SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
And now it's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PFEIFFER: The New York Yankees remain one of the hottest teams in Major League Baseball, and politics continues to creep its way into the sports world. ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us now to talk about all of that. Good morning, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning. How are you?
PFEIFFER: I'm good. So the Yankees - also very good for them - although it's been 10 years since they've won a World Series, you're saying that fans have good reason to be excited that they could do it this season.
BRYANT: Well, I think they do. And I think one of the reasons is their depth. It's unbelievable how many players the Yankees have had injured this year, whether it's Aaron Judge, whether it's Giancarlo Stanton - virtually everybody in their lineup - Gary Sanchez. They've all been hurt. They've used the injured list a ridiculous number of times this year in terms of number of players that they've had hurt. And yet, they still have the best record and - in the American League. And they are still the team that has somehow run away with the American League East.
They've been knocking on the door the last couple years. They went to the American League Championship Series in 2017. They lost to the Red Sox in the playoffs last year. And this year, they look like they're really close. And it's kind of interesting, too, because, when you think about the Yankees, you think about them winning all the time and not being the underdog. But when you put Red Sox-Yankees next to each other, ever since 2004, the Red Sox have three championships, and the Yankees have one.
PFEIFFER: Right. And what do you think is making the Yankees so good this year?
BRYANT: It's their depth. They've got so many players that you've never heard of, whether it's Gio Urshela or the young Gleyber Torres. They've had so many injuries. You look at a - even a kid like Andujar last year who was playing great for them - he got hurt. And just every new player that comes into the lineup steps in, does something great. That kid Ford is hitting home runs now. Tauchman's got 12 home runs. It's just amazing. And you're like, who are these guys? And yet, every player they put into the lineup produces. And that's that magic that you have with championship teams where everybody contributes. And before you know it, they're the ones at the end of the finish line.
PFEIFFER: Howard, there's been a lot of noteworthy sports news happening off the playing field lately, athletes and activism. I know that Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnast, has been very outspoken, and that's really caught your attention.
BRYANT: Well, absolutely, it has, considering that now you're looking at these federations with - whether it's the U.S. gymnastics with the Larry Nassar scandal and the sexual assault of those young gymnasts and how many over how many years - 300. And you look at these federations, and their job is to protect these athletes. Their job is not simply to profit off of them.
And when you look at what's happening to them or you're talking about the equal pay situations, whether it's the U.S. women's national hockey team or the U.S. women's soccer team, or whether it's equal pay in tennis, the athletes are recognizing that they have more power than they have been exercising over the past several years. And you're starting to see now the athletes recognizing and saying and using their power, whether they get criticized for it or not - that they've got a stake in this, and they're going to make sure everybody hears them.
PFEIFFER: Well, speaking of criticism, do you have a sense of the ratio of fans who like outspoken athletes versus fans who take a shut-up-and-just-play-the-game stance?
BRYANT: Well, I think that sports has never been anything but political. It's always had a political element to it. And so people who don't like this are usually saying, I don't like what you're saying. And they don't have much of a great sense of history. I also understand the need for sports to be the place where you can get away from your problems. But there's a separation here. Part of it is your entertainment, but part of it is their job.
PFEIFFER: That's ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard, thank you.
BRYANT: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.