Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The First (NHL) Noël

Noel Price

By Tom Hawthorn

Some hockey players are always in the holiday spirit. Just ask Greg Joly, Carol Vadnais, Scott Garland, Rick Boh and Ray Sheppard.

The first Noel to don skates in the NHL was Noel Price, a hard-working defenseman who played in 499 NHL games.

What would the holidays be without a little Christmas cheer? So, here's a raised glass to Carl Brewer, Darcy Martini, Larry Mickey, Andre Champagne, Gary Rissling, Kirk Maltby, Ivan Droppa, Paul  Shakes, Bob Corkum and Bob Beers.

And now you know why Doug Hicks and Doug Mohns.

If you need a ride home, we suggest designating Bruce Driver. Avoid riding with Bart Crashley. And take Joel Otto, not Steve Junker.

(Just don't serve any alcohol to Gerry Minor. Gary Sargent might send you to Dale McCourt.)

Since we were now in our cups, Stanley and otherwise, let's introduce the All-Mistletoe Team of Bill Hicke, Ernie Hicke, Greg Hickey, Pat Hickey, Stanislav Neckar and Martin St. Amour.

Plenty of players were dreaming of a White Christmas (Brian, Peter, Todd, Bill), probably none more so than goalie Garth Snow.

Too much of the white stuff might attract the attention of our All-Weather Team of Frank McCool, Theo Fleury, Jim Storm and Jeff Friesen. Then we'd have to call on the Fireside Chat Line of Brian Bellows, Marc Laforge and Christian Laflamme.
Laflamme, incidentally, is on our Holy Rollers squad with Christians Ruuttu and Dube, not to mention Jeff and Dave Christian. Brad and Jack Church would be in attendance, joined by Joe Crozier and Cory Cross.

For the three kings we could go with a line of Derek King, Kris King and King Clancy, with Brian Wiseman as a spare.

So who was naughty and who was nice? We bet Lyle Phair, Kelly Fairchild, Larry Playfair, Terry Virtue, Gerard Gallant and Ebbie Goodfellow will be well rewarded Christmas morning. Santa also is expected to bring a modest gift for Larry Goodenough.

The Christmas morning outcome should be harsher for the likes of Ted Bulley, Paul Lawless, Kevin Krook, Ed Van Impe, Brian Savage and Miroslav Satan. Those naughties knew what to expect as a stocking stuffer (a lump of Danton Cole).

What's that under the tree, wrapped in shiny paper and a bright bow? Why, it's Lionel (Big Train) Conacher! Just what we wanted. What else did we get? A Rocket (Richard), a Tie (Domi) and a Dolly (Dolson), as well as a (Terry) Ball, a (Jim) Kyte, a (Zdeno) Ciger, a (Bob) Ring, a (Ken) Lockett and a (Rob) Whistle. Makes you feel like a (Trevor) Kidd all over again.

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a feast. So, we visited Mike Kitchen and Garry Galley, where Jamie Baker, Garth Butcher and Matt Cooke are preparing a meal to be served by Jerry Butler. On the menu are Bun Cook (with Bill Butters), Stew Adams, Mark Lamb (served in a Floyd Curry), and a main course featuring Peter Sturgeon (seasoned by Herb Raglan with Steven Rice on the side).
Desserts include Clarence (Taffy) Abel and Don Cherry, served with Paul Coffey and Sugar Jim Henry.

The less fortunate will have to make do with Scott Gruhl, Adam Oates and Mush March.

All this merriment only serves as inspiration to the All-Scrooge Squad of Steve Penney, Bernie Nicholls, Charlie Bourgeois, P.J. Stock and Stephane Richer.
Finding it hard to make a Wilf Paiement? Call on Rich Parent, the former St. Louis Blues goalie.

And don't forget that it's only seven more weeks until Chris Valentine's day.

First published in the Detroit Free Press and TheTyee.ca.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Didn't you use to be … Vaughn Meader

On 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, a look back at Vaughn Meader, a JFK impressionist who never again performed his act after Nov. 22, 1963.
Vaughn Meader holds a copy of his smash comedy LP, "The First Family." 

