S1: The following podcast includes explicit language, in other words, might get a little blue in here. Hope you can handle it.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levin, Slate’s national editor. And this is Hang Up and listen for the week of June 14th, two thousand and twenty one. On this week’s show, we’ll discuss Danish Soccer Player Christian Eriksen collapse at the European Championships and the agony of waiting to see if he was OK. Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated will also be here to discuss baseball pitchers slathering balls with do what the game should do about this sticky scandal. And John Wertheim will join us to talk about his new book, Glory Days on Sports in 1984. And we might get him to talk a little bit of tennis as well. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke, also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis, author of the books Word for It and a few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan.
S3: Hello, Josh.
S2: With us from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer, host of Celebrity Season three, the upcoming slow burn season six Joel Anderson. Hello, Joel.
S3: Hey, so
S2: are we going to talk about last year’s track and field victory? We couldn’t we couldn’t shoehorn it in, but I didn’t want to depress.
S1: Well, I mean, I think that your opportunity I think that if you want to bring that up and not talk about how they underwhelmed in the women to meet the day later, then I mean, that’s just sort of, you know, it seems a little shows my Prewitt. Yeah, right. Yeah, right.
S2: We don’t want to give Terrence Laird short shrift. Does Terrence Laird of LSU sprinting champion, does he have a chance to actually make noise at the Olympics or.
S1: No, I think that he has a chance to make noise at the trials. You called him Sprint Champion, but he lost in the two hundred at the wire. So he’s only, you know, I mean, winning the 100 meter dash is a big deal, but I’m a little disappointed as opposed
S2: to a 200 guy that I
S1: know. I mean, I love the one. I love the one hundred. That’s that’s my favorite of it. But I mean, I thought he was going to double up and it didn’t quite happen. So he’s got to answer for that.
S2: We will continue our coverage of Terrance Laird and the US Olympic trials as as the weeks go on
S1: in the forty third minute of Denmark’s euro. Twenty twenty opener against Finland Saturday, the game in the sport of Soccer came to a virtual standstill when Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch. At first, it appeared that Eriksen hit merely stumbled to the ground. But soon his teammates and others came to understand the severity of the situation. They quickly signaled for medical crew to rush onto the field. Then, for about ten minutes, Eriksen teammates, a few in tears, formed a circle around him as paramedics performed CPR. The Danish star was eventually carried off to a loud ovation, with his teammates walking next to the stretcher. Here’s a clip of the Denmark team doctor telling us how dire things were.
S4: Yeah, let’s say he was just gone and we did cardiac resuscitation and it was cardiac arrest. How close were we? I don’t know. Uh, we got him back after after 1:00. So so that’s quite fast.
S1: The match was immediately suspended and restarted. Fewer than two hours later. Finland scored in the second half and won in a one nil upset. You know, Stefan, it was obviously good to learn that at least for now, Eriksen is OK. But that terrifying scene brought to mind a lot of things, including some of the scariest moments we’ve ever seen in athletic competition. What did you think when you saw what happened to Eriksen on Saturday?
S3: I was actually watching the game live and it was the most terrifying thing that I’ve ever seen on live TV at a sporting event. I kind of I saw it happen as it was happening. I was watching Eriksen. He sort of walked through the penalty area and he was walking up the far sideline of the field toward a teammate who was about to make a throw in. And I saw him stagger, take three steps and fall to the ground. And the teammate actually had thrown the ball in and it struck him. And the first thing I said to my wife, who was sitting next to me was, I think the guy had a stroke or a heart attack. And you could tell the severity of the situation because the cameras obviously did not cut away. And that’s something that we’ll talk about a little bit. But it was clear the panic on the on the on the players and the referee as they saw him lying face toward the camera vacante look look like he wasn’t breathing. You could tell all of that just from the shot that was on the UFO feed that was being broadcast to the rest of the world.
