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Under Further Review – September 11, 2021 – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and special thanks to Ted Tait.  WEEE’RE BAAACK! We took a break to recharge and much has happened since we last checked in. The NFL is underway, the Jays are charging, the kids are impressing on the court and hockey season is just around the corner.

A Star is Born – Her magical run may have ended abruptly but there’s no denying Leylah Annie Fernandez’ fortnight in New York was heavenly. Fernandez entered this year’s US Open ranked 73rd in the world. She had just turned 19. At just 5-4, she’s a waif compared to some of the world’s top players. But you can’t measure heart and the diminutive lefty showed plenty of fight and moxy. On tennis’ biggest stage, she slayed one top seed after another. In the process, she won over the tough New York crowd and was suddenly bursting in confidence.

Her storybook tournament came to a quick close in the women’s final against Toronto-born Brit Emma Raducanu, herself a US Open qualifier. It was the first Grand Slam final appearance for both. Fernandez never got untracked in the final. Her serve escaped her. She landed only 56 percent of her first serves and double-faulted five times.  Still, it was an amazing run for Fernandez and for Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime who reached the men’s semi-final for the first time.

Salute to Diversity – Canada can be proud of its diversity. We have become a shining beacon to the rest of the world. Nowhere is our diversity more prominent than in the world of tennis. Fernandez and Auger-Aliassime are the latest tennis prodigals to emerge on the big stage. Fernandez is from Laval, Quebec. Her Dad is from Ecuador. Her Mom is a Canadian of Filipina descent. Leylah is fluent in English, French and Spanish. Felix was born in Montreal and raised in L’Ancienne-Lorette, a suburb of Quebec City. His Dad Samuel emigrated from Togo. His Mom, Marie Auger, is French Canadian.

Denis Shapovalov was born in Tel Aviv. His Mom Tessa was born in Lviv, Ukraine. She was on the Soviet national tennis team when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet bloc. The family moved to Israel when the Soviet Union was collapsing and then to Canada before Denis’ first birthday. It’s a similar story with Bianca Andreescu. Her family immigrated to Canada from Romania in 1994. That same year, the Raonic family was moving to Canada from the former Yugoslavia. Milos was just three years old. Raonic is of Serbian heritage, born in Titograd, Yugoslavia which is now Podgorica, Montenegro. Milos’ uncle is still a prominent politician in Montenegro and served as Deputy Prime Minister.  It’s a golden era in Canadian tennis. Their collective success on the court is a wonderful by-product of our commitment to multiculturalism.

Blue Jays This Week – When we posted our last blog, the Blue Jays were on the fringes of the American League wildcard race. On August 27, they trailed the Yankees by nine and a half games. The Jays appeared dead in the water. Fast forward to this weekend and the deficit has been erased. The Jays eight-game win streak ended Friday night in Baltimore but they are alive and kicking. They stole victory from the jaws of defeat in the opening game of Saturday’s double-header at Camden Yards, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh to somehow pilfer an unexpected 11-10 win. In the nightcap, it was more of the same. The Jays were no-hit for six innings before waking up and inexplicably posting eleven runs in the top of the seventh. It was if they can just turn it on whenever they want. 22 runs in the doubleheader! Hello! The Jays are sitting in a wildcard playoff spot. Yahoo! Who would have thunk it!

A three-game sweep of Oakland and a four-game sweep of the Yankees in New York earlier in the week revived the Jays season. They out-homered the Yankees 11-2 in the series and never trailed in any of the four games. It’s the first time the Yankees failed to have the lead in a four-game series since 1924. During the eight-game streak, the Jays outscored their opponents 59-30 with 82 hits including 21 home runs. The Mash unit is back!

Back in April, we said Charlie Montoyo was not the right manager for the Blue Jays. We are sticking to that. Not pulling Hyun-Jin Ryu in the third inning against the Orioles in the opener of the doubleheader was inexcusable. Sitting on his ass on Friday night while O’s manager Brandon Hyde verbally accosted pitcher Robbie Ray was cause for dismissal.