By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail
February 10, 1989

Vaughn Meader was an overnight success whose rise was made the more memorable by his rapid return to obscurity.
An unheralded singing comic from Lowell, Mass., he was performing a nightly monologue at a Greenwich Village club in the summer of 1962 when his uncanny impersonation of fellow New Englander John F. Kennedy caught the attention of a talent scout.
The scout had Mr. Meader and a troupe of actors record a parody album that poked polite fun at the foibles of the popular, young U.S. president and his family.
The album, called The First Family, was rejected by four major record labels before being accepted by Cadence Records. It was the best-selling U.S. recording to that time, more than five million copies being sold within a few months.
Its success was spurred in part by the good-humored response of the target of Mr. Meader's gentle gibes. Mr. Kennedy delighted reporters at a press conference that year when he acknowledged he had played the album.
"I have listened to Mr. Meader's record," he said with a smile. "I thought it sounded more like Teddy than me."
The singer seemed destined for a long career making light of the Kennedys. But on Nov. 22, 1963, his brand of humor went out of style.
Mr. Meader went into seclusion after the assassination. But even after purging his act of Kennedy material, he was seen only as a reminder of tragedy. A fickle public turned an overnight success into an overnight flop.
Like many of his younger compatriots, the singer spent much of the 1960s exploring North America. He lived in teepees, houseboats and log cabins.
A 1971 comedy album about a visit to Harlem by Jesus called The Second Coming proved unprophetic. Mr. Meader could not shake his reputation as an oddity from another time and the record received little attention.
His wandering ended 12 years ago, when he settled in sleepy Hallowell, Me., where he lives with his fourth wife, Sheila.
Mr. Meader, 52, plays the piano with his five-piece bluegrass band Gone Fishin'. They perform weekly at the Speakeasy bar, which he calls "the biggest new-happening joint in central Maine."
"I'm still rockin'," he says today. "Gone Fishin', that's our attitude when we all sit down to play. It's a good time, man."
Mr. Meader is considering moving toward a harder rock sound by adding a horn to his band, but he resolutely refuses to cover modern tunes.
"People request a new one, I give them a quarter and they can go play it on the jukebox," he said.
Still writing songs, he managed to pen just one last year. It's called I'm Still Rockin'.
Mr. Meader is well known among residents of Hallowell, a tourist town about three kilometres south of Augusta, the state capital. Joyce Walters, a bartender and Mr. Meader's former neighbor, said the singer is often asked by visitors about his fall from fame.
"Abbott's pretty well cool about the whole thing," she said. (Vaughn is the singer's middle name, which he used on stage.) "He won't play any Kennedy stuff, though."
For his part, Mr. Meader is content to be a major celebrity in a minor town.
"You can send a letter to me: Abbott, Hallowell, Maine, and I'll get it," he said. "If any Canadians come to Hallowell, they can walk up to the first person they meet on the street and say, 'Where can we find Abbott Meader?' They'll find me."
The barbs of The First Family are tame by today's standards, although Mr. Meader had one brush with Washington officialdom.
A Washington radio station once aired a short promotional blurb in which Mr. Meader told listeners the Kennedy clan listened to station WWDC "with great vigah." The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission was so enraged by the commercial use of a presidential impersonation that he drew it to the attention of the Kennedy White House.
By the time press secretary Pierre Salinger complained, the station's owner had ordered the plug off the air.

Mr. Meader long ago abandoned any wish to return to the big time. "That's like asking Ted Williams to play for the Dodgers," he said during last fall's World Series. "He couldn't hit the ball past first base."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy Jack

Legendary British Columbia labour leader Jack Munro died on Nov. 15, aged 82. Here's a 1992 profile of the blustery, profane and likeable character.

The face of Jack Munro.

By Tom Hawthorn

Friday, November 8, 2013

Veterans come from all generations

Myles Mansell, KIA (1980-2006)

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
November, 2013

On Remembrance Day, the old men stand again in pressed uniforms, medals gleaming in the mid-morning sun. They snap sharp salutes, aged muscles repeating what was once so long ago part of daily routine.

The aged warriors gather at the cenotaph on the Legislative Grounds and at the war memorial in Oak Bay. The annual ritual is comforting in its familiarity — the raising of the flag, the placing of wreaths, the bugle sounding “Last Post” and “Reveille,” as though each lonesome note was calling to mind a fallen comrade.

