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The Dodgers' Unexpected Rise


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Good to be here to be able to say: Time for sports.


SIMON: I think I forgot to say I'm Scott Simon. By the way, the NFL pre-season full swing, but some teams are telling their marquee players, ah, just take a seat over there. And in baseball, umps in front of a video screen in another city could soon be calling fair or foul. And the Dodgers on a historic tear for a championship. We're joined now by our friend Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine who's at the studio of the Radio Foundation in New York.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So there you are very close to Broadway, the NFL pre-season is under way. Are fans in the pre-season paying Broadway prices these days to see dinner theater productions?

BRYANT: Of course they are and they have been for years and I think that now that we have finally begun to admit that, yes, concussions are real and, yes, head trauma is real and, yes, players get knocked out of football games as routinely as they get first downs, that maybe the pre-season isn't the right way to go.

You've already had eight, I think, players that are done for the season and they're not even playing for real yet. And I think that the issue for football is going to be you're paying these prices to see your favorite player - Tom Brady played last night with a knee injury, came through it fine, but still at the end of the day, are you really going to risk the health of some of these players for games that don't matter.

SIMON: But on the other hand, I mean, to go back to the days with they used to, you know, play in a college practice facility, I guess they would even be called scrimmages, and you know, very few fans and no ticket revenue. Are they in a position financially to do that?

BRYANT: Well, no. It's a money game now and there's no getting around the fact that you can pay, you can charge regular season prices. You can charge regular season prices for the ticket, for the concessions, for the parking, and this is one of the reasons why the NFL was trying to contemplate or it appealed to the public for an 18-game season because if you're already paying regular season prices for four games that don't matter, why not add two of them that actually do.

SIMON: Major League Baseball announced this week there will be an instant replay possible on nearly every play, at least as outside of the strike zones beginning next year. They're going to have some umpires on duty in league offices in New York who'll be able to examine those calls. This was unthinkable a few years ago. What changed?

BRYANT: Yeah, it was unthinkable as recently as even about 18 months ago. I mean, I was dead wrong on this last year. I've been working on the story of replay and the consensus had been that Bud Selig, the commissioner was a traditionalist and as was Joe Torre and the people in his inner circle. But technology is really what changed everything.

I think that baseball you had some very controversial calls in the playoffs the last couple of seasons, and what's happening now is that you've got everybody at home watching these games. You've got 50-inch TVs in HD with DVRs and everybody in the country is seeing a call that's wrong in super slow-mo.

And I think that the human element argument that, yeah, you know, baseball's run by human beings and sometimes they make mistakes. That doesn't play anymore, not in today's technological era, where you can essentially slow-mo and replay a play on your own during a commercial. And so baseball is kind of boxed in and I think that the tide has changed completely.

I remember having managers tell me there's no way I want to throw a red flag out of the dugout. That's football, that's not baseball, that's not what this game is. There are too many moving parts, unlike football where you have do-overs, replay the down, all of that stuff. But now it's all changing. Now you're going to get replay in baseball and there really is no going back.

SIMON: Got to say, in August, here we are in August, I would not have said in April that the hottest team in baseball would be the L.A. Dodgers.

BRYANT: And nobody would, and they were the team that was ridiculed last year for taking on all the Red Sox baggage with those bad contracts with Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzales. But now look. They're as hot as they've ever been, and this team's been around since the late 1800s. I don't know if it's going to translate to a championship because of all the layers of playoffs now, but it's remarkable what they've done.

And let's be honest. I don't care what anybody says. It's really, really good for baseball. Even the San Francisco Giants fans have to admit it's good for baseball to have good teams in San Francisco, good teams in Los Angeles, good teams in New York. It's great stuff.

SIMON: I notice you've overlooked Chicago, but it's not a good season there on either side of town. Howard Bryant of ESPN. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.