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Saturday Sports: Baseball World Series begins; push to limit NBA players' salaries

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Game 1, World Series, Phills; the NBA might limit how much teams can spend on a payroll. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Well, I went to bed before I could see the exciting finish. The Phillies got to Justin Verlander. Then J.T. Realmuto hit a homer in the 10th to win the game. Justin Verlander went 18-4 this season. He'd never won a World Series game, though, in six starts. What happens?

BRYANT: Yeah, and it all fell apart very, very quickly. And this is such - so disappointing for the Astros. You go out, you hadn't lost a playoff game all postseason. You've got the best pitcher on the mound, who's headed to the Hall of Fame. He's done everything for you. He's got a five-nothing lead. You've got a manager in Dusty Baker, who is waiting for the one thing he's not done in this game, and that's win a World Series as a manager. And it all falls apart because this Philadelphia Phillies team, it looks like that team of destiny - at least they were last night - they're unbelievable. They've come in again. They've won the first game of a series again. And no matter how big the lead, this team scraps and fights and fights. And here they are again with a one-nothing lead in the postseason, in the World Series.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me ask you about this. For the first time since 1947, I understand, there will be no World Series game played on Sunday, not because the teams want to observe a day of rest, is it?

BRYANT: No. It's not because they need rest. It's because the juggernaut that is the National Football League actually finally owns the day of the week, and that includes the World Series. Baseball made the decision earlier this season that they were not going to schedule World Series games on Sundays because they didn't want to compete with the NFL. And in some ways, Scott, people were saying that it made a great deal of sense. If you can't win, if you're not going to get the ratings, then why bash your head against the wall when you can't beat football? So schedule outside of it. So baseball has now scheduled Friday, Saturday Games 1 and 2, off day, travel day Sunday while the NFL is controlling the world, and then they'll come back and do it again Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in Philadelphia. Some people look at it also as a surrender. It's your - it is your signature. Why are you surrendering the week - the weekend, rather?

SIMON: Dusty Baker, manager of the Houston Astros, of whom we are both very fond, is an African American man; many Hispanic stars on both teams, including Martin Maldonado, who was born in Puerto Rico. But for the first time since 1950, there are no Black players on either team who were born in the continental United States. What does that say about the current state of baseball?

BRYANT: Well, it crystallizes and confirms what baseball has been talking about and what people in the game have been talking about for years, that this game has been distancing itself further and further away from the African American player because baseball is getting its players from the Dominican Republic and Latin America and from colleges. They've - they're not competing for that college-level athlete who is playing basketball and playing football. If you look for talent, you're going to find it. And where baseball looks for their talent, it really has not included African Americans. And this has been going on for almost a half-century now. Just the bill has finally come due.

And it's difficult, as well, because, culturally speaking, there are Black players in the game. But it's more - it's a Pan-African game. In baseball, in the baseball culture, the - you know, there's always been this split between the Black Latin player and the African American player. There have been a few who have crossed over. Obviously, Roberto Clemente was born in Puerto Rico. But if you talk to Black players in the game and Latino players in the game, they make the split. Even though you can look and see players of color on the field, it's a big deal when you don't have African American-born players.

SIMON: Quick last question. The NBA wants to implement a spending limit. To paraphrase Michael Jordan years ago, team owners don't have a cap on what they can earn, do they?

BRYANT: No, they don't. But it goes back to, again, you have these big teams, the Warriors, you've got Brooklyn trying to spend to win and teams - let's just face it, Scott. Winning does not come first in professional sports; money comes first.

SIMON: Well, I'm sorry. Did you say money comes first?

BRYANT: News flash. I know I'm breaking news on a Saturday morning. Money comes first.

SIMON: OK. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.