The old men wipe tears, though if you ask them about it they will cite the wind, or a speck of dust. Their generation remains uneasy about speaking of loss.

It is natural to think only of the old-timers on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We are such a great distance from the Great War, whose horrors were ignited a century ago, less a year. The Second World War ended 68 years ago, and the war in Korea, whose veterans never received the attention they deserved, ground to a stalemate 60 years ago.

The veterans of the First World War are all gone, the last Canadian among them, Jack Babcock, having died three years ago, aged 109. The Second World War vets are in their 80s now, so each passing year the soldiers at the ceremonies seem that much older.

They cry silently for lost friends and brothers, and it is easy to forget how young they all were at the time.
Our war dead are not all from a generation ago. We have lost peacekeepers and, more recently, we have lost 154 members of the Canadian Forces (as well as a diplomat, a reporter and two aid workers) in action in Afghanistan.

On Remembrance Day, my thoughts turn to Myles Stanley John Mansell, a bombardier killed with three comrades in 2006 when his lightly-armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb on a dusty road outside Gumbad. He was 25.

He died with men named Turner and Dinning and Payne. Even in their sharp grief, the Mansell family sent notes of condolence to the other families.

He had been born a few months after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the beginning of a war whose outcome is still not settled. The boy, known as Smiley Myley, played soccer and lacrosse in the Victoria suburbs, but disliked swimming despite having sailors in the family. Myles came home once in tears because the teacher had said kilometres were replacing miles and he thought he'd have to change his name, too.

As a young man, he worked in the family business and joined the reservists of the 5th (British Columbia) Field Regiment, firing cannons at Ford Rodd Hill on Canada Day and at the Legislature to greet a new lieutenant-governor. When Canada agreed to fight the Taliban, Mansell volunteered for service. He was not an expert on the subject, but thought the people of Afghanistan deserved the same life and freedoms he enjoyed in Canada.

If you go to the Veteran's Cemetery off Colville Road in Esquimalt, you will find a small chapel surrounded by a squat stone fence. This is known as God's Acre, a tidy garden of grave markers. Only songbirds interrupt the silence. You will find a granite marker on which has been etched Mansell's name, rank, serial number, regiment, date of death, and age. Forever 25. He rests between plots holding his maternal grandparents and great grandparents, the men having served in the Royal Canadian Navy.

In Langford, a leafy cul-de-sac was the scene of an impressive display two years ago. A pair of 105mm howitzers flanked the entrance to the street. Artillery shells lined the roadway. A bugler played, as did a bagpiper, while a military padre intoned a prayer.

Of the 200 in attendance, only one wore a Memorial Cross. She was Nancy Mansell and it was her son after whom the quiet suburban street was being named. It was a modest gesture for so grave a sacrifice, but it meant more than one could image to a mother who wore her son's name on a medal no one ever wishes to receive.

“It's important for us to know that others think of Myles. And remember Myles. We don't want him to be forgotten,” she told me then. A mother contemplated what it would mean if her son was not remembered by name. “Just a number.” She need say no more.

Monday, October 21, 2013

They toss their hats in the rink

If former goalie Ken Dryden scores big at the polls on Monday, he will be the fifth hockey player elected to the House of Commons. TOM HAWTHORN reports

The Globe and Mail
June 26, 2004

Howie Meeker returned home from the 1951 hockey season a conquering hero, the Stanley Cup once again safely in Toronto Maple Leaf hands.

He had barely unpacked at his home in New Hamburg, Ont., when civic leaders approached with a proposal. They wanted the popular hockey player to run as the Progressive Conservative candidate in an upcoming federal by-election.

"Gentlemen," the right-winger remembers telling them, "I can't afford it."

Mr. Meeker was making $6,000 as a Leaf at a time when the salary for an MP was only $4,000. With that, he bundled his wife and kids into the family car and left for a trout-fishing holiday in Quebec.

He had no idea he would soon be moving from the players' bench at Maple Leaf Gardens to the back bench in the House of Commons.

A hockey player has an advantage as a candidate, bringing to the hustings name recognition in a land where the sport is nearly a national religion.

