPS, and walks and hits per innings pitched, or WHIP. Fair enough, but the baseball geeks were on a roll, and we now routinely hear and read about stats like Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Defense Independant Pitching Statistics (DIPS) and Late Inning Pressure Situations (LIPS). So we have BABIP and DIPS and LIPS to go with OPS and WHIP and FRIP and FRAP, and since we're so enamored with these statistics, I'd like to suggest a few more: Nominally Equivalent Rain Delay, Doubles Off Righthanded Knuckleballers, Duration Under Maximum Batspeed, Bat Arc Rotation Factor, Pitcher to Umpire Tangibility Zone - or, for short, NERD, DORK, DUMB, BARF and PUTZ. I think they'd fit right in with the existing overanalysis.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Russians represent (and other Monday morning musings on a Tuesday)

Random observations from a busy weekend in sports: say what you will about Alex Ovechkin as as NHL playoff bust - he answers the call and gets the job done for Russia at the world hockey championships, which is more than can be said for Canada's Stanley Cup also-rans. Ovechkin embodies a patriotic streak among post-Soviet era Russians for whom winning at the international level is at least as important as professional success, even if losing no longer means two years of garrison duty in Vladivostock...If it pains you to watch Lanny McDonald score on Patrick Roy and celebrate Calgary's 1989 Stanley Cup win at the Forum in that Scotiabank commercial, watch for a fleeting glimpse of McDonald's teammate, Brad McCrimmon, and think about what's really important, like the families McCrimmon and 43 others left behind when they were killed in a plane crash in Russia last year...Score another one for baseball nostalgia: those 1920s-era uniforms the Pirates and Tigers were wearing in Detroit Saturday were so authentic, it felt like the game should had been played in fast motion black-and-white with ragtime piano music instead of commentary...Every time I watch an NBA game, I regret that I didn't name my sons LaSam and DeCharlie...The US Army Brass Brigade played God Bless America before Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, apparently while on leave from torturing terror suspects with off-key oom-pah waltzes at Guantanamo Bay...Meanwhile, perpetually-excited NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip described the race as "no bars hold." Also, their walls are to the back, there's no yesterday and it's every self for his man...This just in: Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister is an early 7-2 favorite to be in my dog's dinner bowl if he doesn't win the Belmont Stakes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tortorella's act getting old fast

When William Shakespeake wrote that "brevity is the soul of wit," the Bard had evidently yet to see a John Tortorella news conference.

There's nothing remotely clever about the contempt with which the New York Rangers coach treats the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate. For a short while, Tortorella's conduct with the media was amusing, as long as you weren't one of the reporters trying to wring a 30 second clip out of a guy whose collective post-game musings amounted to 36 seconds. It's not Tortorella's job to give good clip. Good questions beget good answers, but Tortorella seldom even addresses legitimate queries with anything more than "we're keeping it in the room", "I'm not going to answer that" or the ever-popular "no."

Beyond being dopey, Tortorella's conduct is unprofessional. Trust me - most reporters are at least as loathe to deal with him as he is with them, but it's their job, and they consistently extend a professional courtesy that Tortorella routinely fails to extend in return. Somewhere along the line, Tortorella's hubris cost him his perspective. If it pains him so much to deal with reporters, maybe he'd like to take a coaching job in the East Coast Hockey League, where the media demands are a fraction of what they are in the NHL, as are the salary, fringe benefits and quality of working conditions. There's nothing like eating cold French fries on a 12 hour bus ride from Trenton to Kalamazoo to make you pine for the good old days of answering a few dumb questions at Madison Square Garden before grabbing a late dinner at your favorite Italian joint in the Village. And if he wants to avoid the media altogether, there are hundreds of minor hockey associations that would love to have an unpaid volunteer of Tortorella's stature and experience. A few 5:30am practices and overbearing parents demanding more ice time for little Timmy, and Tortorella would soon realize that his professional responsibilities in dealing with the media are not so daunting after all.