Laughter is best medicine for LeBron, and NFL picks

If LeBron James wants to get past the PR nightmare that was “The Decision,” he should start by not taking himself so seriously.

LeBron James

Why so serious, LeBron James? Associated Press photo

The Minneapolis Star Tribune had a story in today’s editions about how James will be gunning for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and, notably, forward Anthony Tolliver.

Tolliver, if you remember, did his own version of “The Decision,” which he published on YouTube under the title, “The Decision: Part Deux.” In it, he confirms to the world that he will indeed play for the Timberwolves, spoofing James’ announcement earlier in the offseason, when James told the world on national TV he would play for the Miami Heat.

See below for weekly NFL picks. Here’s the video:

Weekly NFL picks

Somehow I once again forgot to make NFL picks last week. I really have to get my life’s priorities straight.

Anywho, I’m at 14-11 picking against the spread this season. Here’s my picks for Week 8:

Detroit by 1 over Washington. Lions

St. Louis by 3 over Carolina. Rams

New York Jets by 4 1/2 over Green Bay. Packers

Oakland by 1 1/2 over Seattle. Seahawks

New Orleans vs. Pittsburgh pick ‘em: Steelers

Even in retirement, Bonds is chasing McGwire

If you’ve read any literature at all about Barry Bonds – the book I prefer is “Love Me, Hate Me …” by Jeff Pearlman – then you have read that one of the reasons Bonds started taking steroids was because he was jealous of the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got for their home run chase in 1998.

“If they want home runs, I’ll give them home runs.”

And home runs he gave. Or home runs he sent, I suppose. Bonds hit more homers in a single season than any other player when he hit 73 in 2001, breaking McGwire’s mark of 70 set just three years before that. Bonds hit more homers in a career – 762 – than any other player.

And this week, Bonds saw the opportunity to deflect some of the attention for the Giants’ run to a World Series berth onto himself when he said he would like to one day be the hitting coach for the Giants.

First thing that bothers me is the fact that the Giants already have a hitting coach in Hensley Meulens. Most people – in good taste – wouldn’t say publicly they want a job that is already occupied. Considering the ways that the Giants organization bent over backwards for Bonds in the past, you wonder how Meulens is feeling right now.

Secondly, I still don’t like the idea of Bonds or any other known – and let’s face it, it’s pretty much known by now – steroid user being allowed back into the game like this. If you think they should be in the Hall of Fame, then fine. I could stomach that, although I would disagree with their inclusion. But I don’t think they should be allowed back on the field.

McGwire became hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals prior to this season. Do you think Bonds saw some of the attention McGwire got for receiving that job and wanted it for himself? That would be strange, since I’m guessing McGwire would have preferred to not be in the spotlight if given the option.

Shortly after the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series, it became obvious that gambling and the throwing of games was widespread throughout baseball. A man by the name of Kennesaw Mountain Landis was tabbed as commissioner and given the responsibility of cleaning up the game.

He sent a message to those cheaters by banning eight Chicago White Sox players from baseball for life. And I don’t know for certain since I wasn’t born for about another 60 years after that, but to my knowledge gambling wasn’t a big problem again, at least until Pete Rose came along.

About a decade ago, steroid use in baseball was pretty widespread. After years of ignoring the problem, MLB commissioner Bud Selig stepped up his testing program, but nobody has ever been banned for it. And the players’ union accepts a lot of the blame, too, for getting in the way of harsher penalties.

What’s done is done, though. I don’t want to get into the steroid use in baseball other than to say I don’t think these guys should be wearing big league uniforms again. They cheated the game in order to profit from it, just like the players in the 1919 scandal did.

It would serve Selig well to send a message, just as his predecessor did.

Rounding the bases on various topics

Time to touch on a few different topics in a pretty busy sports week.

  • Where was this San Francisco Giants offense all season? Twenty runs in the first two games of the World Series against Texas Rangers pitching, notably Cliff Lee in Game 1. This series could be a rout if the Rangers don’t get rejuvenated playing in front of the home fans in Game 3.
  • Watched a little bit of the Minnesota Wild game tonight against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. One thought, and it has nothing to do with the action on the ice: A 10th anniversary team? Really? No offense to the Wild, but what kind of a team is this going to look like. Seems to me the franchise could have at least waited 20 or 25 years before they released a team like that.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves played their first regular-season game Wednesday night, losing by 1 to the Sacramento Kings. I admit I watched none of that game, opting instead to have the TV at work tuned to the World Series. But it’s not a good sign to see after their first game that Kevin Love is in head coach Kurt Rambis‘ doghouse. I think he played nine minutes in the second half, despite grabbing 10 rebounds in the first half. Kind of a head-scratcher.
  • Speaking of the Wolves, team owner Glen Taylor on Wednesday squashed any contraction talk regarding his franchise. NBA commissioner David Stern suggested contraction as a way for the league to tighten its economic belts, but Taylor said his franchise will not be contracted. Being the fourth team in a four-team town(s), hard to blame the media for asking the question.
  • And finally, Winnipeg Jets fans have to be smiling if they caught this link from Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog. The Phoenix Coyotes had an announced attendance of 6,700 fans for a home game last week. Considering the season just started, this is not a good sign for the future of that franchise in Arizona. But if you’re like me and think the NHL would be better served with more teams in Canada and fewer in the southern United States, then you’re not too upset about this development.