As prime minister, Jean Chrétien appreciated the popularity of retired hockey stars, naming Frank (The Big M) Mahovlich to the Senate and asking Jean (Le Gros Bill) Béliveau to become governor-general. Mr. Béliveau turned down the vice-regal post for personal reasons.

Just last month, Conservative Deputy Leader Peter MacKay mused aloud about having outspoken Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry as a candidate. Mr. Cherry passed on the invitation, to the relief of some Conservative organizers who feared his reputation would hurt their campaign in Quebec.

Mr. Cherry, whose National Hockey League career lasted but one game, is not the only reluctant puck politician. Of the 3,847 Canadians ever elected to the House of Commons, only four have played in the NHL.

On Monday, Ken Dryden seeks to become the fifth. The Liberal candidate in York Centre is a lawyer and best-selling author, but he is not asked to sign autographs on the campaign trail because of his agile turns of phrase. He is a celebrity from his days as a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and a front-office executive with the Maple Leafs.

As a goalie, Mr. Dryden was a natural, crooking an elbow over the top of the net to regain his balance after making a save. He helped to lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup championship in six of his eight seasons.

He is something less of a natural as a politician, finding conversation with voters more compelling than the hand-shaking, baby-kissing, flesh-pressing rituals of convention. He even finds it "weird" to see his name on lawn signs.

Mr. Dryden was campaigning recently when a man working on his driveway stopped after spotting him. The man placed both hands on his shovel before leaning on it with his chin, adopting Mr. Dryden's famous pose from his playing days when he would rest on his goal stick.

The candidate was taken aback by the display. "I felt surprise at first, then embarrassment, then realized it was fun," he says.

Mr. Dryden says he most enjoys the chore he most feared, the door-to-door canvassing in which he meets "people with problems and possibilities."

He has found the 36-day campaign to be as gruelling as the NHL playoffs. He has pulled a tendon in his right knee, although the injury is being ignored until after the election. "You can't exactly go on the DL [disabled list] for 14 days," he says.

Besides, a hockey pedigree is no guarantee of electoral success.

Syl Apps was an all-star centre with the Maple Leafs when he announced his candidacy in the 1940 general election. Mr. Apps, just 25, had already played four seasons in the NHL, having turned professional shortly after competing in the 1936 Olympics as a pole vaulter. He ran in Ontario's Brant riding, which included his Paris birthplace, under the National Government banner, as Robert Manion had renamed the wartime Conservatives.

On election night, Mr. Apps was on the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens to face the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff game. He was brilliant, scoring a goal in a 2-1 Toronto victory.

That narrow triumph was tempered by the news of the election results, as he lost by just 138 votes to the Liberal incumbent, a farmer.

After retiring as a player, Mr. Apps won three elections to the Ontario Legislature, serving as correctional services minister for three years.

Bill Hicke and Dick Duff are two retired NHL players who lost federal campaigns.

Mr. Hicke, a self-employed businessman who won two Stanley Cups in a 14-season career, was a Conservative candidate in Regina-Qu'Appelle in 1988. He was runner-up to restaurateur Simon De Jong of the NDP.

Mr. Duff had just completed a 17-season NHL career in 1972 when, as a Liberal, he faced off against Arnold Peters of the NDP in Timiskaming. He lost by 3,559 votes.

Back in 1951, Mr. Meeker was cooking trout for breakfast at a fishing hole alongside an isolated road when a cloud of dirt in the distance heralded the arrival of a visitor. A dusty limousine pulled up to deliver Conservative leader George Drew, who talked the reluctant player into running.

"My first political meeting was my own nomination meeting," says Mr. Meeker, who inherited his Tory politics from English immigrant parents.

He handed out such election paraphernalia as ink blotters and miniature hockey sticks, even though getting his name before the public was not a problem. "Everyone knew me," he says. "Dryden has that same advantage."

On June 25, 1951, Mr. Meeker, whose occupation on the ballot was listed as "hockey player," won the by-election in Waterloo South by defeating a Liberal dairyman and a housewife running for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to the NDP.

The feeling of being on the floor of the Commons was familiar to the rookie MP. "It's an arena," he says. "It was exactly the same as playing hockey. There's arguing and bitching and complaining and everything else."