S2: The number one feeling that I think I had that you had Stefan that everyone in the stadium had, that his teammates had was helplessness. And a lot of times when. These horrifying events and tragedies happen in sports, I think that the way that we don’t know comfort ourselves is the right word, but the way that we reckon with it is by finding someone or something to blame. Like when a football player is paralyzed, there’s conversations, necessary conversations about the nature of the game and the violence of the game and how to legislate these things out of the game. In boxing, when a fighter is seriously injured or, you know, on occasion when fighters are killed in the ring, there are these necessary conversations about the sport and what can be done and what should be done and whether we should do it at all. But in this case, it’s an athlete in the prime of his career, based on everything we know had passed all medical checks. And in sports and in life, sometimes things happen and there’s nothing that could be done or should be done or might have been done. And so you’re just left with this feeling of kind of existential despair. I don’t know if that’s a little bit too much, but
S3: no, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s
S2: the like in the like 30 minutes immediately after this happened. I mean, I got a text from you, Stefan. There are people sending our Slate colleague sending messages to other people. I talk to you just people were just utterly devastated and just kind of thrown just totally thrown off by this by this event.
S3: It’s a feeling that you can’t breathe or you don’t want to breathe. I had my my hand was covering my mouth for a good long time, trying to process what I was seeing. And I think that’s right. It’s this it’s the jarring juxtaposition between, you know, one of the best Soccer players in the world. This guy plays for AC Milan. He used to play for Tottenham. He’s twenty nine years old. He is the star of the Danish team. And to see that happen is just it’s it’s the inability to square the the you know, the invincibility and and strength of athletes with the hidden vulnerabilities that we all have.
S1: So many people think of sports as sort of an escape from like the realities and really the cruelty of real life. And so we’re not really used to seeing something truly terrible happen in the course of a game. Like, it’s really disorienting. It’s it goes far beyond like a Game seven loss for your favorite team or even like the really bad knee injuries that you might happen to see or an Achilles tear, you know, those sorts of things. It’s way beyond that. And so people just don’t really have a way to sort of. Wrestle with that sort of traumatizing event, because I think, you know, trauma is a word that gets overused a little bit these days, but I think it fit for the moment that this was like traumatic in its own way. And also, I mean, just just for me, you know, my one of the first thoughts I had after oh, wow, this is really scary is how are they going to finish this game? Can they finish this game to watch your teammate, one of the best players on your team, go down like that and not be sure about his health status? I, I, you know, I find it amazing. I mean, that sort of speaks to, you know, the expectations we place up on athletes and athletic competition that the games are supposed to go on, that you know, that people when something bad happens, it’s just a blip. We’re supposed to keep going on to me. I’m actually even sort of floored that Denmark only lost by goal after that. Right. That they were able to get back out there two hours later, play only lose by goal and get back into the locker room like that. Just it just speaks to what we expect athletes in these games to be, that things are going to keep going no matter what happens.
S2: Well, one of the things that we talked about at the end of twenty twenty was what are the changes from the pandemic to sports and how they’re played and governed. That will be kind of ephemeral and which are the ones that will be enshrined and more permanent. And one of the things we talked about was this idea that no individual game is sacrosanct. And we saw that with schedules getting changed and shortened and postponements and, you know, the wildcat strike and the NBA. And it seemed like we had kind of come to this understanding that the sports schedule was like a little bit less written in cement than we thought it was. And this is kind of a jolt in that sense. Right? Stefan like a return to, quote unquote, normalcy. And the options that the Danish team was presented with, we learned on Monday were resumed the game basically right away or resume it the next day, the next day or the next morning. And Danish players like we would have loved a third option being neither of those. But this is a pretty classic. It is not possible moment. Yeah. And we must play the game, the game
S3: as the game must go on. It is not possible to postpone. It will confuse the schedule. You know, the issue here was that UEFA, the governing body for European football, chose to ask the players. They made a decision to put the burden on the players. And the Danish coach commented on this, that he thought it was unfair that the players were put in the position of having to decide what to do. I mean, there was a simple solution here, which was call the game a draw, give each team a point and move on to the next game. The Danish team doesn’t have to play again until Thursday. This would have given them time to to make sure that their friend and teammate was recovering. It would have would have avoided putting them in the position of going out there and playing and something bad. Having happened to Eriksen, it certainly was. No, given that he was going to to recover when when that game resumed, there was no need to play this game to finish this game. And I don’t think either team I don’t think any of the players I don’t think any of the federations would have objected to just saying this was too traumatic to resume in any context just to re experience being on the same field with the same two teams being told to finish this just didn’t seem necessary.