It’s not Yankees-Phillies, but Rangers-Giants still worth watching

The World Series kicks off tonight, and I couldn’t be more excited. I know this is shocking, but the World Series and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are my two favorite sporting events. I like the Super Bowl too, of course, but all of the hoopla and buildup is nauseating.

It’s the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants in Game 1 tonight in San Francisco. I’m sure a lot of people out there – notably, those employed by the Fox network – would have rather seen the two LCS losers – Phillies and Yankees – make it again. But there’s plenty to like about this Giants-Rangers matchup.

  • First off, you have two long-suffering fan bases. The Rangers franchise – dating back to its days as the Washington Senators – has never won the World Series. That’s 50 years of baseball, and no titles. The Giants haven’t won the World Series in over 50 years, and that was back when they were at the Polo Grounds in New York. So San Francisco has never celebrated a World Series title.
  • The Rangers are full of feel-good stories. There’s manager Ron Washington, who has battled cocaine issues that came up prior to the season. You have Josh Hamilton and that whole substance abuse story. By the way, how great was it that the Rangers celebrate their playoff series wins with ginger ale so Hamilton can take part? And there’s a guy like Colby Lewis, who was awful in the big leagues, went to Japan and re-invented himself, and now is a dynamite starter for Texas.
  • The Giants have great pitching, and Texas has that Cliff Lee guy. San Fran can counter with a deep rotation, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Jonathan Sanchez didn’t look great in the NLCS, but he can pitch better. Madison Bumgarner looks like an ace in the making.
  • The Giants have some pretty great characters. I’ve heard that Aubrey Huff is their version of Mike Redmond in that he keeps everyone upbeat (though I don’t know if he makes naked runs through the clubhouse like Redmond did). But unlike Redmond, Huff can flat out hit. And their closer, Brian Wilson, is, well, different. See the video below.

 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FIvcogaZZM&feature=related

We’ll leave it there for now.

Let’s make a prediction. Before the playoffs started, I had Yankees-Giants in the World Series, so I was half right. So I’m going to stand by the Giants and say San Francisco wins the World Series in six games.

Feel free to make predictions of your own in the comments section.

Favre, Childress could put end to consecutive games streak

Brett Favre‘s consecutive games played streak of 291 is one of the craziest records in pro sports. In the hard-hitting world of the NFL, it seems hard to believe that a quarterback could survive that many seasons without missing a game. Few QBs last a whole season, let alone 18 of them.

But Favre and his ability to play through pain will be really put to the test this week, with the Minnesota Vikings preparing to face the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Favre has two different fractures in his left ankle, which were sustained during Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. When medical staff wanted to take a look at Favre after the play that is believed to be the cause of the fractures, he refused to be examined.

There’s not too many QBs in the NFL that would get away with that either. But Favre is a special case.

The question now becomes whether or not he or head coach Brad Childress will be able to end that consecutive games streak this week. Seems hard to believe that Favre should play Sunday, but crazier things have happened.

Childress said during his Monday news conference that sometimes you have to protect a player from himself. That is very true. The concussion issue in pro sports is a prime example of how coaches and medical personnel should be doing just that.

But I didn’t see anyone protecting Favre from himself after he suffered those fractures on Sunday, yet continued to play. I have a hard time believing anyone but Favre will step in now and stop him from playing again.

Childress can say what he’s supposed to say. But we all know that Favre isn’t your average quarterback, and this isn’t your average quarterback-coach relationship.

Twins are best served leaving Mauer behind plate for now

After watching my Chicago Bears post another clunker en route to losing to Washington on Sunday afternoon, I decided to shift gears to baseball. I was surfing the Internet and found a blog post from Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in which Sinker said the Minnesota Twins should start transitioning catcher Joe Mauer to another position.

Joe Mauer

Sure looks like Joe Mauer will be a catcher - and not playing another position - for the Twins at least for the next few years. Associated Press.