Mr. Meeker lined up against two former players who were Liberal MPs from Ontario. Former Leafs defenceman Bucko McDonald had first been elected in Parry Sound in 1945. Lionel (The Big Train) Conacher defeated a Conservative incumbent, as well as Communist Party leader Tim Buck, in winning the Toronto riding of Trinity in 1949.

Mr. Conacher, who enjoyed a 12-season NHL career that earned him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, died in 1954 after suffering a heart attack while legging out a triple during a Parliament Hill softball game pitting MPs against reporters.

Mr. Meeker decided not to seek re-election in the 1953 general election, embarking on a career that later saw him become a well-known hockey commentator. He is retired and lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island, where he has been involved in Canadian Alliance and now Conservative campaigns.

The only other active NHL player to be elected was Red Kelly, his nickname matching the colour of his party. Mr. Kelly was a Leafs star in 1962 when he joined Lester Pearson's Liberals on the Opposition benches as the member for York West.

He moved to the government benches the following year when Mr. Pearson formed a minority government. In that election, Mr. Kelly thumped an up-and-coming Conservative lawyer by the name of Alan Eagleson, who later became executive director of the NHL Players Association.

In York Centre, Mr. Dryden finds the competition of an election campaign to be familiar from his days as a goalie. He is bracing for the voters' verdict on Monday by remembering a lesson he learned on the ice. "If you want to win," he said, "you have to be afraid of losing."

Tom Hawthorn is a writer based in Victoria.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The language of hits

Ichiro acknowledges cheers at Yankee Stadium after hitting his 4,000th hit as a professional on Aug. 21, 2013.
On the occasion of his 4,000th hit as a professional, a look back at Ichiro's first month as a major leaguer. This article originally appeared in the National Post of Toronto

By Tom Hawthorn
May 8, 2001


The good people of Seattle have suffered earthquakes. They have endured 40 days and 40 nights of rain. They have long wandered in search of the promised land that is the World Series. They have built a new temple only to learn they have been worshipping false gods. Why have you forsaken us, A-Rod?

Verily, a saviour is delivered unto them. He is a man as modest in stature as he is in demeanour. His glove is golden and his arm is true. He hits and he runs and he performs miracles on the baseball diamond.

He is known by a single name, as was once the great Babe.

He is Ichiro.

The Seattle Mariners rookie right-fielder from Japan has hit safely in 29 of Seattle's 31 games. He brings a 13-game hitting streak into tonight's game in Boston. His average is above .500 when runners are in scoring position. He has more hits than anyone in baseball.

"It's like he's playing T-ball out there," centre-fielder Mike Cameron said. "He hits wherever he wants to whenever he wants to."

The Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff got a taste of Seattle's leadoff batter this weekend, as Ichiro went 5-for-13, including a double and a triple with four runs scored. Seattle is in Toronto for a three-game stand at SkyDome beginning Friday.

Ichiro, who bats left, has an odd, slashing swing. He reaches for the ball even as the rest of his body seems in a hurry to get down the first-base line. He bails out, a cardinal sin. Every hitting coach in the majors is shaking his head in disbelief. You're not supposed to be able to drive the ball that way, yet Ichiro strokes the ball precisely into the outfield gaps.

The usual rules no longer apply. Last week, Ichiro stole third base against the catcher's throw -- standing up! Even a Little Leaguer knows you're supposed to slide.

"We mentioned it to him," manager Lou Piniella said with a father's indulgent what-can-you-do-about-it shrug.

Ichiro's most remarkable play this young season is called The Throw and the entire American League is talking about it. "I saw that throw of his on the highlight shows," Boston Red Sox manager Jimy Williams said, punctuating his sentence with a high whistle. "That was really something." Oakland's Terrence Long had dared to try for an extra base and Ichiro threw a low strike to third from right field. Long was out before he began his slide; he looked like Charlie Brown on the base path.

Ichiro later told his translator that he did not understand why Long had run "when I was going to throw him out."

Not surprisingly, Seattle is in the grip of Ichiro fever. His feats lead every newscast, his picture graces every sports page. Mariners fans feel burned for worshipping shortstop Alex Rodriguez only to learn of his mercenary's fidelity. Before him, they were spurned by Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. in trades dictated by the wild economics of baseball free agentry. Ichiro is balm for the broken-hearted.

