Wednesday, February 18, 2009


For Alex Rodriguez-A Long Way Down

Once the lid was lifted off the cookie jar, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees had a problem.

He had to figure out a way to inform the public that he had been a bad boy. He had been caught cheating by taking some sort of an enhancement substance so that he could be a better baseball player than he would have been naturally. He could hear the voices calling: “A Roid!!” and “A Fraud!!”

At this time, we really do not know what he was ingesting, or injecting into his body. What we do know is that he had been caught.

One point worth discussion is that he was the best player in the game at that time. It has also been proven that several of the worst players in baseball have also admitted that they had taken stuff to make them better players. So that leaves a whole mess of players in between. The former General Manager of the New York Mets, Steve Phillips, has estimated that at least 75% of major league baseball players were cheating.

When did all of this begin?

When will it end?

Most of the players realized then, and still realize, that steroids, taken in large doses, are not exactly health food. There are correlations with cancer. More than a few very large football players and professional wrestlers have died rather mysteriously in the past few years, well before their time. But they continued to do the drugs.

For the most part, my guess is that a player would rather hit a home run over the fence than hit a long and very loud out. There is big money in the long ball, but only the ones that clear the fences.

In 1988, Ben Johnson got caught. So we must assume that athletes knew about the drugs, and were taking the drugs before that time. Many Olympic weightlifters had been suspended and even disqualified even before Johnson got caught in Seoul.

Major League Baseball still has not come to grips with “HGH”, human growth hormone. Apparently, it also can enhance performance, and is used by athletes. It will be banned by baseball, but only when the union and the owners realize it is not all that good for the game.

Who knew that so many of the players were doing these drugs? Just about everybody in the game-owners, players, trainers, therapists.

The secret was, and still is that if you don’t get caught, it does not matter. Well now the genie is out of the bottle, and the tongues are wagging again.

Miguel Tejada, a former MVP, has now been charged with lying to a senate committee. How awful! What do you expect him to say? He was just following the three rules of advice from his lawyers: Deny, deny deny.

It gives Jose Canseco more opportunities to sell books. Certainly, he will make some noise. It is unfortunate that he was not able to expose the sport in a more sensible manner. Just another loud mouth.

How will baseball deal with this latest crisis?

They will begin by bowing their collective heads, weeping, and saying: “We’re sorry. We’re sorry. It will never happen again.”

For some baseball fans, the cows may have gotten out of the barn for the last time. They may not return to the parks; however, it is “America’s Pastime”, and it will survive.

Not all of the players were in the game when Alex Rodriguez started and ended his drug days. Perhaps some of the new players are clean. Certainly not all, as there are always players who are in the minor leagues drawing suspensions throughout the year. Players who have never seen a big league baseball park, but are willing to cheat in order to get there.

The league has made it more difficult to cheat, but there are still cracks in the door. Athletes from all walks of life will do what they can to get the edge, to be a little bit better than the other guy or girl. Do not be too shocked if a few Olympians get knocked off the podium in Vancouver.

And then there’s Michael Phelps! He says he didn’t mean to get caught with his nose in a bong. Of course he’s sorry! He likely has several million reasons for saying he’s sorry---all of them American Greenbacks. By the way, if you happen to be sharing that bong with Michael, good luck. He can breathe under water for several minutes, and has lungs like a horse. You’ll get the definite short end of the stick on that one!

Baseball is still a great game, and the games at the Rogers Centre feature the best players in the world. So, what the hell. I’ll see you at the park. Perhaps with a slightly more jaundiced eye. Sorry.

It’s really easy to say sorry! Over and over again!

James Hurst

Sunday, February 08, 2009


The Road to the World Championship

From the photo, celebrating the Allan Cup victory in Kelowna: (Back row, left to right) Barton Bradley, Dave Jones, Ike Hildebrand, Floyd Crawford.

Foreground: Russ Kowalchuk

The Road to the
World Championship

In their first year of existence, the Belleville McFarlands were runners-up to the Whitby Dunlops. The Dunlops went on to win the Allan Cup in 1957, earning the right to represent Canada in the World Championships in 1958.

In 1957-58, the McFarlands hoped to move up in the standings from the previous year. They had finished in third place, and had eliminated the Cornwall Chevies in the playoffs.

Two men were instrumental in the formation of the squad that went on to win the Allan Cup the following spring-Drury Denyes, team manager, and Ike Hildebrand, playing coach.

They began the year by signing key players from the year before: Goalie Gordie Bell, defencemen Moe Benoit, Floyd Crawford, and Lionel Botly, and forwards Jean-Paul Payette, Minnie Menard, Johnny Muretich, Keith MacDonald and Davey Jones. Turk Barclay filled two positions, backup goalie, and trainer.

They then added several players from across the country. From the west came Wayne “Weiner” Brown, born in Deloro but then playing in the Western Professional League, and Barton Bradley. The versatile Eddie Marineau came from the North Shore League of New Brunswick and the Pembroke Lumber Kings. Keith Montgomery from the Peterborough area, and Tony Poeta from North Bay were added to the club. Belleville’s own Gerry Goyer, a member of the well-known athletic Goyer family played the two previous years with Guelph Biltmore’s Junior “A” club.