Don’t look now but the Triple Crown watch is back on. Vladdy Guerrero Jr. leads the American League in batting average at .319. He’s two back of Shohei Ohtani in home runs with 42 and within striking distance of the RBI title. Oh, and Vladdy also leads in runs scored, OPS, hits and on-base percentage. In most seasons, he’s be a shoo-in for MVP.

Everyone is wondering what the Jays will do to try and get Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien signed with both headed for free agency in the off-season. Both have had career years. Ray is in the AL Cy Young conversation. Semien has a career high 38 home runs and just hit the century mark in runs scored. Ray is on a one-year deal at $8 million. Semien is on a one-year deal at $18 million. This year’s payroll is $149 million but it includes over $27 million in retained salaries of players no longer with the team including Troy Tulowitski, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi, Tyler Chatwood, Joe Panik and Brad Hand. Clearing that money in the off-season should give the Jays a shot at resigning both players.

Everyone is well aware of what’s held the Blue Jays back this season. It’s the bullpen. The bullpen ERA has been above 4.00 every month since April. The Blue Jays also have a losing record in one-run ballgames. The bullpen has shown signs of life recently. Tim Mayza has been outstanding. Joakim Soria is off the DL and contributing. Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather have been activated. Although both were shaky in their first outings, along with Jordan Romano, they give Manager Charlie Montoyo three relievers who can hit 100mph on the radar gun. It would be a huge bonus if both Pearson and Merryweather find their form.

At one point earlier this month, the Seattle Mariners held a one-game lead on the Blue Jays in the AL wild-card race. Yet, the Jays had a run differential of +114 while the Mariners were -51. Go figure!

MLB Notebook – The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox both have a shot at a wildcard spot. It’s the only shot they seem willing to take. Red Sox ace Chris Sale was just placed on the COVID list and will miss a key start this weekend in Chicago. He’s one of 12 Boston players to miss action due to COVID protocols. Pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery both tested positive for COVID-19 in early August. Can someone explain why this is even still happening? The Red Sox and Yankees are in a pennant race where every game and certainly every start by your top pitchers is critical.

The Yankees are sending an offensive line to the plate every night. Check the height and weight of this Murderer’s Row. Luke Voit is 6-3, 255. Anthony Rizzo is 6-3, 240. Aaron Judge is 6-7, 282. Joey Gallo is 6-5, 235. Giancarlo Stanton is 6-6, 245. No team has ever marched out a lineup this big. Gallo has been a complete bust since coming over from Texas at the trade deadline. He’s hitting .136 in pinstripes. He struck out seven times in the three games he was in the lineup this week against the Jays. Jose Berrios nearly cork-screwed him into the batter’s box with a filthy curveball. Gallo has struck out 64 times in 37 games since joining the Yankees. In total, he’s whiffed 189 times this season. I shudder to think the Jays were actually considering dealing for Gallo.

I will give the New York Yankees credit for one thing. Their edict on facial hair may be old school but it’s the right message for their legion of fans. The official club policy states “All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar.” The message? You want to put on a Yankee uniform, look the part!

Memo to Kirby Snead of the Blue Jays. If you want to represent the Toronto Blue Jays, get a haircut. The flowing locks halfway down his back is not attractive. Reliever Jordan Romano finally cut his beard – thankfully. He looked like he had just climbed out from under a rock. If you watched the west coast series against the Los Angeles Angels, you may have caught Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh. He’s working the hair down past his shoulders with a beard the same length. He came to the plate with sunglasses on and you had no idea what the guy actually looked like. How can you promote the players when you cannot see them? No chance that dude represents my organization. In the CFL and NFL, there’s players with hair down to their waist. Teams need to be more restrictive when it comes to appearance. Make the call on what is acceptable for your organization and have the courage to uphold it.