The Mariners paid US$13.1-million to the Orix Blue Wave of Kobe, Japan, simply for the right to negotiate with him. Ichiro himself signed a three-year, US$14-million contract, which will likely be a bargain for Seattle. He is the first positional player from Japan to play in the major leagues.

Ichiro's fame in Japan is hard to fathom. He is a household name, a Michael Jordan, a Tiger Woods, a Brad Pitt and a Mel Gibson rolled into one, a star athlete with movie star looks and a reputation as a friendly sort.

A normal life had become impossible in his homeland. He was mobbed by fans when spotted in public. Life was a series of late-night rendezvous through service entrances at the finest restaurants. The gossip columns were filled with his latest romances with movie starlets, even after he began steadily dating a TV announcer seven years his senior. The couple, who met when Yumiko Fukushima interviewed him for a radio program, had to secretly wed in Los Angeles two years ago.

Ichiro Suzuki was born in Kasugai, Aichi prefecture, on Oct. 22, 1973. Legend has it he first started playing baseball at age three. He was obsessed with the game. Even though the strict Japanese education system only allowed for baseball on weekends, young Ichiro made his father practise with him every night.

He first played in the Japanese major leagues at age 19. A manager impressed by his unique style of play indulged his wish to be known simply as Ichiro. Suzuki is a common surname. Ichiro is an old-fashioned Japanese name given to a first-born son.

He hit like Cobb, winning the Pacific League batting title for seven consecutive seasons. His farewell campaign ended at a lifetime best .387, pushing his career mark to .353. He also was awarded seven consecutive gold gloves. In 1999, he didn't commit a single error in the 103 games he played.

So unpleasant had life become in Japan that he spent his off-seasons in Los Angeles. On an early trip to Seattle, he and his wife were amazed to be able to shop at Nordstrom's department store without being bothered. The same likely wouldn't happen today.

Fans at Safeco Field wave signs reading "Ichiro Ichiban!" (No. 1) and the scoreboard flashes "Ichi-riffic!" and "Ichi-palooza!" when he gets a hit.

Those seeking relics of their saintly hero can buy Ichiro pins ($7), pennants ($6), magnets ($9), keychains ($6), travel mugs ($9), mouse pads ($10), T-shirts ($16) and replica No. 51 uniforms ($120).

"His batting is so very nice," gushed 29-year-old Hitomi Harada of Hiroshima, who travelled from her home in Vancouver to cheer Ichiro from Section 108 of the bleachers. "Also, he is so handsome and so smart."

David Ishii, 66, whose antiquarian bookstore is a long fly ball from the stadium, has seen few players as disruptive to an opponent as Ichiro.

"The game revolves around him when he gets on base."

For someone who was once demonized by his own countrymen, the worship of Ichiro and fellow Japanese countryman Kazuhiro Sasaki, the Mariners' star relief pitcher, is a marvel.

"It's a bit of a turning point."

Even the Washington State Senate has got in on the adulation, unanimously passing a motion that "Kazu and Ichiro Suzuki are undeniably the most fun Japanese imports since Nintendo."

Sasaki, 33, was American League rookie of the year last season with 37 saves. He already has 14 this season, making him the AL's premier ririfu pitcha.

While Ichiro seems all business, Sasaki seems all play. At 6- foot-4, 220 pounds, he is a giant by Japanese standards. He credits his mass to his father's job at a milk factory.

The NHL's Stanley Cup was brought to Safeco Field recently to promote hockey telecasts on ABC. Sasaki walked over, wrapped his arms around the storied trophy, gave a wide smile, and said: "For me? Thank you."

Sasaki is a prankster. The club's mascot is the Mariner Moose, a fuzzy critter with antlers. In the fifth inning of home games, the Moose rides a go-cart along the warning track, playfully squirting fans in the centre-field bleachers. Sasaki recently organized his bullpen mates in an ambush, dumping buckets of water on the unsuspecting Moose.

After games, Sasaki entertains the large contingent of reporters from Japan. He even allows his son, Shogo, to climb into his lap and bounce a tennis ball in the locker room.

