Fri Sep 03 06:01pm EDT
Alluding to Nyjer Morgan's junior hockey background after the Washington Nationals outfielder lost his mind this week was never more than a facile joke — funny for five seconds, but not insightful.
Alas, someone had to postulate that Morgan's seven-game stint a decade ago with the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats was at the root of his hotheaded behaviour. And USA Today had to lend it credence by linking.
A few hockey agitators and enforcers have played for the Pats, so that explains it. The typist, Bob Herpen, appears to be hamfistedly trying to disabuse people of "plac(ing) Morgan in that category of 'angry/crazy African-American guy,' " so guess his solution?
Invoke another cultural stereotype: barbaric Canadians.
"A young Morgan was taken with the sport after watching the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, and pestered his parents to play the game until he was able to snag a tryout with the British Columbia Hockey League's Vernon Vipers as a 16-year-old.
"He didn't make the team, but bounced around several other clubs in the low Canadian minors until hooking on with the Regina Pats of the famed Western Canadian Hockey League (sic) in 1999.
"Even now, the WCHL carries with it a reputation of making the tough players tougher and weeding out the rest. Morgan was no exception. He not only had to fight to keep his spot on the team, but also had to fend off cuture shock and prejudice; after all, he was trying to make his way in a sport that is predominantly Caucasian, in a league that is primarily Canadian, and in Regina, Saskatchewan — a bastion of lily-whiteness in the most lily-white of Canadian regions: the Prairies.
"The Regina Pats also carry with them a tradition of sending cementheads to the pros, guys who at one time might have been able to make a mark playing the game, but who were molded at this step into enforcers. Garth Butcher, Lyndon Byers, Stu Grimson are retired punchers with bona-fide NHL careers whose names stick out." (Phanatic magazine)
Far be it to presume Herpen's harebrainedness stems from being based in Philadelphia, where the Broad Street Bullies still resonate long after many hockey lovers have accepted they were a stain on the sport. You wouldn't want to prejudge a place you've never visited. That's his thing.
If this has any credence, then how come Canadian big-leaguers such as Jason Bay, Justin Morneau or Matt Stairs, who played hockey growing up, aren't known for being infamous basebrawlers? Many Canadians in the Canadian Football League played competitive hockey well into their teens before switching to the gridiron, but on-field violence in the CFL is no worse than in the NFL.
Granted, it's not like Canadians are angels. The WHL is a tough league. Hell, former Toronto Blue Jays slugger George Bell is still fondly remembered by Canadian baseball fans is because, back in the day, it was understood implicitly that he was a hard-nosed left wing from the Prairies, trapped in the body of a power-hitting Dominican outfielder with big hair. But I digress.
Seriously, though, blaming hockey? How do you explain ballplayers who have been known to be a little tightly wound? Roger Clemens didn't play hockey when he was growing up in Texas. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine was a good enough hockey player to be a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, but wasn't known as a headhunter.
Herpen says, "Sometimes the clichés are true." Here's one that perhaps better applies: Some people are just unbalanced.
(Stick tap: Slap Shots.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.