S2: I think that’s right. And you mentioned the TV coverage and the world feared perhaps lingering on the scene a little bit too long. And I don’t mean to minimize that and that the trauma that that inflicted and also that I agree that it was needless to restart the game. But I do think back to my initial comment that because what happened to Eriksen, there’s like no kind of villain there, nobody to blame. I think we’re all sort of looking for for someone or something to criticize here, because this is such a horrible event. And, you know, UEFA definitely stood up and and filled the bill there being as being the villain. And I guess Joel, I’m curious what other moments or events kind of stood out to you as being parallel to this, other things you’ve seen or well or read about or heard about?
S1: Well, the first one that came to mind, it actually is sort of similar, but for whatever reason, I mean, it was scary in the moment, but I don’t feel people reacting quite. The same way it was when Reggie Lewis collapsed in the playoffs, the NBA playoffs in April, nineteen ninety three for people that don’t remember, you know, Reggie Lewis was a member of those post Bird in the Kills Celtics. And he was going to you know, he was sort of a young star. I won’t say he was an all star and he collapsed in the middle of a plate in a playoff game. He didn’t he didn’t have to be resuscitated. I mean, he fell, got right back up and returned to the game, but then was pulled. And then I think within three or four months later, he he died while playing pickup basketball. He ended up having a heart to heart
S2: similar to the pattern with Hank Gathers, where there’s collapsed first and one game resumed playing. And then the second time he collapsed, he he died. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And so I to me that, like, that was the thing that this reminded me of the most. And it made me think about Christian Eriksen career and life, like with what happens from here. Right. But definitely the Reggie Lewis thing. And you know what else I think that really struck me was like the Monica Seles thing, like I didn’t watch that happen live. But the day that it happened, when she again, something else that happened in April of nineteen ninety three, what a hell of a month that that was right when she was stabbed in the back while playing tennis at that time. And so I didn’t see that happen. But watching the video of her screaming after she had been stabbed is like something that I’ll probably never forget as a sports fan.
S2: Yeah, I mean that’s a comparison I hadn’t thought of, but thinking of things that would have been just absolutely horrifying to watch live. I mean, it’s hard to compare much of anything to to that.
S1: Doesn’t that sound old? And but I mean, it sounds like somebody walked out onto a court and stabbed a tennis star like that. Sounds like the sort of things that like when in the nineteen nineties and you’d hear about, like, crazy stuff happening in the 60s and 70s, like, oh, that’s something that would never happen today. Like it just sounds old and but yeah. Like those are the two things that I think of. But I don’t know. What else did you guys come up with.
