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Willes' Musings: Cheating wildfire continues to burn in Major League Baseball

Here’s something that will make the long weekend seem even longer, the musings and meditations on the world of sports:

• The story that is consuming baseball has entered its four month and the wildfire continues to burn. On Monday, it was Mike Trout’s turn to sound off about the Houston Astros. On Tuesday, it will be someone else. The day after, someone else again. Maybe, just maybe, it will die down in the latter stages of spring training but opening day will be the oxygen that brings it back to life.

Who knows where it goes from there.

If you’ve followed sports over the last half century or so, you’ve witnessed any number of scandals that rattled our games: steroids in their many forms, blood doping, match fixing, bribery.

But, whether it’s the level of outrage or the calls to strip the Astros of their World Series’ victory, this one has a different scope and feel to it. These stories tend to have a shelf life. This one doesn’t appear to be anywhere near its expiry date.

Don’t know what the answer is but right now Major League Baseball is sending the message that it can’t be bothered to punish all the cheaters. That has to change. If sports can’t offer a reasonable expectation that competition takes place on a level ground, it has nothing.

• Can’t remember a season where one player burst out of the pack and laid claim to the Hart Trophy over a four-game stretch the way Leon Draisaitl has done with the Oilers. The presumption has long been that Draisaitl owed the bulk of his success to playing with Connor McDavid, but the Oilers’ captain has missed four games with a knee injury. Over that stretch Draisaitl has gone 3-7-10 and Edmonton has won three-of-four to take the lead in the Pacific Division.

This season he also leads the NHL in scoring, 13 points ahead of Boston’s David Pastrnak, and is on pace for 132 points.

With 23 games left on the Oilers’ schedule, he basically has to fall off a cliff to lose the Hart.

• You can’t reassess the Canucks after one clumsy loss to Anaheim, but, as they enter the stretch drive, you can say this. The Canucks have built the bulk of their success this season against inferior opposition. To date, their record against non-playoff teams is 22-10-2. Conversely, it’s 10-12-3 against teams that currently occupy a playoff spot.

As it happens, 11 of their final 23 games are against teams that sit below the playoff bar. If they take care of business against those teams — say 15 points in those 11 games — it should take care of a playoff spot.

That might say something about their chances in the post-season, but Job No. 1 for this team has always been the playoffs.

• In memoriam:

Larry Popein’s career with the Canucks started in 1951 as a star player in the old Pacific Coast league, picked up again in the 1960s after six full seasons with the New York Rangers centring a line with Andy Bathgate and Dean Prentice, and concluded with a 12-year run in the NHL team’s front office. He would go on to win a Stanley Cup as a scout with the Flames in ’89, but, as the great Jim Robson says, “Pope was a Canuck.”

He died Feb. 8.

Before there was Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and R.J. Barrett; before there was Steve Nash — heck, before there was Jay Triano — there was Bill Robinson.

Robinson, who died Feb. 9, was a shooting star who graduated from Chemainus High School to Simon Fraser to Jack Donohue’s national team, where he led Canada to a fourth-place finish at the ’76 Montreal Olympics. A 5-foot-11 gunner with unlimited range in the pre-three-point-line universe, Robinson averaged 16.7 points per game in six tournament games and put up 24 points in a loss to the powerful Russians in the bronze-medal game.

Imagine the offers that would have poured in after that performance in today’s game.

“As a youngster I remember watching Bill Robinson play for Canada,” Triano said when he was coaching the Raptors. “His play inspired me to chase a dream of playing for Canada.”

Robinson is a member of the Canadian basketball Hall of Fame.

This last one hurts.

I covered nine Olympics with Christie Blatchford and was involved in countless adventures with her in strange and exotic lands. In our business she was a pioneering figure as the country’s first women sports columnist; a superstar journo with a huge national profile and a best-selling author.

But for those who felt fortunate to call her a friend, she was a constant source of joy and laughter; an irresistible force of nature who went 100 m.p.h. at everything she did. She attacked stories like no one I’ve ever seen. She attacked life with the same spirit. She died Feb. 12, leaving a hole that will never be filled.

• And finally, I’ve got this golf buddy who isn’t particularly given to moments of introspection or sensitivity who says this about the Sedins: “I’d just like to shake their hands once and thank them for everything they’ve done.”

That’s the way the past week felt. It isn’t exactly practical to have the entire province line up to shake Daniel’s and Henrik’s hands but everyone could take part in the weeklong celebration and thank the twins for everything they represent as players, citizens and philanthropists. From the outside looking in it might have seemed over-the-top but for British Columbians it was a profound and necessary way to the salute the two brothers.

There is a very short list of athletes who, through their impact on-and-off the field, become synonymous with their city: Derek Jeter, Magic Johnson, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson is getting close. There are others.

Then there are the Sedin twins and they mean as much to Vancouver as those other stars mean to their cities.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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