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Sports: The Refs Are Back And Who's At Bat


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. You know, as Dickens might up it: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It's time for sports.


SIMON: Thought I'd try and work a little literature in. The NFL is back to normal. We can kvetch about permanent refs instead of replacements. And the regular baseball season enters its last weekend. Will the Orioles outlast the Yanks? Can the Pale Hose stop sliding? I'm joined now from the studios of New England Public Radio by Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN the magazine.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Thanks for having me, Scott. In the spirit of the incompetence that we've seen...

SIMON: Yeah. Yes.

BRYANT: Why don't we play a little game here? We'll be...


BRYANT: ...I'll be the replacement interviewer today.

SIMON: OK. Good idea. All right. Go ahead. Ask me a question. Yeah.

BRYANT: Which football team won the World Series last year?


BRYANT: Yes, Scott. It was that bad.

SIMON: Howard, well, what was - OK, so Thursday night, switching back to our accustomed roles, the regular refs were back - 23-16, Ravens over the Browns. What did we learn from this experience?

BRYANT: Well, what we learned was that it was a disaster. And it was incompetent and that the public did lose and the NFL tried to make it seem as though talent doesn't matter. But once again, talent does matter. That the public doesn't accept replacement players, which the NFL tried and which baseball tried 17 years ago during their strike.

And this lockout proved that, once again, no matter how much you try to fight with your employees, that people are good at what they do and that you couldn't fool the public. The NFL tried to fool the public and it really didn't work.

I think the tough part about this, too, is that you realize that you have kind of a perfect storm taking place. And don't think for a second that the estimated $300 million that changed hands on that one play last week with the Seahawks between all the gamblers and their bookies didn't affect the outcome of this relationship, that this was part of the reason for the settlement.

The NFL has a huge problem. People like it and it makes a lot of money, but you've got a perfect storm going on here. You've got retired players committing suicide. You've got concussions. You've got safety issues. And this really didn't help.

SIMON: By the way, I want to quote the headline in The Onion today: NFL commissioner, quote, "We Want To Protect the Integrity of Our Brutal, Inhuman Game."


BRYANT: That's better than what I could do. And it's true. You lock out the players and the referees in consecutive years, and no matter how much money you make there's a lot more measures for success and integrity and credibility than money.

SIMON: Let's move to these last critical days of the baseball season, regular season. Home Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds threw a no-hitter over the Pirates last night. We know the Reds, the Nats, the Giants are in the playoffs in the National League. In the American League, Yankees, Orioles - can the Orioles really win?

BRYANT: Yeah, it's great. And, you know what? They can. And they're not going anywhere. Nobody has clinched in the American League. You've got the Yankees up by a game. You've got the White Sox, your Chicago White Sox - I know you're a Cubs fan, but it's still your town...

SIMON: We no sooner got...

BRYANT: ...they were only in first place for two months.

SIMON: ...the Chicago White Sox, Chicago mixed popcorn to watch the playoff games, then the slide started and I thought I brought my Cub karma with me. But...

BRYANT: Yeah. It's been really tough.

SIMON: ...they won last night. Yeah.

BRYANT: They did. And I love Robin Ventura. I covered him when I was covering the Yankees back in 2002. And they were in first place for two months. And now they're a game behind. They won last night. The season ends on Wednesday, so you've got five to play. And you've got great, great races.

And even in the American League West with the Rangers, who have pretty much gone to the World Series two years in a row and have run the thee all season, they have a three-game lead with five to play, but they haven't finished it yet either. So the next five days in the baseball season are going to really be terrific.

There's going to be all kind of different things changing hands in terms of these leads. I think the Tigers are going to take the White Sox, but I think the White Sox are a great story. And obviously, Orioles-Yankees, one game difference with five to play, it's going to be a lot of fun.

SIMON: Oh, my god. In the National League, can anyone catch St. Louis for that last spot?

BRYANT: I don't think so. The Dodgers - really, really tough losses in back-to-back days by Milwaukee. Milwaukee had a chance. They had a ninth inning lead against Cincinnati, couldn't hold that. Then they go out and lose to the Astros, who have only lost 105 games. So, they've pretty much fallen off. The Dodgers are three games back with five to play, so, they're going to have to do something miraculous as well. It's been a really terrific baseball season once again, where you have all of these different teams. And for the last several years since I've been this show, obviously, we've been talking about Red Sox, Yankees, and Red Sox and Yankees, Yankees and Red Sox with these $200 million payrolls. But this year, everybody out there has a chance. And this year you've got Cincinnati winning their division. And you've got the Washington Nationals in first place and they won their division. So, it's going to be a terrific playoff. And we've got one slot left in the National League with the Cardinals, who I think - the defending world champions - are going to get to the playoffs one more time. And then at the end of it, next week, we've got a one-game playoff in both leagues.

SIMON: All right. ESPN's Howard Bryant. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.