S3: Well I was struck by, you know, how many athletes have suffered cardiac arrest and died during competitions. You know, I remember it obviously Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers, but there’s a list of Soccer players that is very, very long. A couple of them are fairly prominent in the Soccer community. Mark Vivian, FOH, a player for Cameroon, died after collapsing on a field during a Confederations Cup game in 2003. Three. There was a there was another there was an English player who suffered cardiac arrest during a televised three to one. There was an English player who in twenty twelve suffered cardiac arrest during a televised F.A. Cup match. He he survived his heart stop for seventy eight minutes and then he retired shortly thereafter. There seems to have been you know, there was a period where we become where we became more aware of these issues. Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings dying of heat exhaustion, I think is another example that fits this pattern where we become conscious of the fact that there are hidden problems with all human beings. But even with these highly trained, highly developed athletes that require us to pay attention and change the rules, like in England, they adopted cardiac screening for all players in the FAA, the Football Association, more than twenty years ago. And this is another example where I think we’re going to see after the fact questions about the kinds of screening and search for congenital disorders or other disorders that that athletes might may have
S2: and and also like. Need to celebrate the you know, the fact that CPR was done on him so quickly, it seemed like, you know, that both his teammates and medical personnel were really on top of it. And so, again, like far from finding someone to to blame their people that need to be celebrated. And in this instance and I
S3: think and I think Joel I was going to I was going to say that we were talking about the TV coverage there and there was a lot of criticism for the way for feed zooming in on or at least showing the huddle around Eriksen. You can see the medical personnel doing chest compressions on him and then they cut to an image of his partner who had come down on the field and was being consoled by players and others. And that’s gotten a lot of criticism. But what would the camera operators do? Everyone was confused then. I don’t think it was clear, wasn’t clear to to to a lot of people initially, you know, what was actually happening on the field. And ESPN and the BBC have taken some criticism for not cutting away from the field to the studio. Once it was obvious that this was a dire situation. But it’s these are really hard decisions to make in the moments
S2: that ESPN actually did a good job like and I thought the announcers were like suitably grave and also didn’t speculate. And so I thought their coverage was actually in a totally unexpected situation with announcers that weren’t necessarily prepared or equipped. I thought they all kind of stepped up and did well. The last thing I would say is there’s this documentary series on Netflix called Formula One Driver to Survive. David Plotz actually endorsed it on the political gabfest and he endorsed it to me personally, which is why I watched this episode. There’s an episode called Man on Fire about a driver named Raymond Grosjean, who was in one of these races. His car caught on fire. And you see in this series is just like beautifully shot. And it’s just like amazing to look at. But you get to see in real time the absolute agony that his fellow drivers, his family were going through and he miraculously made it out. But the thing that I think connects up to this conversation is that he he retired like he was done, like he felt like he had cheated death. But also the player that you mentioned, Stefan, Fabrice Muamba, who is technically dead for 70 minutes, retired at the age of twenty four. Like this is a thing that I don’t think any of us can understand what Christian Eriksen will have to go through in deciding whether to resume his career. But that’s a really, really heavy thing to have to deal with. And I thought that episode of Formula One driver to survive it is incredible.
S3: That is an incredible piece of documentary filmmaking and I highly recommend it.
S2: And this is a case where maybe a spoiler alert is useful because I think it’s probably easier to watch it. Yeah. That the guy makes it through. But it’s I would I would recommend
S3: it if I got one last thought for you, Joel is that in thinking through all of this, too, that only one NFL player has ever died on the field in nineteen seventy one, a receiver named Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions. And I was a little kid and I remember that it feels after something like this happens, remarkable that professional football has had so few catastrophic incidents. And that always comes to mind when I see something like this.
S1: I’ve been working as a professional journalist for 20 years. There’s not a lot of things that I remember in my life, but I remember being like a young cub reporter and two thousand one when Dale Earnhardt died during Daytona like he was killed, you know, I mean, he died in a crash. And I just remember one of my colleagues looking over, he’s like, man, can you imagine? Like, if somebody just died in, like the NFL, like it is a result of a collision, like, what do you think would happen? And I just was like, oh, shit. Yeah. Like, we just kind of accepted it with Dale Earnhardt. And his name just now came up. Right. Like we like it’s only been 20 years, but yeah. Like it’s just I mean, football has gotten extremely lucky, although, like we’ve there’s enough of those like guys that have gotten paralyzed, like Mike Utley, Darryl Stingley, Dennis Byrd, players like that who’ve gotten injured in the course of a game like catastrophically so. So, yeah, man, like the NFL has been very lucky. But I think that we’re we’re all sports fans. We’re going to be watching for the rest of our lives. I just don’t think that, you know, we can expect that something like this is going to happen again. And we just have to, you know, pray that they respond as quickly as they did with Christian Eriksen, because I think that’s the the thing here is that those guys saved him and hopefully he can move on from this.
S2: Up next, Sports Illustrated Stephanie Apstein on baseball and sticky stuff.
S3: The defining public moment of baseball’s latest self-inflicted controversy came last week when New York Yankees Ace Garret Cole was asked by a reporter, Ken Davidoff of The New York Post, whether he applied a particular brand of a sticky product to baseballs while pitching. Let’s listen in.