Across the room, Ichiro sits facing his locker-room stall, rubbing a sponge along the thumb of his black leather glove, working the spot where his name is stitched in white.

He avoids eye contact with English-speaking reporters, answering two or three questions posed to Mariners scout Hide Sueyoshi. It is as if the interpreter is a priest transmitting the words of a god.

Ichiro stands 5-foot-9. He is listed at 160 pounds, but he looks like he'd have to spend a week at a sushi bar to reach that weight. What power he has comes from thick sumo legs that support a wiry frame.

One at-bat last week against Frank Castillo of the Red Sox captured how disruptive he can be.

Ichiro mistimed one of his swings, sending a dribbler on the grass toward short. By the time the shortstop got to the ball, Ichiro was at first. Infield single.

Castillo stepped off the rubber. He threw to first. He threw to first again. He stepped off the rubber again.

He looked in for the sign from his catcher, licked his lips, cast one final sidelong glance at Ichiro and, finally, threw a pitch to Mike Cameron, who promptly deposited the ball into the left-field bleachers.

"I'm sure he drives the other team crazy is what he does," Cameron said after the game. "We all sit back and laugh in the dugout.

"He's like that little go-cart that the Moose be riding around on. You don't know what to expect from this guy, man. Chops one to the third basemen, shoots one into the gap. Who knows? The guy's unbelievable."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All right Mr. Hansard, I'm ready for my close-up

This handout photograph produced by B.C. Liberal government caucus flaks was published in B.C. newspapers, sometimes without attribution.

By Tom Hawthorn
The Tyee
August 1, 2013

Some random notes at the closing of the 1st Session of the 40th Legislative Assembly: 

You will not find a more accomplished figure on the floor of the B.C. Legislature than Andrew Wilkinson.

He is a Rhodes Scholar who has go on to become both a lawyer and a physician. He has been a deputy minister. He has been president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and of the B.C. Liberal party. In May, the voters of Vancouver-Quilchena elected him to the legislature and, in June, the premier named him minister of technology, innovation and citizens’ services.

The man is a walking CV.

So, how does so eminent a figure respond when faced with pointed Opposition questions about the scandal surrounding his party’s ethnic outreach campaign?

“We not only have the rich have the rich parliamentary tradition here,” he told the House. “We have the rich tradition of the English language, which contains phrases like chasing your tail, catching a red herring and flogging a dead horse. That latter term, flogging a dead horse, must surely apply to this line of questioning.”

After further questions about the possibility of hush money having been paid to a disgruntled staffer, Wilkinson responded: “Well, this horse truly has no skin left. It’s been flogged until it is red and blue, my friends.”

After transforming into a walking-talking Cliché-O-Matic, Wilkinson picked it up a notch the next day by accusing all 34 sitting NDP members of fraud.

As a denouement, Wilkinson had second thoughts. He rose to apologize to the House for his “intemperate” remarks.

In short order, the legislature’s newest star went from starring in “Doctor in the House” to a remake of the food-fight scene in “Animal House.”

Double Indemnity

Premier Christy Clark made a surprise cameo this week when sworn in as MLA for Westside-Kelowna. The august ceremony took place overlooking the waters of Vancouver harbour and not of Okanagan Lake in her home-away-from-home riding.

To the everlasting embarrassment of British Columbia’s media, such newspapers as the Vancouver Sun and the Victoria Times Colonist published handout photographs of the event released by the B.C. Liberal’s government caucus.

The swearing in appears to have taken place within shouting distance of the Vancouver Sun and Province newsrooms. No photographers left on staff? Or no invitation?

I can see why the government would like to control its image in the media. I cannot see why the commercial media should play along. Shameful.

Biff! Krunch!! KAPOW!!!

The upcoming Fantastic Four movie will be filmed in Louisiana instead of British Columbia, a disappointing decision for those who work in the movie industry. Vancouver had been the location for other Marvel movies, such as in the X-Men series. The NDP had campaigned on improving tax breaks for the television and film industry.

The latest news led George Heyman to tell the House on Thursday that “the B.C. film industry is going up in flames like The Human Torch.”

Replied finance minister Mike de Jong: “Holy corporate subsidy, Batman. I always appreciate the commentary from the Boy Wonder over there.”

