Baseball Drama And Masters Golf

Baseball is here! Just a few games into the new season, but already the Chicago Cubs are playing .500 baseball, and Manny Ramirez has flunked a drug test. Meanwhile, down in Augusta, there may be a familiar roar at the Masters. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman about the struggling Boston Red Sox, the latest in the Barry Bonds trial, and the U.S. Masters Tournament.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

Hey, baseball's here. Just six or seven games into the new season and already the Chicago Cubs are playing .500 ball. And Manny Ramirez has flunked a drug test.

Down in Augusta there may be a familiar roar at the Masters. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us from Portland, Oregon - not the one on the east coast.

Thanks for being with us, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Go Cubs.

SIMON: Well, go where? Listen, how worried should Boston Red Sox fans be that they've only one a game and the Baltimore Orioles are suddenly out of hibernation and at the top of the American League east?

GOLDMAN: It's over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

There are, what, 155 games left for the Red Sox, but it's over, Scott. No. Probably a touch too early to crown the Os and write the obit for the Sox, you know. But those old fears rattle around New England. Even though Boston has won two World Series titles since 2004, none other than David "Big Papi" Ortiz was quoted as saying this week, "Every hit, every play, every at bat, every swing, these people they care. They worry about everything and sometimes it gets out of hand."

SIMON: And sometimes gets to them I think was the implication, right?

GOLDMAN: Right. Right.

SIMON: They're a tough franchise to pay for it.

Listen, speaking of former Red Sox. Major League Baseball notified Manny Ramirez, who was supposed to play for Tampa Bay this year - I guess he got a few games in - apparently he failed his third career drug test. And rather than face another suspension, he's announced his retirement.

Now, Manny Ramirez has Hall of Fame stats, but does this call his entire career into question?

GOLDMAN: Probably. Among baseball writers, probably, because so far they have shown that they're in no mood to cast Hall of Fame votes for players nabbed in the so-called steroids era. And, you know, Scott, with that steroids era there is this general sense that that was then and this was now. There is much stricter testing than there was 10, 15 years ago.

But Ramirez's reported positive test, as you say, a third, shows we're still there. There are a lot fewer positives that we know of in the majors, but it still happens with regularity in the minors among guys scrapping to get to the big leagues.

SIMON: We should note he retires with tens of millions of dollars presumably. So...

GOLDMAN: Yes, he does.

SIMON: ...he does have something to show for it.

The jury is literally out in the Barry Bonds perjury trial. Now, you've followed that trial. I know you watch a lot of "Law and Order."

(Soundbite of laughter)

So what's your assessment of the trial, Barrister Goldman?

GOLDMAN: It appears the prosecution in the Bonds perjury trial rallied at the end. The trial ended last this week with the defense resting without even calling a witness. They seemed quite confident that they'd made their case, or more to the point, that the government hadn't. One of the government witnesses contradicted another, and it was quite embarrassing for the prosecution.

But the government had a much stronger closing argument. And yesterday, the first day of jury deliberation, the jury asked to hear again some key government evidence. So that indicates they're taking seriously those items presented by the prosecution. And it may also indicate, Scott, that this thing isn't a slam dunk for the defense as was thought near the end of the trial.

SIMON: And, of course, this weekend the Masters at Augusta National. There're a couple of youngsters leading the field, but is Tiger out of the woods?

GOLDMAN: The old man. You know, yesterday Tiger reminded us that there's no greater show on a golf course maybe ever. He had his long awaited surge. He shot a 6 under par 66 with nine birdies. And he put himself into a tie for third as he starts today's third round.

Interesting fact, Scott. Woods has shot a second round 66 three times at Augusta in the past. Each time, he won the tournament. You know, he's not only struggled with the upheaval in his personal life, he's been retooling his swing again.

But every tournament he's played fans keep waiting for the move. And fans will wait for moments like yesterday for as long as he plays on the PGA Tour. You know, we may not - we may like other players more - like Phil Mickelson and Freddie Couples - but we wait to see these moments from Tiger Woods because he's given us so many in the past.

SIMON: Seven birdies in the last 11 holes. What must it be like for like a 20-year-old Rory McIlroy to see that?

GOLDMAN: You know, he says he's not intimidated. He and these other youngsters - Jason Day and Rickie Fowler - they are freakishly calm and seemingly mature for their ages. But it'll be interesting to see if they stay at the top, if Tiger hangs around, we'll see if there still is an intimidation factor.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Tom Goldman.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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