S2: Have you ever used Spider Tack Christian? I don’t I don’t know. I don’t know if I don’t know quite I don’t
S3: quite know how to answer that. To be honest, if I were a lawyer, I think I would just say I think we can take that as a yes. In a story earlier this month in Sports Illustrated, one retired pitcher estimated that up to 90 percent of major league curlers are using substances with names like Spider Tack and Pelican Grip Dip to improve the spin and movement of the ball, making it even harder to hit than it already is. The story quoted one American League manager saying, It’s so blatant, it’s a big fuck. You like, what are you going to do about it? That S.I. piece was titled The New Steroids. It was reported and written by Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt. Stefan Apstein joins us now. Welcome to the show.
S5: Thanks for having me.
S3: Great to have you. Like sign stealing. Putting what used to be known as illegal substances on baseball is a time honored tradition in the sport. Why is everybody shocked? So now why is this a public issue?
S5: I think stealing is a good analog. It’s something that people had been doing was sort of mixed success for a century. And then because of technology, they’ve all gotten very good at it recently and it’s begun to affect the product on the field. So in this case, they because they have the technology to know immediately that you put something on, you throw a pitch and you look and see whether it helped. You can refine what you’re doing really well rather than just sort of guessing the way they used to. And now, I mean, we don’t know exactly what the effect has been, but I had several pitchers tell me that they thought this could sort of solve the offensive crisis if they got rid of sticky stuff because it makes the ball so much harder to hit.
S2: So there had been kind of a truce, right, Stephanie? Like baseball loves its unwritten rules. And so it seems like there is some unwritten agreement by all of the teams and everyone just to not say anything or do anything about this. Everything is breaking out into the open now. I mean, you have a new piece, an essay on Monday where there’s actually texts from Gerrit Cole talking about mixing up a batch of sticky stuff. He actually says, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation. Very clever of him. So why is all of this stuff breaking out into the open now, like what broke this kind of unspoken agreement to have all of the stuff happening behind the scenes, but not to talk about it?
S5: I think the level of sticky stuff that they’re using is fairly new and the success that they’re having with it. And there’s one picture in particular, Trevor Bauer, who had been has been talking about this for years. And initially he was talking about it from the side of look what everybody but me is doing. This is a huge problem. Major League Baseball needs to address it. And then he started doing some little experiments on the field or sort of message sending. So one day he for one inning used it and his spin rate jump really high and then he stopped using it. And then at one point
S2: he announced he announced that he was doing this.
S5: He he didn’t so much as say it, but somebody wrote about it. You know, Cyrus, who I believe is the athletic at that point, and Bauer said, I don’t want to comment, but you guys should read your story. It’s a really good story. So sort of in the way that Garrett said yes without saying yes, Bauer said yes. So that’s saying yes. But then his speech and he said that the only way he had found to increase Spinneret that dramatically was to use sticky stuff. And then all of a sudden, Trevor Bauer rates started jumping. And he has he has chosen not to acknowledge whether or not he’s using it. You know, he hasn’t really answered questions. He’s done sort of the cool thing where he danced around it. But whether he’s using it or not and it seems like he is, pitchers around the league believe that he is and he has had a ton of success. He won the science last year. He he signed one of the biggest contracts in the history of the sport. And so I think a lot of other pitchers are thinking, I got to get me some of that.
S1: There’s cheating all the time. Like this is cheating. You know, that that’s a really big deal and cheating. That’s not a big deal or whatever. And I’m guessing I’m trying to figure out at what point you realize that this was a story and you’re like, oh, like this is something that I need to be. Or how did you know that this was something that was as big a deal as it was and need to report on it?
