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(DARRYL DYCK)
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Usual Suspects

Burrows sure to take the blame Add to ...

The NHL mandates that dressing rooms be open 10 minutes after games for reporters to get quotes. It then ensures that the players who talk to sweaty scribes will say nada by fining anyone who deviates from the accepted script about refereeing, opponents and fans.

The latest to discover this home truth is Alexandre Burrows of Vancouver, who exercised his free-speech rights on Monday. The Canucks' fiery winger said referee Stephane Auger had promised to punish him during the Canucks' game against Nashville for embarrassing Auger earlier in the season. As both men speak French, it's hard to see how this explosive accusation was lost in translation. It wasn't lost on Canucks nation, which is seething over phantom calls and a costly loss to Nashville.

While a wonderful thing, the U.S. First Amendment does not protect NHL players from the commissioner's wrath when they intimate that referees can be capricious. Even if the vendetta claim sounds a lot like Tim Donaghy's accusations against his fellow NBA refs, Gary "Nothing To See Here" Bettman has targeted the excitable Burrows. Burrows was be given a chance to defend himself, then was hanged, drawn and quartered for media amusement and a $2500 fine. Auger, meanwhile, will be dealt with in the secret dungeon where the NHL buries embarrassments such as these. Then sworn to silence.

The league will subsequently announce that their crack investigators found nothing, absolutely nothing to substantiate Burrows's charges stemming from the two-lap conversation caught on tape before Monday's game. (To do otherwise would torch the Chinese lantern of league integrity.) After the heady whiff of candour from Burrows, reporters will be expected to return to printing banalities about puck possession, check finishing and commitment levels.

The final word on the validity of Burrows claims against Auger debate fell to the Predators own announcers. After watching Auger deliver his team another power play in the third (one of six), even Preds TV announcer Terry Crisp publicly concluded that this ain't no way to play hockey.

Who's The Best: If you want start a dandy argument, get Canadian baseball fans to debate who was the better announcer: Dave Van Horne or the late Tom Cheek. Both men - along with Jacques Doucet - are once again nominees for the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award honouring contributions to broadcasting in baseball. The 2010 winner will be named early next month, and there is anticipation that either Van Horne or Cheek will finally get the nod after lengthy careers.

Deciding which of the two men should get there first is a matter of taste-- and geography. Expos fans naturally lean to Van Horne while Blue Jays supporters think it's time for Cheek to be recognized. You like chocolate, we like vanilla.

Van Horne (who's now calling Florida Marlins games) was the English voice of the Montreal Expos on radio and (sometimes) TV from their inception in April of 1969 till his move in 2004 to Florida. To long-suffering Expos fans who saw just one postseason appearance and a bitter exit from Montreal, Van Horne was as much the soul of their team as any of its Hall of Fame players. Like a valued relative, he was there to console, explain and humour fans of the misbegotten team for 35 years.

Like today's hot announcing property, Dan Shulman, Van Horne has killer pipes. In Montreal, he seamlessly poured out statistics, anecdotes and (occasional) criticism next to an assortment of Expos side men that started with Russ Taylor and included Duke Snider, Ken Singleton, Jerry Trupiano and Tommy Hutton. The mark of Van Horne's skill, say fans, was his ability to take raw commodities such as Snider and Singleton and develop them into effective analysts.

Witty, knowledgeable and steady, Van Horne's greatest liability was the anonymity of working in Montreal and Florida and calling so few postseason games. There were also the occasional episodes with hair pieces, but on radio... not such a big deal.

Cheek's iconic "Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run" demonstrates the power of events to propel an announcer's legend. And Cheek put his own stamp on the two Blue Jays World Series winners. The inaugural Blue Jays voice, Cheek - who died in 2005- had the benefit of just two principal radio side kicks - Early Wynn and Jerry Howarth. But Cheek was more like Bob Cole or Vin Scully, a voice who was better working alone. His genial approach took him through an amazing 4,306 consecutive regular season games and 41 postseason games.

The knock against Cheek was a lack of specificity that baseball fans crave. He often referred to positions rather than player ("There's a ground ball to shortstop, over to first for the out" instead of "Ground ball to Griffin, over to Upshaw, out at first".) It was noticeable next to the meticulous Howarth, who blankets his casts with detail and statistics. But Cheek has plenty of admirers-- especially with fellow media types in Toronto that will help his candidacy.

As one who cut his teeth on Van Horne in Montreal, Usual Suspects would like to see Van Horne honoured first. But the Hall will hardly go wrong with either man.

Roid Rage At NBC: When Mark McGwire finally fessed up on Monday to his 'roiding ways Usual Suspects thought that The Church Ladies of the sporting press would be in high dudgeon. Seeking a way back into baseball, McGwire admitted the obvious to start clearing his name. But having expended themselves when McGwire did his Congressional fan dance in 2005 (and seeing subsequent steroid users come forth), the media had trouble working up enthusiasm for the kill shot. Resignation probably sums up the general mood of press voices commenting on the belated confession.

Not so NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who led his cast Monday with a highly personal stab at McGwire. "Good evening," said Williams, casting aside the mantle of objectivity. "Because this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we'd like to about the news today that Mark McGwire-the home run hitter, the family favourite from the St. Louis Cardinals-stopped lying today and admitted that he did it while on steroids.

"For those of us who were raising young baseball fans and baseball players who looked up to Mark McGwire, that summer of '98 was magical stuff, as he and Sammy Sosa vied back and forth for the title of Single Season Home Run King. He didn't tell the truth to Congress or to his fans until finally, formally coming clean today. He's been unable to get into the Hall of Fame and, apparently-even for him-the shame here was too much."

What did Lyndon Johnson say about losing Walter Cronkite meant losing the country? We think baseball just lost his piece of the USA when Williams went off-script in his comments.

Reds Faced: Finally, how to win fans and influence public opinion starring Tom Hicks, Jr., a director of financially struggling Liverpool FC. The son of the Dallas Stars' owner Tom Hicks was feeling a bit testy when a local media critic suggested he couldn't manage a chip shop, let alone the Merseyside lads. One fan of the Reds sent the offending article to Hicks Jr. for comment. Employing time-tested PR sensitivity, Hicks told the e-mailer to "blow me, f*** face."

Having had a few hours to reflect after hitting the send button, Hicks the younger tried to apologize. "Stephen, I apologize for losing my temper and using bad language with you. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Tommy." Nice try. After the initial response went viral, Hicks Jr. resigned from the football club. Darn, we were just starting to make progress, doctor.

 

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