Sports Talk: Baseball Trades And World Cup Controversy

The Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox make a big trade, and there's talk about taking World Cup 2018 out of Russia. NPR's Tom Goldman gives Scott Simon the details.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now let's make a turn into sports. You know, it's BJ Leiderman who writes our theme music, including this one. Two big greats in baseball this week. Is Billy Beane now acting like George Steinbrenner? - and a ghastly game-ending NBA injury last night. We turn now to NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, Thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott. And, Scott...

SIMON: Yes.

GOLDMAN: ...May I grab the wheel for a quick moment and ask you a question?

SIMON: (Laughing) We're going to veer into a ditch, but yes, go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Oh, trust me here. The most important story out of the major leagues this past week, of course - you throughout the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. We are exceedingly proud of you. But we want to know...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Did you bring the heat or was it a horribly embarrassing bouncer to home plate?

SIMON: It wasn't a bouncer - it was low and outside, OK, but made it to the plate.

GOLDMAN: All right.

SIMON: I threw the day before in Lincoln park with Lewie Karp ,my old battery mate, and I was feeling exultant. But you get on that mound before 40,000 people, and home plate -I tell you, Tom - looks like it's on the other side of the ocean and, you know, not 60 feet away. And I remind you, someone who can throw a ball at high speed 100 times a game across, you know, a dinner plate from 60 feet away - he's just in a different dimension from most of us.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: And you can see that what makes somebody a Pro is being able to do that with thousands of people watching, and not just Lewie Karp.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely.

SIMON: So no one traded for me. What do you make of this Oakland, Boston trade? It sends a great hitting outfielder - right? - Yoenis Cespedes to those Soxs for John Lester, one of the top pitchers.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely - huge and risky trade for Oakland, especially, because Lester's a free agent after the season. So the A's could end up just renting him for a couple of months. But Oakland general manager Billy Beane is known for making daring moves, just not of this magnitude. You will remember the A's are the team that inspired the book and the movie "Money Ball" about a low revenue team that's used analytics to great effect and used it to identify players who are not costly superstars but who can help by doing the non-glamorous little things like...

SIMON: My wife calls it the movie where Brad Pitt has his shirt off in some of the transitional scenes, but go ahead, yeah.

GOLDMAN: I think Billy Beane called it something else, but, you know. The A's have prided themselves on finding those often overlooked players and having success with them. But success has been limited. Oakland hasn't won a World Series since 1989. They won the AL West the last two years but loss in the first round of the playoffs each of those years. And it appears Billy Beane, with shirt on or off, is tired of that - evidenced by this trade and one last month to get two other top starting pitchers. The A's now have a starting pitching rotation as good as any.

SIMON: Another trade - Tampa Bay, Detroit Tigers - both the Tigers and Rays have improved themselves for the second half in the same way?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, especially big for the Tigers who obviously have an eye on the A's and the moves they're making, and now Detroit, which already had a phenomenal rotation, gets even more phenomenal with a Cy Young Award winner David Price and it hopes to maintain its edge over Oakland. The Tigers are the team that's beaten Oakland in the playoffs the last two years.

SIMON: Tom, finally, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers - there was a scrimmage for team USA national basketball team in Las Vegas last night - suffered a really grisly injury - so bad, the game was called with, I think, just eight or nine minutes left. What happened? How's he doing? Kobe Bryant has been tweeting about it.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He snapped his right leg. He landed on it playing defense, and he had successful surgery last night. ESPN is citing sources who say that doctors think George is likely to miss all of next season, though there has been no official prognosis. Now, some NBA execs hate it when players play in the off-season even if it's for the national team because of that concern that something like this might happen. And this injury to George will just increase those fears.

SIMON: Yeah. And if you get up today and take a look at it, you know, you hope he'll be able to walk again.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Well, NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks very much for being with us. Always good to talk to you.

GOLDMAN: Good to talk to you.

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