S5: So we actually started you mentioned the Babakhan story. We started reporting that first talking to the clubhouse manager who supplied sticky stuff to a lot of pitchers and was fired and doesn’t deny that he did it. He just feels singled out. He said, you know, he was like, yeah, of course I did it. So why are you punishing everybody else? We were working on that story. I went into it asking other pitchers, like, do you think it was unfair what happened to him? And a lot of the answers I got were actually sticky stuff is a huge problem. And so I started to realize that this was a bigger story than I had realized, that it wasn’t just about this one guy and whether he was treated fairly. There were actually two stories here. There was one about Bobby Harkins, and then there was another about the sort of state of the sport right now. And as I started asking people questions, I realized it was like the only thing anyone was talking about in baseball. Hitters were livid, Coach. Is and executives were upset because they felt like they couldn’t say anything because their guys were doing it, too. And so if they call out somebody else, their, you know, their own pitchers will get in trouble for it. And then there was also the category of pitchers who didn’t want to be using it. But much like Steroids felt like if they didn’t, they would be at a competitive disadvantage. And I think that is one of the things that’s new over the last couple of years. I don’t think it was 90 percent, you know, 10 years ago. I think you could there was some level of using some of the less sticky stuff for grippe only. But this this sense of using it as a performance enhancing substance that is new and that’s affecting pitchers at all levels, because if you’re in the minors, you know, you’re not an idiot. You know that spin rates and swing and miss stuff is what gets you called up. And so if you’re a guy making eleven hundred dollars a month in the minor leagues, you want not to be doing that anymore. You’d like to be in the majors. And it’s become very clear to you. Teams are saying many of them are just saying you should use sticky stuff. And the ones that aren’t saying outright are saying it with the way they promote players. And so they I think at all levels, pitchers are faced with this question of whether to use this thing.
S3: And what obviously also has brought this out onto into the open is in tandem with the improvements in pitching that have led to calls and experiments for moving the mound back and taking other steps to give hitters a little bit more advantage against the dominant, stronger, harder throwing pitching that this is sort of feels like the last straw. Right. There have been six no hitters this season. Batters are hitting at the lowest average in more than 50 years. There is a competitive problem in the sport. And as you said earlier, you know, everybody was in on this. This is very similar to Steroids. And as much as there is a built in dynamic that says that this we all just need to be quiet about this because some batters want pitchers to have better control because they don’t want to get hit in the head by one hundred and one mile an hour fastball. Umpires don’t want to be the ones enforcing a rule that front offices and on field managers don’t want to see them forced. So there is this sort of quiet collusion among all elements of the game. And now what we start to see is the way that this gets processed. Right. So baseball suspended for minor league pitchers recently this season for using sticky substances on the ball. And that reminded me of like the Jerry Tarkanian quote. Right. The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, they’re going to give Cleveland State another year of probation. Baseball doesn’t really seem interested in policing this. They seem interested in getting rid of it quietly persuading pitchers to stop doing this.
S5: Yeah, I think that is fair. I think they want it gone, but they don’t really want a situation where every I mean, almost every guy is using it. And I think that’s important to remember that it’s fun to identify the names of the players, but it’s all of them and it’s all of them because the teams tell them to do it. So, you know, this isn’t just an individual moral failing. This is a sport wide decision to behave this way. But I think that the league doesn’t really want to have a situation where every pitcher you’ve heard of gets ejected from a game. And that’s part of why, if you’ve noticed stuff has been leaking about this slowly, like, oh, they’re gone. You know, the memo that they were going to start analyzing baseball, collecting baseballs and analyzing spinnerets that leaked at the beginning of spring training, then the information about how bad the problem was started to leak the stuff from the owners meeting where they decided they’re going to proceed to enforcement that’s been out there. They want pitchers to know this is coming. They want they’re trying to send a bunch of warning shots because the hope is that guys will just stop cheating on their own and then they don’t have to embarrass anyone. I think they’re prepared to suspend people if they see them still doing it. But I think the real hope is like, OK, just cut it out and then we can just move on.
