Column: On the Twins, the Cubs and TV broadcasters

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Tim Engstrom, Pothole Prairie

Baseball has been berry, berry good to da Twins.

Detroit loses to cellar-dweller Kansas City and Minnesota beats the White Sox, making the Twins the division champs. And Joe Mauer wins the American League batting title to boot.

To quote an Old Milwaukee beer commercial from the 1980s: &8220;It doesn&8217;t get any better than this.&8221;

All across Minnesota people came to work with a spring in their step, happy about their baseball team and eager to watch postseason play. It&8217;s October, and we&8217;re playing baseball.

So what if the Minnesota Vikings lost Sunday. The new coach seems like the right guy, and right now we&8217;re willing to forgive a few losses as a result of poor decisions on the sidelines. We&8217;re optimistic he&8217;ll do better.

My coaching tip: When in the second half, save your timeouts for the end of the game, especially when you know every game you play comes down to the final minute.

My other coaching tip: Practice getting the offense to line up and spike the ball to stop the clock in less than 14 seconds. Then practice it some more.

Enough about the Viqueens.

Remember Andy MacPhail? He was president of the Twins for nine years, guiding the franchise during World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.

He&8217;s been spending his time trying to turn the Chicago Cubs around. His efforts were thwarted by Cubs fan Steve Bartman during the 2003 National League Championship Series, when the Cubs faced the Florida Marlins, whose spoiled fans barely attended their games that year.

Bartman, as you recall, is the man in headphones who reached out from his seat and interfered with a sure catch by outfielder Moises Alou. The act swayed the momentum of the game and the series. It ended the dreams and hopes of the Cubs faithful, who haven&8217;t been in the World Series since 1945 and haven&8217;t won a World Series since 1908.

This year, MacPhail&8217;s efforts were thwarted by the Cubs being the Cubs.

Yes, well, MacPhail quit his job Sunday, and manager Dusty Baker was fired Monday. The Cubs finished dead last in the National League this year.

I&8217;m a Twins fan in the American League, and a Chicago Cubs fan in the National League. When the Cubs play the Twins, I root for the Cubs. I attended Iowa Cubs games in Des Moines as a kid, so I&8217;ve been hooked since.

MacPhail and Baker should be admired for seeking to take on such a monstrous task. They battled billy goats, black cats and more bad luck than any team in U.S. sports history. I wish them well, even though I&8217;m glad they are gone. If you finish last, you deserve the boot.

My advice to the next guys: Teach the players fundamentals.

As for the Cubs, well, there&8217;s always next year.

As for the Twins, well, there&8217;s this year. They only need to win 11 games to become World Series champions. The first playoff game started at noon today, so it is probably over by the time most of you read my column. We have a television in the newsroom, and I can guarantee that it will be tuned to ESPN.

Well, maybe. I&8217;m afraid the ESPN crew might not know where Minneapolis is. The cable-sports network ignored the Twins during the season. (Meanwhile, we knew a good story was in the works.

We wrote editorials &8212; in June &8212; saying the Twins could come back and win the division.)

I&8217;m sure ESPN pundits wonder if there has been some mathematical error that allowed the Twins to get into the postseason. I&8217;m sure they are learning how to pronounce Mauer and Morneau. I&8217;m sure ESPN interns are rummaging through the basement to find a Twins logo on file. I&8217;m sure ESPN producers are trying to find Minnesota on a map.

TV sports goes from bad to worse

You know what I&8217;m getting sick of in baseball, football and other sports? Broadcasters who used to be players or coaches. What happened to the good broadcasters who trained to call games or comment on them. It took them years to work their way up in the world, and by that time their skills were honed, so they made better comments than the ones made by players and coaches. Now and then, a player or coach would get into the booth, like Irv Cross.

Nowadays, it seems there&8217;s nothing but players and coaches. You won a Super Bowl. Here&8217;s a microphone.

Now and then, one or two hard-working, smart players can make the leap. Phil Simms is a good example. He does his homework.

But most should go away from the TV limelight.

For instance, who cares what Michael Irvin has to say? He&8217;s a former cocaine addict who was caught doing dirty deeds in a hotel room on his 30th birthday. He talks loud because he thinks talking loud makes him more right.

Terry Bradshaw is another louder-makes-me-right guy. He is a nutball who should be combing the beaches of Tahiti. The things he says on the air have nothing to do with the day&8217;s games. He wastes the viewer&8217;s time.

Dan Marino was a great quarterback. With the things he says now, it seems clear he doesn&8217;t pay much attention to the league. The man doesn&8217;t do homework. His celebrity status allows him to keep the job.

Nate Newton was once caught with 213 pounds of marijuana. He&8217;s a broadcaster now.

We expect the world of sports to be a circus. The world of TV sports coverage shouldn&8217;t. Why can&8217;t we get class back into TV sports?

Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS and NBC keep on hiring more buffoons every year.

It seems the NFL Network is trying to be classier, hiring Bryant Gumbel, Rich Eisen and the like.

But not all class. We know how Deion Sanders, Terrell Davis, Dick Vermeil and the other &8220;on-air talent&8221; will turn out.

(Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom&8217;s column appears every Tuesday.)