Sports: Who's Starting Baseball Season Well

Correction April 23, 2012

Our guest incorrectly said that there had not been a World Series in Washington, D.C., since 1926. The most recent series in Washington was actually in 1933 (the 1926 series was between the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals). Additionally, we said it was the "anniversary of the Big Green Monster," referring to Fenway Park. While Fenway has just turned 100 years old, the wall known as the Green Monster has been green only since 1947.

Host Scott Simon talks with ESPN's Howard Bryant about how teams are doing in the first few weeks of Major League Baseball, Fenway Park's 100-year anniversary, and women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who stepped aside this week.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Let me hang up the phone now. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Baseball's fast starts, some teams founder early, and the anniversary of the Big Green Monster. Arrrrr. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Fenway Park has just turned 100 years old, but the wall known as the Green Monster has been green only since 1947.] Howard Bryant joins us, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine; joins us from New England Public Radio in Amherst, Massachusetts. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thanks.

BRYANT: So who's off to a good start - and who hasn't had a good time at all?

Well, obviously, the teams that are having a lot of fun are the two-time defending American League champions Texas Rangers. They're 13 up, and they've won 11 of them. And they're just terrific. And the surprising Washington Nationals, the former Montreal Expos, in the baseball city that hasn't been to a World Series since 1926. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The correct date is 1933, not 1926.] And...

SIMON: 1926 - that's like yesterday for a Cub fan.

BRYANT: Exactly. And your Cubs, of course, are in last place, where we've expected them to be. And the team that we didn't expect to be in last place is the - Albert Pujols and his new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They're in last place right now, so it's not the start that they expected. But the Yankees are in first and, of course, your Boston Red Sox are in last place as well - very surprising. I think the team that I really like the most so far, though, is the Los Angeles Dodgers. They're in first...

SIMON: Eleven and 3, according...

BRYANT: They are 11 and 3 and they have gotten rid of Frank McCourt in favor of Magic Johnson. And there's a lot of excitement, finally, in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are one of the most important teams in Major League Baseball history, and it's nice to see them back.

SIMON: Let me draw you out a bit about the BoSox. They had this wonderful birthday celebration at Fenway Park yesterday - which didn't prevent the Yankees from winning. But you wrote a column about the Red Sox, your - can I call them your favorite team? The one you follow the most - and you say that the team has kind of been a victim of its own success and rising expectations.

BRYANT: Well, I don't have a favorite team. I root for people. Up with people, Scott. I don't root for the Red Sox; I root for people that I admire. Anyway - but I did grow up in Boston and yeah, you're right. I think what happens with the Red Sox is, it's been an incredible run. They've sold out every game since May 15, 2003. They've won two World Series during this run.

And I think that it's really difficult to continue to put air in the balloon. Eventually, it's going to pop; eventually, you're going to plateau. And I think that even the fans aren't - you know, didn't come into this season that excited. I mean, you collapsed - last year's collapse took a lot out of people, not just because they didn't make the playoffs - and they lost in a pretty spectacular fashion - but also the way the front office treated Terry Francona with his dismissal.

And I think people just really didn't like the way things ended. It wasn't very professional. It wasn't the dignified way that Red Sox fans like to think of themselves and their team. And I think that that kind of soured a lot of last off-season. And then coming into this season, to start out 1 and 5 and to have a slow start now at 4 and 9, I think that this is a transitional period for the Red Sox. And I think that it's a very, very difficult thing to expect a team to win 95 games and be a World Series contender every year. But those are the expectations that have been created by success. And no one's been able to get a ticket since 2003 either, so it's a difficult thing.

SIMON: Finally, President Obama is going to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Pat Summitt, who is stepping down - stepping aside as coach of the Lady Vols, in Tennessee, after 38 years; early onset Alzheimer's. How did she change college ball?

BRYANT: You know, she changed college ball by giving the women's game a face, and by giving the women's game dignity, and by being a coach as respected and as accomplished as any male coach in the game - whether it's John Wooden or Mike Krzyewski. Thirty-eight years, eight national championships, 1,098 wins and 18 Final Fours, I think, pretty much speaks for itself. And also - and very little by way of scandal. She was terrific.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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