S2: It’s interesting to me that in the past, I guess 20 or 30 years, the main story or one of the main stories that’s been told about baseball is like, look how smart all the teams are. And then, all right, let’s look back at what some of the big innovations are. You’ve got like Moneyball and they saw what was behind that Steroids. Then you got like, oh, look at the Astros. They’re so innovative with their player personnel. What was behind that? They’re stealing signs like, oh, the spin rate revolution, Cincinnati, spend, spend, spend. What’s behind that? Well, we’ve been talking about it. That does not seem like a coincidence to me. Should we have been less like, I don’t know, self-congratulatory as baseball fans and a baseball industry about how everyone is, like, so smart and innovative? Or am I making too much of this connection?
S5: No, I think that’s fair. I think it’s complicated because the it’s all sort of the same personality trait. Right? The personality trait that leads you to be really good at player. Development and to uncover new ways to both to analyze data and then to convey it to players, which is actually, I think, harder these days than finding the information, it’s getting the nerds to explain it in a way that the players understand. But the kind of teams that that figure out how to do that are also pushing the envelope in every way, there’s no very few of them sort of stop short and say, I don’t know. I think we probably shouldn’t do that. They see it’s all gradations of the same thing that, you know, everybody was use. Everybody is stealing signs a little bit out of the video room. They everybody would, you know, figure out what the signs were and convey them to the runner on second base. So that was sort of an accepted thing across the league. And so for the Astros, maybe it doesn’t seem like as big a step as it seems to us for them to just get those signs and convey it to the batter. Maybe that’s not as as huge a leap as we think it is with Steroids. Maybe it’s you know, everybody’s using greenies, everybody’s using something to wake up. Maybe it’s not it doesn’t feel to them like that big a change.
S2: Well, in all realms of human existence, everybody is doing it is a pretty universal self-justification.
S5: Oh, yeah. Look, I think it’s it’s clear from the outside what’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s clear to some players on the inside. But what I’m saying is I think it’s really easy to tell yourself that this is not that different. And so if you are I mean, it was very interesting to me how many of the players, the pitchers I talked to said that, yes, they did use sticky stuff, but no, it wasn’t making them a better pitcher, which is, of course, patently ridiculous. Right. You wouldn’t be using it if it didn’t make you a better picture. But I think it’s really easy to say to tell yourself this is just about getting a grip. I just want to get a grip on the baseball so that I can not hit batters. Yes, that helps. But part of the other way to get a grip on the baseball and not hit a batter is to throw it less hard. That’s how you control the baseball. That would be the other way to approach that pitchers. I want to do that. They want to throw the ball hard. That’s the other thing that people were reminding me that I thought was important is that, of course, it’s performance enhancing because as long as that helps your control, even if it doesn’t help your spin rate, it helps your control. And having good control makes you a better pitcher. So this is helpful really in every way. It allows them to throw harder. It allows them to command better, and it allows them to spin the ball better. This is this is a much bigger deal than a lot of them are willing to acknowledge.
S1: So I would like to circle back to the Astros, OK, so the listeners can tell I’m wearing a Houston t shirt today, not an Astros shirt, because I don’t endorse their club culture, which is loathsome, whatever. Right. But, you know, the Astros were the first team I cared about, the only team I care about. And like, I’ve just sort of, you know, chuckled a little bit at how everybody has been sort of indignant and self-righteous about, like the cheating that the Astros did. And people are so mad, like the players are still throwing pitches at them. Years later, you go they go to the game, they go on the road and people are banging trash cans. And then we find out via statistical analysis that essentially that the effect of that cheating was nothing like I mean, like the net impact of it was nothing essentially. Right. And so I guess what I would like to know is why were people so mad about the Astros and so angry about cheating that really did not have that much of an impact on the game as opposed to this? I mean, their statistical analysis showed the balls, the spin rate and all this other stuff, like it shows up, right. That it’s making an impact. So, like, why I guess it’s somebody that is coming to this from from that perspective. Like, why are people not angry and not as mad about pitchers cheating in this way?