I realize this happens. Not all catchers stay at catcher forever. Carlton Fisk did. Johnny Bench mostly did, for the first 15 years of his career. But not all of them do. Some have to move.

I can see why Sinker would write what he did. After all, fans should want Mauer on the field as much as possible. And he’s an immensly valuable player, regardless of what position he plays.

But even if moving Mauer to another position keeps him healthy and gives the Twins another 20 games with him in the lineup, are they really a better team?

Let’s face it: When the Twins traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for closer Matt Capps, didn’t they make up their mind at that point that Mauer wasn’t going to move? I mean, who else is going to catch on this team?

I suppose if the idea is to just transition Mauer away from catcher, he would still catch a large chunk of the team’s games right now. But beyond Drew Butera, who else are we talking about as a catcher for the Twins? And I don’t think there’s anyone close to the big league level that’s viewed as an everyday catcher. So then what? You sign John Buck? Or Miguel Olivo?

Seems to me the Twins made up their minds about Mauer’s immediate future when they traded Ramos.

Twins were missing more than just Cliff Lee

When a team loses playoff game after playoff game after playoff game, it’s pretty tough to point a finger at just one player or thing and say, “That is what went wrong.”

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee is being Cliff Lee again in this postseason. Associated Press photo

The Minnesota Twins will take a 12-game postseason losing streak into the offseason. Team meetings will start taking place in the next week or so, as management discusses what needs to be done.

The Texas Rangers keep on playing. They eliminated the New York Yankees on Friday in the American League Championship Series to earn their first-ever trip to the World Series.

And by securing that World Series berth in Game 6 on Friday, the Rangers were able to save their ace Cliff Lee for Game 1 of the World Series, which will take place Wednesday in either San Francisco or Philadelphia. The Giants and Phillies play Game 6 of the National League Championship Series tonight, with San Fran leading 3 games to 2.

Lee has been his usual self in this postseason. The free agent-to-be is setting himself up to be the most coveted player on the market this offseason, with apologies to Carl Crawford. Lee has started three times in these playoffs, allowing one run in 16 innings to Tampa, then pitching eight shutout innings against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS. His K-to-BB ratio in the postseason is an incredible 34-to-1 in 24 innings!

Because of this, I’ve seen and heard no shortage of Twins fans on Facebook or Twitter or, can you believe, through verbal communication, saying how great Lee would have looked in a Twins uniform. There’s no doubt he would have. There’s no doubt he wins Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees, a game that saw the Twins squander a three-run lead en route to a loss and an eventual three-game sweep at the hands of New York.

Lee’s presence would have made a huge difference. Maybe they should have paid the price, though I seem to remember at the time that the Twins were just a couple games above .500 when Texas acquired Lee from Seattle in a trade earlier this season.

I’m just not sure if Lee alone would have gotten the Twins to a World Series. The problems from this postseason and the ones before it go well beyond adding another starter, albeit a dominant one.

As I’ve stated before, the Twins have scored a total – a TOTAL! – of 20 runs in their last nine playoff games. To put that in perspective, the Rangers scored 18 runs in a two-game stretch against the Yankees in the ALCS.

I’ve also heard some say, “If Lee wins Game 1 against the Yankees, then the Twins will believe they can beat them.” I disagree with that.

First off, this is a big league team that consistently makes the playoffs. We’re talking about the Twins, not the Bad News Bears. If they don’t “believe” they can beat another team right now, there are some real problems there. These aren’t the little-engine-that-could Twins anymore. This team had a $100 million payroll this season.

Secondly, even if Lee’s presence gets them Game 1, you could argue that it would only mean the Twins believe they can beat the Yankees when Lee is pitching. When it’s Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing starting, would they really have a different mentality?

The problem with that argument is you could argue until you’re blue in the face because you really don’t know what’s up with the Twins and their playoff woes. I’m just not sold that Lee’s inclusion alone would have been enough to change things.

How low can the University of Minnesota go?

Former Fargo Force goalie Mike Lee enjoyed a banner night Friday, stopping 40 shots as St. Cloud State defeated the University of Minnesota 5-2 in men’s hockey.

The men’s hockey team lost back-to-back games to WCHA newcomer Nebraska-Omaha just a weekend ago. But that program is hardly alone in its struggles.

There just aren’t too many teams playing in the Dinkytown region of the Twin Cities that are in better shape than they were, say, five years ago. Really, other than men’s basketball, is there one?

The football team seemingly hits a new low every time it takes the field. The men’s hockey team is certainly not off to a good start. And the women’s basketball team, which enjoyed a resurgence thanks to Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville, has falled on hard times again too. They finished in last place in the Big Ten last season.