The Candidate

Christy Clark is a brilliant retail politician, a happy warrior on the hustings, a baby-kissing, hand-shaking, hockey jersey-wearing, red light-avoiding campaigner. (Oops. Forget the last attribute.) Where she can seem indifferent to the hard-slogging work of governance, she clearly delights being in the public eye.

Welcome to the four-year-long, permanent campaign. 

It is a strategy that worked for an American president who had earlier starred in such cinematic masterpieces as “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

Hicks nix Dix picks

In the May ballot, Christy Clark was Tracy Flick (“Election”), while Adrian Dix started out as “A Perfect Candidate” but wound up as … well, they don’t make movies about too-clever-for-their-own-good frontrunners who blow elections.

The NDP leader can find a model for his possible future, for Adrian Dix is Thomas Berger, circa 1969.

Some background. In B.C. electoral contests, the New Democrats and their Co-operative Commonwealth Federation predecessors were long a joke, a patsy, a punch line. The social democrats played the Washington Generals to Social Credit’s Harlem Globetrotters. Leader Robert Strachan faced W.A.C. Bennett in four consecutive elections — losing each time.

By 1967, Berger got tired of waiting for Strachan to step aside as leader. The old Scottish carpenter fended off the challenge at a leadership convention, only to quit shortly before an impending election in 1969. The leadership convention that followed defined the NDP for generations, as people and factions are still divided between those who backed Berger, a stolid lawyer, and those who supported Dave Barrett, the fiery social worker.

Berger won the convention, leading the NDP into a campaign several pundits thought spelled an end to the Socred regime. In the end, the NDP vote stayed about the same, but the party lost four seats and Bennett claimed his seventh consecutive victory.

The outcome: The NDP’s vote stayed about the same, though the party lost four seats.

To repeat, a leader strong on policy but lacking charisma failed to meet expectations and lost seats instead of knocking over a tired government.

Hoo boy, must that sound familiar to frustrated New Democrats.

Whether Dix has admitted it to himself yet or not, he will never win election as premier.

The voters had a chance to evaluate him and his team in circumstances as favourable as the NDP has ever faced and he failed to win over enough of them. It happens. His leadership is doomed, though not his career.

Berger quit to be replaced by Barrett, who would go on to win an overwhelming majority in 1972. (Barrett’s hectic — and historic — three-year government is the subject of “The Art of the Impossible,” a prize-winning book by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh.) Berger, who turned 80 earlier this year, has had a distinguished career in which his lack of success as NDP leader is a mere footnote.

As for Strachan, he retained his seat in the Legislature and served as highways minister under Barrett.

Both offer a possible model for Dix’s future career.

Advise and Consent

The NDP membership has an uncanny talent for selecting leaders non-NDPers find unappealing. Has no one in the party ever read Marshall McLuhan? Or Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes”? Or listened to an episode of Terry O’Reilly’s “The Age of Persuasion” or “Under the Influence” on CBC Radio?

So, remember: Wonks in the backroom, glad-handers on the front lines.

Chariot of Fire

Congratulations to Michelle Stilwell in setting a world record Thursday at the International Paralympic Committee world championships at Lyon, France. The new MLA for Parksville-Qualicum knocked almost two seconds off the previous mark in the 800-metre wheelchair race.

Stilwell is following in the tracks of the late MLA Doug Mowat, who had managed the famed Dueck Powerglides wheelchair basketball team. Both Terry Fox and Rick Hansen played for the championship squad.

A League of Their Own

Sport reveals character. The Liberal caucus staff played the Press Gallery in a friendly game of softball last week at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. The spin doctors stacked their lineup so the best hitters batted again and again. The egalitarian reporters had a more laissez-faire approach in which a 10-year-old girl had twice as many at-bats as team captain Sean Leslie of CKNW. Though the polls predicted an easy win for the ink-and-pixel-stained wretches, the Liberals claimed a 13-4 victory. At least it was not a “quick win.”


When do the LNG faeries arrive with all our money?

Tom Hawthorn, a frequent contributor to The Tyee, is the author of “Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians.” He lives in Victoria-Beacon Hill, where the BC Liberal candidate got just 16.96 per cent of the vote, the worst performance by a Liberal in the election.