The Latest In Sports

Jul 31, 2016
Originally published on July 31, 2016 10:20 am
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ELISE HU, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HU: Football players are back at training camp this weekend, the Olympics just around the corner and a big baseball milestone about to be reached - a lot to talk about in sports. So we've called up Mike Pesca, who's host of "The Gist" podcast at Slate.

Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

HU: So Ichiro Suzuki, who plays for the Marlins, is about to reach 3,000 hits. You've been watching him for a long time. What's he like as a player?

PESCA: Love that guy.

HU: (Laughter).

PESCA: So the hit, as a basic element of sports, I think it's decreased in its emphasis. The advanced stats guys will tell you - oh, a walk's as good as a hit. And trying to have a high batting average - maybe not as important as other stats, except maybe when Ichiro does it. I look at - you know, in life, there is this trend towards disruption. And what does disruption mean? Maybe an old company has an app or uses a - spells its name without a vowel before the R.

HU: (Laughter) Sure.

PESCA: But Ichiro is a real disrupter, right? He does baseball the way no one else does. And when he came into the lead, people were saying, I don't know if this small guy, who's really fast, who slaps the ball around - I don't know if this is baseball. He was great in the Japanese leagues. I don't know if it'll translate. Well, it did translate. It's going to be translated to the tune of 3,000 hits in - maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Three thousand hits in America - you add all the hits he had in Japan - he's the all-time hits leader.

And he welcomed in a whole range of Japanese players, and his personality is fantastic. We can tell so many stories, but there was one I read recently where he is sort of obsessed with the Negro Leagues and gave the biggest contribution that a Negro League museum ever had. And, you know, he's a Japanese player. It's fantastic.

HU: Mike, I've also been curious about another big name, but over at the NFL - Ezekiel Elliott. He's starting his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys but now facing accusations of domestic violence. So as prosecutors investigate, I'm curious how the league is handling this.

PESCA: Well, they are accusations now. And the Cowboys are backing him up. And of course, the NFL has had so many problems with domestic violence. But then, you know, people are both innocent until proved guilty. And the investigators who are looking into this have not brought charges. It's actually been reported that several eyewitnesses to the supposed abuse contradict the woman's account of it. She did post bruises...

HU: Right.

PESCA: ...Pictures of bruises on Instagram. So you know it's 2016. This is maybe how it's going to work out. But right now, the league, although they're very hesitant about dealing with this issue but also hesitant about accusing someone before the police does. Everyone seems to be saying they don't know how much is there.

I do have to say, though, as I've been reading the press accounts, you know, there are these off-the-record sources saying things like, this will be a great learning experience for Ezekiel Elliott. I don't see how that's true. Either he didn't do it and was accused unfairly, or he did do it and then it's disgusting to call it a learning experience. So sometimes, we're still looking at this through the - I guess what some theorists might call - the male gaze. Oh, how does this affect Ezekiel Elliot? It's a bigger societal problem than that.

HU: And before we let you go, Mike, we've got to talk about the Olympics.

PESCA: Yes.

HU: What are you going to be watching for in Rio? What should we be watching for.

PESCA: Well, obviously, Simone Biles will become America's sweetheart - greatest gymnast ever. But if you want to talk about the greatest athlete ever, we say that whoever wins the decathlon is the world's greatest athlete. Ashton Eaton will probably win the decathlon, American Ashton Eaton. And he could set a record. So the greatest athlete ever of all time - who knows if you want to call the decathlon champion that?

I'm also looking at Anita Wlodarczyk, who is a thrower - a hammer-thrower from Poland. And she could be one of the few track-and-field athletes to set a record. Only woman ever to throw more than 80 metres, she achieved that in something called the festival of throwers, which I've never been to but sounds intriguing.

HU: It does indeed (laughter). Mike Pesca, host of Slate's "The Gist" podcast. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.