That’s three pretty big programs that are having some really big-time struggles right now. I’m just left wondering how much longer Minnesota AD Joel Maturi will last. Maturi supposedly gets to make the call on hiring a new football coach, which is a pretty big responsiblity. I have to assume that’s a vote of confidence for him. Hard to believe they’d let him hire a football coach, then can him shortly thereafter.

As a native Minnesotan, it’s tough to see some of the big programs on that campus struggling so much.

The debate: Posey vs. Mauer

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey received plenty of attention for his work as a rookie backstop during the regular season. And on the postseason stage, that exposure has only intensified.

Buster Posey

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey has drawn praise for defense as well as offense. Associated Press photo

After starting the year in the minors, Posey thrust himself into NL Rookie of the Year candidacy by hitting .305 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs in 108 games. From what I’ve read, he provided sound defense. And he consistently hit in the middle of the Giants’ lineup.

Posey had four hits and drove in two runs in Wednesday’s Game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies, helping to put the Giants in front in the best-of-7 series 3-1. He drove in another run in Thursday’s loss.

He now has 11 career postseason hits, which is one more than Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer has in his career. Posey – just like any young catcher that gets called up - has drawn comparisons to Mauer.

The question I would ask is: If you were starting a big league team and could build around one of these two catchers, which would you choose? Posey or Mauer?

It’s not an easy one to call. Posey has had about 400 big league at-bats, so that’s not exactly a big sample size to judge him. He’s just as likely to endure a sophomore slump next year, or he might put up numbers similar or better than he did this season. You just don’t know.

With Mauer, you pretty much do. Every year, he’s going to be in the batting race. He’s still the only catcher in American League history to win a batting title, and he’s done it three times.

But while Mauer might be the more disciplined hitter, I would say, even now, Posey is the more powerful one. Hitting 18 homers in 400 at-bats in your rookie year is nothing to sneeze at. Mauer has had only one season where he’s hit more than 13, albeit that was an MVP season in 2009 that saw him hit 28.

My answer right now would still be Mauer. But another year like this one from Posey makes that decision a whole lot tougher.

Firmly planted on the Giants bandwagon

Enjoyed a pretty quiet Wednesday night away from work, so I sat in front of the TV and watched Game 4 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t have much of a rooting interest in this series. Or, at least, I didn’t.

Normally, I cheer for the team with the longest-suffering fan base in a situation like this. But while the Phillies have been to two straight World Series, they have perennial All-Stars on their roster this year – Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, for starters – who haven’t been to one with the Phillies. In Halladay’s case, he’s never been to one.

The Giants pulled out a victory in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday. And I’m announcing to the world that I will be rooting for San Fran until, or if, they get eliminated.

I remember about a month ago a story or blog post written by Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski about the Giants and how much more likeable they are now than compared to the Barry Bonds-ruled Giants of not too long ago.

Admittedly, I’m just a TV viewer who has had no interaction with any of these players. But it sure seems like a likeable team to me.

They’re led by the young rotation of stars in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They have a solid closer in Brian Wilson.

And their starting lineup is a pretty wild blend of veteran castoffs and young, emerging talent. There’s rookie catcher Buster Posey hitting in the middle of their order, despite having started the season in the minor leagues. At one point, the Giants were so in need of his bat while he was raking in the minors that they called him up and made him their first baseman prior to trading away Bengie Molina to Texas.

You also have Pablo Sandoval, the “Kung Fu Panda” who was dynamite in 2009 but labored through this season.

Then there’s the castoffs. You have an outfielder like Andres Torres, who rose from the ranks of defensive specialist to become the team’s leadoff hitter for much of the season, posting a .267 batting average with 16 homers, 63 RBIs, and 26 steals.

Then there’s outfielder Pat Burrell, who was waiting for a team to call and offer him a job after earning a release from Tampa Bay when he hit .202 in 24 games earlier this season.

And you have Aubrey Huff, who you Twins fans might remember was a bench player for Detroit last season, having hit .189 in 40 games with the Tigers following a late-season trade from the Orioles. The Giants got him for cheap, and what a bargain. In the regular season, he hit .290 with 26 homers and 86 RBIs while slugging .506 and scoring 100 runs. And if that wasn’t enough, he basically played any position on the field he was asked. He mostly has played first base, but it was Huff that slid to the corner outfield spots for the first time since 2006 when the Giants wanted to recall Posey. He started 57 games in left and right field and didn’t commit an error.

The Giants haven’t won a World Series since leaving the Polo Grounds. I find myself rooting for them to do just that.