What Shohei Ohtani has done this season is mind-boggling. He not only leads MLB in home runs with 44, he has a 3.36 ERA in 21 starts AND – get this – he has 23 stolen bases. That’s crazy!

No team underwent a bigger facelift at the MLB trading deadline than the Chicago Cubs. All in all, over a frenzied few days, the Cubs traded 9 players and acquired 12. Out the door went World Series fixtures Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant plus outfielders Joc Pederson and Jake Marisnick, plus relievers Trevor Williams, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and closer Craig Kimbrel. The Cubs got back a truckload of top young talent which should accelerate their rebuild.

If you were wondering why the Washington Nationals dumped Max Scherzer and star shortstop Trai Turner at the deadline, here’s why. The Nationals will be paying oft-injured starter Stephen Strasburg $35 million for the next five years. Strasburg has had two major arm surgeries. Patrick Corbin will make $23.4 million, $24.4 million and $35.4 million over the next three seasons — and he had a 5.78 ERA over his first 20 starts this year. To make matters worse, the Nationals are still committed to paying Scherzer $105 million in additional deferrals. In other words, for three pitchers — two of whom have been ineffective and one of whom won’t even pitch for the team — the Nationals will be paying $73.4 million in 2022, $74.4 million in 2023 and $85.4 million in 2024. With the next contract for superstar outfielder Juan Soto likely to be in the $35 million per season range, you can see why the Nationals are shedding payroll.

Is there a major leaguer who has pocketed more money for doing less than Chris Davis? The fading slugger announced his retirement due to lingering hip issues with one year remaining on the seven-year, $161 million contract he signed back in 2016. In the spirit of Bobby Bonilla, Davis will continue to get paid by the Orioles until 2037 thanks to deferred payments. He will receive $3.5 million from the Orioles every year until 2032, when the payment total reduces to $1.4 million a year until 2037.

Davis’ free-swinging led to high home run and strikeout totals and low batting averages. He hit .196 with 26 homers in 2014 and .221 with 38 homers and a major league-leading 219 strikeouts in 2016 – the first year of his big contract. After that, his numbers sank quickly. He hit .168 in 2018 and went through a 0-for-54 streak in 2019. Davis hit just .115 over 55 at-bats last year and twice went on the injured list with knee problems. He’ll have lots of time now to count his money.

Finally, congratulations to Larry Walker, the pride of Maple Ridge, British Columbia for his entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Walker had to wait eleven years for his induction but it’s well deserved. He joins Ferguson Jenkins as the only other Canadian in the Hall and the first position player to be honoured.

NHL Notebook – If I’m Montreal Canadiens ownership, I’m signing Marc Bergevin to a contract extension immediately. This guy has taken more flak than Harry Bosch. Refusing to match Carolina’s one-year, $6.1-million offer sheet tendered to 21-year-old Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi was served a no-brainer. What fool would buck up that much dough when he kid had five goals last season? Better yet, Bergevin used the draft capital from the Hurricanes and landed solid, two-way center Christian Dvorak from Arizona. That’s some great work. All told this summer, Bergevin has added Dvorak, Mike Hoffman, Matthieu Perreault, Cedric Paquette and David Savard. The Habs will also get Jonathan Drouin back. Not too shoddy.

The two-decade’s long nightmare continues in Arizona. The City of Glendale has notified the Coyotes that this season will be their last at Gila River Arena. The City got tired of waiting for over $1.5 million that was four months delinquent. That’s in addition to earlier forgiven debts. The Coyotes claim they are in negotiations with the City of Tempe to build a new arena. It’s rather appropriate that the proposed site is a former solid waste compost dump.

