Sports: Spring Training Begins; Basketball All-Star Ahead

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It's the beginning of the beginning of baseball season, and two major thumpers have jumped leagues. Plus, basketball makes it to a midpoint, and suddenly you have to ask: Who's really the best team in Los Angeles? Host Scott Simon talks with ESPN's Howard Bryant about the sports of the week.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: I know, it's in the 30s in Chicago this morning, in the 40s in Boston. But doesn't it feel like spring training? It's the beginning of the baseball season. Pitchers and catchers, all kinds of people, reported. And two major thumpers have jumped leagues.

Plus, basketball makes it to a midpoint. Suddenly you've got to ask: who's really the best team in Los Angeles? And this just in: Jeremy Lin has a normal game.

From the studios of New England Public Radio, we're joined now by Howard Bryant of, ESPN the magazine and ESPN the healthful breakfast pastry.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thanks. And players are off to Florida and Arizona. Let me ask about a couple of subplots. The Cardinals paid as much for Albert Pujols as most countries do for aircraft carriers.

BRYANT: That would be the Angels, new team.

SIMON: Oh, did I say - yes, I'm sorry. Forgive me. The Cardinals used to pay that much for him.

BRYANT: They used to pay him. Exactly.

SIMON: I misspoke. So traded - I love this phrase - Cardinals wings for Angels wings. Is it going to pay off?

BRYANT: Well, that's a lot of money - $250 million. And I still think the Texas Rangers have the best team, but you certainly have a major, major shift in Major League Baseball. The two biggest sluggers in the National League, Prince Fielder goes to Detroit, and Albert Pujols goes for 10 years, $250 million to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

And obviously when you make a deal like that it's for one thing, and that's to win the World Series. That's to do for the Angels what Pujols did twice for the Cardinals, which is to win a championship.

Let's not forget, however, there are two little teams on the East Coast that might have something to say about it as well, which is Boston and New York. It's going to be a very big year; a lot of big homeruns, a lot of things happening in the American League.

SIMON: Bobby Valentine is the new Red Sox manager. So how does he prevent, you know, the guys in the locker room from ordering pizza during post-games, which apparently happened last year?

BRYANT: And beer and singing songs out at the Green Monster during a pennant race. This is going to be a tough year for the Red Sox only in trying to live down the collapse of last year. Once again, as we always say, devastating losses have devastating consequences.

And this year, it's a redemptive year for the Red Sox. Everyone's going to be watching Bobby Valentine as the new get-tough manager. And if they come out of the gates slow or if they have another hiccup where they have some kind of silly unprofessional scandal, I think it's going to be a tough year for him.

But if not, they've got really good players. They're still the Red Sox. It's still $170 million payroll. So it's not like they're a laughing stock. They're still a pretty powerful team.

SIMON: Baseball lost a great guy this week - Gary Carter, the durable catcher, was a Met and an Expo, went into the Hall of Fame actually as an Expo, died of brain cancer at the age of 57. Why did they call Gary Carter "The Kid?"

BRYANT: He's a terrific - and I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting Gary Carter, but after the reaction, especially from the crusty, hard New York writers, there was unbelievable outpouring of love and emotion for him. And I really do wish that I'd had the chance to meet him. I had some friends who were telling me that anybody who had come in contact with Gary Carter, they had a signed ball. They had something.

I remember one of my good friends Bob Klapisch told the story about how the Mets, back in the '80s, the bad boy Mets used to get upset because the team had to wait for the - they had to hold the team bus for Gary Carter because he was out signing autographs for the kids. He was just a terrific, terrific man. I wish I'd met him.

SIMON: Yeah. We've got about a minute to talk about basketball. OK?

BRYANT: Oh, sure. You like hoops?

SIMON: Coming up on the All-Star game. Are Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls the best team?

BRYANT: Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are the best team record-wise right now. But I still think that the team to beat is the Miami Heat. I think that they're doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing when they got LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I still think they're the best team.

The question that anybody would have for them is can anybody beat that team four times in a playoff series? I don't see it. It wouldn't surprise me if the Bulls got them, because the Bulls are a very good team, as well. But I still think that the team to beat in the NBA is the Miami Heat.

SIMON: And best team in Los Angeles, is it not the Lakers?

BRYANT: It's actually the Clippers, who've been in business for 41 seasons and only six times have they been above 500. They've never won a division title. They've only been in second place twice in 41 years. And yet, they are in first place right now.

And the reason is Chris Paul. He's the difference maker. And he could actually, believe it or not, turn that town into a Clipper town instead of a Laker town. But, of course, you have to do it against Kobe Bryant and you've got to do it in the playoffs. But right now the Clippers are fun to watch.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

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