MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage lit the baseball world on fire this week in an interview with ESPN. He blasted Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, the, quote, "nerds" running the MLB and the game itself. What got Gossage so heated? Well, everything from new rules meant to protect players from injuries to celebrations on the field. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins me now from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he is covering spring training. Hi, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Melissa. How are you?
BLOCK: I'm great. Thanks. And among other things, Goose Gossage took issue with rules about sliding and pitching inside - measures for safety. What's his beef?
BRYANT: I love it. It's get-off-my-lawn 2.0...
BRYANT: ...To give it some nerd verbiage there. It's a common argument about how baseball has gotten soft. And we see it in basketball as well when the old-timers are talking about how Steph Curry and the Warriors are playing basketball different from the way they know. But the game is changing, and the one thing about baseball that we love and care about with baseball more than anything is its traditions. But here's the problem - the players that are playing the game are not 30 years removed from the old game. The game is very different now. You do have rules against sliding. If you remember, Buster Posey, the catcher of the San Francisco Giants - the MVP breaking - having his leg broken...
BRYANT: ...At home plate. Remember the playoffs last year where Ruben Tejada broke his leg in the playoffs when Chase Utley slid into him with the Dodgers. And so - the players - if you're paying players $20 million, owners don't want to see their best players in the hospital.
The game is different. The retaliation rules are different.
And one of the things that Gossage was really upset about as well was the bat-flipping and the showmanship because in the old days - remember, if you showed up a pitcher, the next time up, you or one of your teammates was going to get hit in the head or get hit in the ribs. And that was the culture of the game. And one thing that baseball has made it very clear - I remember talking to Bob Melvin, the manager of the Oakland A's just a few days ago. And he said - look, we're trying to get the bravado out of the game. We don't need that much machismo. It's a different time.
BLOCK: Well what about that bat-flipping? We mentioned Jose Bautista. He celebrated a key three-run homer in the playoffs last year with a pretty emphatic flip of his bat. He pimped his home run, as they say.
BRYANT: (Laughter) He did.
BLOCK: Goose Gossage calls him a disgrace to the game. I've watched the bat flip. And what's the big deal?
BRYANT: How dare you be happy when your team is facing elimination and your city hasn't been in the world - in the playoffs in 20 years? But absolutely - when Goose Gossage played with the Yankees - and people remember him with that big old mustache - if you did that to Goose, he was going to put you right on your butt. He was going to throw the ball at your head. They don't do that anymore. These players are different. It is a - it's an image game. It's an ESPN game. It's a TV game. And the players look at the game very differently. They're showing emotion. They don't think it's a big deal, and we have to adjust to it. Do I think it was a little extreme? It - probably if you've been watching the game for a while. But I also understand that you have to grow with the times. I talked to the Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, the other day about this, and he said, listen - you can rail all you want about get off my lawn. But if you act like this, and you don't adjust to the times and you don't adjust to kids who are playing, then you become unemployable and no one will listen to you.
BLOCK: Yeah. I want to save time, Howard, to talk with you about a story from the world of tennis. We saw Maria Sharapova, this week, admit that she had tested positive for the drug meldonium at the Australian Open. It's a drug that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year. What has the reaction been?
BRYANT: Well, the reaction's been pretty swift. You saw that her sponsors, Nike, Porsche, TAG Heuer - they've all suspended or dropped her. We've seen Andy Murray, the tennis player - number two in the world - come out and say that Sharapova deserves her ban. And we've seen a couple of her sponsors also stand by her. Her tennis racquet sponsor Head decided to stick with her and wait. What we know is that she's going to be suspended. We're going to find out what the length of the suspension will be. More than likely, that will happen sometime today. And it sent shockwaves throughout the sport because people think that tennis players aren't trying to be - that the sport isn't trying to catch them. But they caught the biggest player in the game...
BRYANT: ...Other than Serena, that is (laughter).
BLOCK: OK. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks so much.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
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.