Rugged Russ Kowalchuk came over from the Soo Indians. Later in the season Armand “Bep” Guidolin joined the team after an illustrious career in the NHL. No other player younger than Guidolin has ever started in the NHL. He was 16 when he first skated with the Boston Bruins.

They began the exhibition season by trouncing the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen 4-1. The Dutchmen had won the Western Division Championship the previous year, and also had won the World Title in 1956. The Macs then strung together wins over Cornwall, Peterborough TPT’s-the Junior “A” squad, the powerful St. Catherines Teepees and the Louisville Rebels of the International League.

The Macs were attempting to follow in the footsteps of the Dunlops. The Dunnies had won the Eastern League of the Senior “A” loop, knocked off the Dutchmen from the west, and went on to defeat the North Bay Trappers and the Spokane Chiefs to win the Allan Cup.

Even the booster club was styled after the one in Whitby. In a matter of weeks, more than a thousand members were on board, touting red berets, shouting “More Macs More”, and tucking a few hundred bucks in the till. The booster club paid the $ 500 to get Barton Bradley to come east with the club.
Picton’s Mayor, Harvey J. McFarland had thrown his support behind the club. He often spent his time in the press box with George H. Carver, the congenial editor of the Ontario Intelligencer, and Jack Devine, radio broadcaster with CJBQ.

Coach Hildebrand kept himself in top shape during the off-season as one of Canada’s premier lacrosse players. He played for the Toronto Marlboroughs in 1948-49, then jumped into professional hockey with the Los Angeles team in the Pacific Coast League. He went to Kansas City for a stint, then on to the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. In 1953-54, he played for the Chicago Black Hawks and the New York Rangers in the NHL. In 1954-55, he played for the Hawks and the Montreal Royals.

The Macs played against the other teams in the Eastern Loop: Whitby, Pembroke, Cornwall, and Kingston. They also had a couple of home games against the Ottawa-Hull Canadiens, a flashy group who wore Habs jerseys, leading us to dream that we were just that close to watching the NHL.

Those were the Macs who came home from Kelowna with the Allan Cup in 1958.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Best Super Bowl Ever!

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl Championship last Sunday, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa, Florida. The game was a barn burner, in doubt until the dying seconds.

There was no room for error throughout the game, and there were few mistakes made. Both teams played tough, and emotions ran high. There were far too many penalties -many stupid penalties---unnecessary roughness, cheap shots, goofy displays of machismo.

But when it came down to it, the game was a duel of two very fine quarterbacks. The Cardinals went into the game as underdogs, led by Kurt Warner. Warner was in line to win his second Super Bowl, and made waves that he might retire after a second trophy. He began his NFL career at the ripe old age of 28, having toiled in the Arena League, the European League, the Pop Warner league, and any other league that would have him.

Last Sunday, he played his heart out, especially in the second half, and almost upset the Steelers. He got robbed on the last play of the game when they determined that he had fumbled; otherwise he had another shot at the end zone, and a potential ring.

When James Harrison, the NFL Defensive player of the Year, ran an interception back for a touchdown on the last play of the first half, it could have been disastrous for the Cardinals. They regrouped, came back, and won the second half. But too little, too late.

The Cardinals struck back in the fourth quarter, utilizing their dynamic receiver Larry Fitzgerald. With less than three minutes remaining, Fitzgerald sped between a pair of Steeler defenders and raced 64 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals held the lead, but only briefly.

Big Ben Roethlisberger, at the helm for the Steelers, danced in the backfield, evaded gigantic tacklers, found his receivers, and executed well. His primary target, Santonio Holmes caught nine balls, four on the final drive. He leapt high in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to seal the fate of the Cardinals, and was named the most valuable player of the game.

Roethlisberger has not yet reached his twenty-seventh birthday, and has plenty of football yet to play. Broadway Joe Namath, former great quarterback with the New York Jets, helped Commissioner Roger Goodell present the Lombardi trophy to the Steelers.

The Rooney family founded the Steeler franchise in Pittsburgh in 1933. Arthur Rooney led the organization until the 1960s, when he handed the reins over to his son Dan. Dan accepted the trophy with his son, another Arthur, then gave the trophy to Roethlisberger, who ran down the ramp to the guys who really deserved it-the offensive line. They were the ones who protected him throughout the game.

At six feet, fine inches, and a couple of pork chops under two hundred and fifty pounds, Big Ben is not an easy tower to dismantle. He has signed a contract extension until 2015. Even at this point in his career, the commentators have him heading to the hall of fame in Canton, Ohio, down the road from his birthplace of Findlay, Ohio.

But it is a team game, and the Steelers won as a team. As Rooney Senior said: “We won playing Steeler football. It’s never going to be pretty. That’s what it is.”

The Belleville Minor Football league registrations take place next month. Not much breathing space between seasons!

James Hurst

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