We saw a lot of contracts overpays in the NHL this summer. That’s expected. The contract handed to the Oilers Darnell Nurse was just plain stupid. Edmonton GM Ken Holland lavished Nurse with an eight-year extension with an AAV of $9.25 million. The deal takes effect at the start of the 2022-2023 season. Nurse is a solid, big-minutes guy but sorry, that’s Cale Makar territory. Holland gave Nurse more than it cost Dallas to extend Miro Heiskanen. In a few years, something tells me the Oilers will be dealing with a contract situation similar to what happened in Arizona with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Nurse deal also just upped the ante for Quinn Hughes. Thanks Ken!

We were confident that amnesia would once again take hold in Toronto where the fart-catching media types would forget all about the five straight first-round playoff exits and start trumpeting the Leafs as next season’s Cup favourites. Well, it’s happening. The Athletic put out their mid-summer NHL Power Rankings and inexplicably, they have the Maple Leafs ranked fourth in the league. Fourth in the Atlantic Division, maybe.

Still feeling the ignominy of blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens, they felt compelled to rank the Habs 23rd overall. I guess that’s supposed to take some of the sting away. The Canucks, who should be much-improved next season, were ranked 24th in their pre-season rankings.

If you are asking why the Maple Leaf Minions can be so unabashedly biased, we have a theory. It is all about access. During the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists had no access to players or coaches whatsoever. Everything was done by Zoom. Just a couple of players were made available after games and there was little opportunity to dig deep into any story. The media hordes are so afraid of losing access that criticizing the team in any way is out of the question. If you rip into Auston Matthews, do you really think the Maple Leafs PR staff is going to ask him to call you on your cell for an exclusive interview? Not a chance. What has developed is the cultivation of a whole horde of sycophants who are nothing more than Leaf cheerleaders. Where have you gone Frank Orr? RIP!

The behind-the-scenes documentary on the Leafs, All or Nothing, filmed last season, is supposed to be released in October. Don’t’ expect it to be anything like HBO’s raucous NFL series, Hard Knocks. Of course, when Leafs management signed off on the project, they thought it would have a happy ending. The Leafs first-round crash-and-burn against the Canadiens kind of burst that bubble.

Stop the presses! The Florida Panthers have signed Joe Thornton to a one-year contract for the league minimum. Perfect place for Joe to take up residence. He’s been in retirement for years. May as well do it in Florida like all the other Canadian Snowbirds.

Doman’s Domain – There’s a new owner in the BC Lions den. His name is Amar Doman, a 51-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Futura Corporation. The Victoria native is the son of Ted Doman who founded the giant forestry company Doman Industries in 1953 with his two brothers. Doman had been interested in buying the team for quite some time and remained close as a club sponsor. The city has blown hot and cold for the CFL for over 30 years. There’s been some good times but more recently, some very lean ones. It remains to be seen if Doman can awake football fans in BC who appear to have tuned the Lions out.

CFL Notebook – If you like to wager on pro sports, I would recommend taking the UNDER on any CFL game. Case in point – in a big rivalry game, the Calgary Stampeders led the Edmonton Eskimos, er’ Elks, 9-6 at halftime Saturday night. We can see how defenses can be ahead of offences early in the season but how do you explain the complete offensive ineptitude in the CFL to date? Scoring 20 points is a big deal. It certainly didn’t help that there were no pre-season games. Through the first six games of the season, the average score for the winning team was 21 points. There were four games where teams won by scoring 20, 19, 16 and 15 points. There was more scoring in the Lingerie Bowl.

Still not used to the Edmonton Elks. If the Edmonton Eskimos were often referred to as the Eskies, does that mean that the Elks will also be known as the Elkies?

NFL Notebook – As the season opens Sunday in Indianapolis, the question on the minds of every Seahawks fan is – how good can this team be? The Seahawks have a first-place schedule thanks to last season’s 12-win, first-place finish. The offense should be dynamic under new OC Shane Waldron but I wonder about the defense particularly at cornerback. The good news is the Seahawks still have almost $17 million in cap space. Expect John Schneider to pull a rabbit out of his hat at some point to bolster the position.

