Mitchell Report to Mold Baseball's Future?

From the recent Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball to golfer Tiger Woods' remarkable year, NPR's Tony Cox talks sports with New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

It's time for sports and here in studio with me is NPR's Tony Cox. Hey, Tony.

TONY COX: Hey, Farai. Listen, have you ever played golf?

CHIDEYA: Putt, putt.

COX: Well, that's about as much golf as I've played. I tried to hit a few balls at a driving range once, tried, I say. So, I'm one of those who appreciates what Tiger Woods has meant to golf. And joining me now, to talk about how '08 is likely to be another year of the Tiger, is Bill Rhoden, sports columnist for The New York Times, and author of "Third in a Mile: The Trials and Tribulations of the Black Quarterback." Hey, Bill.

Mr. BILL RHODEN (Columnist, The New York Times): The great Tony Cox. Happy holidays.

COX: Happy holidays to you, man. Listen, Tiger who just won another tournament out here in California, at the Sherwood Country Club last weekend, his eighth championship of the year. But here's the thing, Bill. Tiger was up, what, five strokes on Saturday. Now, he's automatic when he has that kind of lead and once again, he won by seven strokes when it was all over the next day, wearing his trademark red shirt. I call it the Superman shirt.

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Is Woods going to be greatest golfer ever?

Mr. RHODEN: I think he already is, Tony.

COX: Really?

Mr. RHODEN: I know that there's still - oh, absolutely. I mean, if you look at what he's accomplished, not only in terms of majors, I'm sure he's still got ways to go, to catch the boss. But if you look at how he's brought people to the sport, what he's done to popularize the sport, and if you look at the distance between Tiger and the next person, whoever that is, at a time when - I think the field of really, really, really excellent golfers, is much wider and vast than it was when Nicklaus was playing, and Palmer. I think he already - his legacy - if he decides to quit today, he'd already go down as the greatest golfer of our time.

COX: Now, he has 13 major victories. He needs five more to catch Nicklaus. When's that going to happen?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, I think, you know, Tiger's going to be - I thought about this earlier. I mean, Tiger's going to be playing for a while. I think it can happen in the next two years, I think, I mean, next few years. I think it could happen in the next 10 years. I mean, Tiger's going to be around for a long time and I think he's going to be performing at a long time. That just may seem a little off the beat trail. He does have a child and I think that there's little adjustment period, but I think as he matures and grows into that new role, I just think he just going to get even stronger.

COX: One more Tiger question before we go on to another topic. I want to put you on the spot a little bit. As an athlete, as an icon, in both their respective sports, who's bigger and better? Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan?

Mr. RHODEN: You know, that's a great question. I'd have to say that Tiger has been the more dominant person. I mean, you know, as an individual sport and as close, I think that Tiger culturally - there is no one really - there are no footprints for what he's done. So, I'd say Tiger.

COX: All right. Let's talk about baseball for a minute and talk about icons, as a matter of fact, Bill, because Barry Bonds is the top of the polar opposite of Tiger Woods, because of his steroid and perjury case, among other reasons, of course. And even though the Mitchell report that came out last week shows that several big-name baseball players were also steroid users, including Roger Clemens, perhaps. Bonds remains the poster child, doesn't he, and the bad boy. You agree or disagree?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, I - first of all, I disagree. Number one, remember, it was always with Bonds. It's always steroid allegations, speculations. We still don't know what - if he's going to trial, which he is, he's going to trial for perjury. He's not going to trial for steroid use. What we've got was Clemens and I think if anything took Bonds off the hook, it was this Mitchell report because what it show is that you guys are saying Barry Bonds was the face of steroids. Listen, there were people who were pitching the ball to him, there were people catching balls, there were people who were fielding balls, who are on this stuff. And in the case of Roger Clemens, you didn't have here, say you have somebody tell Mitchell I sold it to him, I saw, I injected him, you know? So, I think that if Barry Bonds remains the face is because people in our industry want him to be the face. They want to protect sacred cows like Roger Clemens, like Andy Pettitte. And the denials in the rationalizations I hear, Tony, is just unbelievable. It's unbelievable.

COX: Well, let me follow that point up with this because I heard that Congress is going to have a new round of hearings starting on the 15th of January next year, to look into this steroid use, because of the Mitchell report. And that Clemens, who was at the top of the list of people being mentioned in that report, is not even going to be subpoenaed. What's going on there? They're going to give him a pass, is it because he's what? Why?

Mr. RHODEN: That's just, you know, they're going to put him of (unintelligible), yeah, because he's white and a star, and they want Barry Bonds. I guess they figure as long as they keep Barry Bonds out as the face of this stuff, maybe this billion-dollar sacred cow called Major League Baseball will continue to flourish. What I'd like to see, Tony, I would like to see a hearing with subpoena power. I'd like them to - I like this to be sort of like the truth and reconciliation hearings they have in South Africa. I like them to bring people in under oath. I like to find out every single name, who did it, when did they do it, owners, Tony, because owners were involved in this, front office people. I'd like this thing to be as vast and as deep as humanly possible.

COX: Well, maybe we'll find out beginning in January of next year. All right, moving on to another topic. I guess it's too soon to crown the new look Boston Celtics, the best in the NBA. In fact, the may not even be the best in their own conference, in the east.

Mr. RHODEN: They do.

COX: They lost, right. They lost last night to Detroit, at home.

Mr. RHODEN: At home. Yeah, I mean, this, listen, this NBA season, we're not going to - we won't know this until June. (Unintelligible), Ray Allen's already got hurt, you know? And it's a good story - and remember, Kevin Garnett has not won an NBA title. In fact, he hasn't gotten close, nor has Ray Allen, nor has…

COX: Nor as Paul Pierce.

Mr. RHODEN: …nor has Paul Pierce. So, you know, it's all - what the Detroit Pistons have, the Miami Heat have. So, I think there's a really long, long way to go with this before we start crowning anybody, but who knows? It could be the New York Knicks.

COX: Well, I don't know about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: But speaking about (unintelligible), speaking about crowning, Bill Rhoden, the New England Patriots are only two games from going into the record books, with an undefeated regular season. Fourteen (unintelligible) they are and they get mild-mannered Miami this weekend, and the G-men from New York the following week. So, you're in the Big Apple, can the Giants stop Tom Brady or, put it this way, does New York even try, if they get into the playoffs on their own?

Mr. RHODEN: That's a great question. I think after they crush Miami, I think they maybe doing by 80 points. But then I think the question is, if you are the New York Giants and you wrap up - if you wrap up a playoff berth this week in Buffalo, when you play New England, do you rest your starters or do you plan tough? And I would love to see the Giants play them tough. I mean, I think that that's why we watch sports, it's a competition. I would love to see the Giants try to blemish the record. I'd like to see them be the last great obstacle to what I think is a tremendous accomplishment. So I say, play them hard, play them tough.

COX: Well, we'll have to find out whether they do that or not. First of all, they've got to get into the playoffs and they haven't done that yet.

Mr. RHODEN: That's right. This is a step A.

COX: That's right.

Mr. RHODEN: Can they beat Buffalo?

COX: Bill, thank you so much. Happy holidays to you.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey, Tony, same to you. Have a healthy and happy holidays to you.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking with our regular sports commentator William C. Rhoden. He's a sports columnist for The New York Times and author of "Third in a Mile: The Trials and Tribulations of the Black Quarterback."

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