Seahawk fans should give thanks every time Russell Wilson steps on the field. Seattle has played 160 games since Wilson was drafted 75th overall in 2012 – 144 games in the regular season and 16 playoff games. Wilson has started every one of them. He is the only quarterback in the NFL to start every one of his team’s games since the 2012 opener. Wilson has never played less than 95 percent of the Seahawks snaps in a season. In the last four, he’s played 100, 100, 100 and 98 percent of the offensive snaps. Like him or not, Wilson is an absolute ironman and that counts a ton in a league with so much quarterback turnover.

Josh Allen has raised the bar for NFL quarterback contracts. The Buffalo QB has inked a new six-year extension for $258 million. That’s a cool $43 million per season. If you do the math, Allen will be making over $2.5 million per GAME over the next six seasons.

Then, of course, you have Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens who is supposed to be a team leader. Jackson has been infected with COVID-19 twice in the past eight months yet has, to this point, refused to get vaccinated. With the NFL threatening to come down hard on teams that may cause games to be cancelled or postponed due to outbreaks, you would think Ravens management would insist Jackson get vaccinated. Has this guy been under a log for the past 18 months? If I’m an NFL owner, there is zero chance I go with a starting QB who has not been vaccinated.

No head coach will be under more scrutiny this season than Las Vegas Raiders HC Jon Gruden, the NFL’s highest paid coach at $10 million per season. He’s entering his fourth season but is yet to make the playoffs. The Raiders draft selections have ranged from dubious to flat-out weird and wacky. Gruden is 19-29 as Raiders head coach.

Summer Olympic Takeaways – All in all, it was an amazing performance by Team Canada at the recent Summer Olympics in Tokyo. We came home with the highest medal total ever. The six gold medals won by Canada in Tokyo equals the number of gold medals won by Canada in Rio and London combined. There were several iconic moments that will linger forever. How about Damian Warner winning the decathlon? That puts him in some heady company with the likes of past Olympic decathlon champions like Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson and yes, Bruce Jenner. Andre De Grasse won gold in the men’s 200-metres. He joins such past luminaries as Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson and Usain Bolt. And how about the women’s soccer team?  Their gold medal victory is sure to inspire a generation of young women to play soccer or get involved in sport.

And how about Polish Olympic javelin thrower Maria Andrejczyk! She took to Facebook to announce a fundraiser for an 8-month-old boy named Miłoszek Małysa that needed life-saving heart surgery. She took matters into her own hands, saying she would be auctioning off her silver from Tokyo to help raise funds for the boy. Polish supermarket chain Żabka landed the highest bid of $125,000. In a heartwarming conclusion, Żabka then decided to give the medal right back to Andrejczyk.

Charming Megan – Megan Rapinoe’s popularity has taken a plunge. According to the New York Post, a group of Subway franchisees are trying to pressure the fast-food giant to dump Rapinoe from their TV commercials. Rapinoe became a pitchwoman for Subway last spring but in the overheated American political climate, the franchisees are claiming the 36-year-old athlete/activist is alienating customers. It didn’t help that Rapinoe took a knee during the U.S. national anthem during the Tokyo Olympics.

In one ad, Rapinoe knocks a burrito out of a man’s hands by kicking a soccer ball at him. One franchise owner posted a photo of a note from a customer taped to the front of his shop. It read: “Boycott Subway until Subway fires the anti-American … Megan Rapinoe, the creep who kneels for our beloved National Anthem!” The owner said the ad should be pulled and that he was tired of “apologizing.” One Arizona operator said: “Spending our money to make a political statement is completely and totally out of bounds.” There are 22,000 Subway locations in the U.S. All are privately-owned. Instead, Subway charges franchisees 4.5% of their revenue for a national advertising fund and controls how the money is spent.

Bryson DeCharmBoy – What Turnip Head would blow a chance to compete in the Olympics because he refused to get a vaccination? That would be Bryson DeChambeau. He was selected to represent the U.S. in the Olympics but missed out on the opportunity because he tested positive for COVID-19. When asked why he had not yet been vaccinated, the self-absorbed DeChambeau remarked, “I’m young enough, I’d rather give it [the vaccine] to people who need it,” he said.  “I don’t need it. I’m a healthy, young individual that will continue to work on my health. I don’t think taking the vaccine away from someone who needs it is a good thing.” Atta boy Bryson! Make it all about you. You are such an unselfish humanitarian! Always thinking about others. Apparently, the uninformed DeChambeau was not aware that the U.S. has a surplus and is having to throw millions of vaccines away. What Charm Boy failed to comprehend is how many others he may have infected by selfishly refusing to get a vax.

It’s pretty obvious DeChambeau is not well-liked on Tour. He was ripped on Twitter by two European Tour players, Richard Bland and Edoardo Molinari, for failing to yell ‘Fore’ after an errant tee shot at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. “It shouldn’t be difficult to understand you should always shout “fore” when you hit a shot into the crowd,” Molinari tweeted. “When is someone going to do something about this? Hopefully before a spectator gets seriously hurt!”

The feud between DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka has brought attention to some of the unruly behavior at recent PGA Tour events. Fans have become increasingly vocal and it has promoted the Tour to take action. TSN’s Bob Weeks had a look at the issue in a recent column.

Leftovers – How about Christian Ronaldo’s debut with Man U? Two goals in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle after a 12-year absence. Ronaldo won every major honour with United before departing for Real Madrid. The 36-year-old forward returned to United when he was sold by Juventus last month.

Raptor fans breathed a huge sigh of relief with news that Masai Ujiri was returning to the team after months of uncertainty. Ujiri agreed to a new deal that saw him become the vice chairman/president of the team. In making the announcement, Ujiri said “I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead this team. I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors and I’m here to stay.”

Did you catch the stratospheric numbers in the new contract signed by Steph Curry? His new deal with Golden State is four years and $215 million. Curry will earn a head-shaking $59.6 million in the final year of the deal. We did a little arithmetic and determined he will be paid about $658,500 per game. Curry will make more in one game than the highest paid player in the CFL makes in an entire season.

Dennis Schroder is the new poster boy for contract blunders. Back in March, Schroder reportedly turned down a four-year, $84 million dollar contract extension from the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, Schroder was the Lakers starting point guard and coming off a second-place finish in voting for NBA Sixth Man of the Year. All was good. The Lakers were defending champs and a favorite to repeat. Well, we all know what happened. The Lakers season fell apart with injuries to Lebron and Anthony Davis, culminating in an upset playoff loss to Phoenix. Fast forward to the NBA’s free agency period this month and cap space was at a premium. Schroder was left signing a one-year, $5.9 million dollar deal with the Boston Celtics. Yes, that’s a gut punch of almost $80 million.

Speaking of ridiculous money, the average salary for every player on the Los Angeles Dodgers 26-man roster is now $10.23 million. The average salary for players on the Tampa Rays: $2.71 million. But baseball doesn’t need a salary cap. Anyone who thinks baseball’s luxury tax will ensure a level playing field is smoking the Rob Manfred dream pipe in Yankee pyjamas.

My favourite new name in sports is Skye Bolt. He’s an outfielder for the Oakland A’s. Sounds like a throwback Super Hero.

Spotify Song of the Week – One of the greatest, long-forgotten blues albums is 7936 South Rhodes featuring Eddie Boyd and Fleetwood Mac. Those were the days when British blues bands were teaming up with legendary American blues icons. Remember Howlin’ Wolf – the London Sessions?  Fleetwood Mac in Chicago? Well, this album stands up with any of them. We recommend “Your Got to Reap,” “Ten to One,” “The Blues is Here to Stay,” “She’s Gone,” “I’ll Never Stop,” and “Are We There Yet Momma.”

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