S5: I think that the big difference is that this everyone in the league is doing this. And so the idea is that, you know, hitters are struggling, but no one team is getting that. You know, there are some teams that are doing it more successfully. But in general, any single pitcher could go out and figure out how to do this on his own if you wanted. And so maybe you don’t see it reflected in the team statistics. But there are plenty of you know, we said the Dodgers had the largest leap and spinneret, but there are plenty of other guys who are of single pitchers who have had a similar jump and spin rate. The Astros thing was one team. And I think that that rankles people. I also think I mean, candidly, people didn’t like the Astros for other reasons. And so we’re perfectly happy to seize on this. But I do think that the big outcry I mean, you could even see. So the Astros were stealing signs and giving them to the batter. The Red Sox were stealing signs out of the video room and conveying them to the runner at second base who would then convey them to the batter. And you noticed perhaps that basically nobody in the league seemed upset about that. There were no other players saying, like, screw the Red Sox. I hate the Red Sox because they know they were all doing that. Everybody was doing some sort of stealing out of the video room, but nobody else was giving it to the batter with nobody on base. That is a huge difference. And so all of the players in the league felt comfortable saying we would never do something like that, maybe because they hadn’t figured out how, but that we had you know, we haven’t been doing that. And so that is a big difference. And I think that players and fans do not like the idea that one team is having hugely different success because of cheating than everybody else. I think that this is I think hitters are really. About the foreign substance stuff, so I wouldn’t discount how angry they are, I think fan bases probably are not as upset because there’s not one obvious villain. But trust me, hitters are pissed.
S2: Well, peatlands of the Mets has this kind of deranged theory about the league tampering with balls to affect players free agency, which I mean, I said it already, but it’s deranged. But when the league allows stuff like this to happen, then you’re going to get the players and the fans and everyone to think that, like the baseline assumption is that stuff is like out of control. Like the league has not given anyone any confidence that they’re the sport under control. I mean, Stefan you cited some of the numbers, but like this has been allowed to get out of control, like the sport is like out of balance in such a way that it’s like not even like that good of a sport. It is at this point. And so, like, how do you I don’t know if this is a question, but it’s it’s just like they really let this go really far. And the consequences have been pretty far reaching.
S3: But Josh, we don’t really have any evidence that baseball has ever acted at a time that would squelch a budding problem. Right. I mean, they let Steroids go for years before deciding,
S2: but that was probably in their interest. That was in their interest to do probably more than this. It just seems it seems dumb like that they let it get this far, is what I’m saying. I’m not saying I’m surprised or disappointed and like baseball losing its way, it just seems like dumb from a straight, like, strategic perspective.
S5: Yeah, I think that’s fair. A lot of players have pointed that out to me, too. Like at least Steroids made the game more interesting. This kind of makes the game suck. And so it’s funny that it seems like it’s allowed to proceed unchecked. I think there are some I do think it’s gotten a lot worse over the past two or three years. And the other thing, of course, that happened over the past two or three years is the pandemic. And so I think there is some room for understanding or whatever they’re like. They wanted to do that to deal with this. The beginning of twenty twenty. That’s when they fired the clubhouse manager. That’s when the first memo went out saying take this seriously and then the priorities changed. But even twenty twenty was late in the game. I mean people were talking about this before twenty twenty. So it’s, it’s been a problem.
S2: How will we or should we think about for instance, Jacob to Graham who I haven’t seen his name in any of your stories, but you said everybody’s doing it, so I don’t want to single him out specifically, but like he’s having maybe the greatest pitching season of all time. And so he’s going to, I guess, will be known as being in this era, this quote unquote era or however you want to talk about it. Like, how do you think performances like that will be remembered?
S5: I think the game is a good example because his teammates say that he’s not using anything. He the spin rate hasn’t jumped that notably. I mean, it’s it has climbed over the years. But the other way to to increase rate is to increase velocity and velocity has gotten better. And so that that would seem to line up pretty cleanly. He he has them
S2: look, after this news came out like he threw six innings of like one hit. Yeah. Like whereas like other players, spin rates went way down.
S5: Right. And so he seems like sort of I mean, we don’t know. Right. But there were definitely players who were kind of casualties of the steroid era in this both. But the guys who didn’t make it because they weren’t using and then the guys who were having very clean success and are kind of lumped in with this category, their statistics don’t shine as brightly as they would have because other people were inflated. And I think it’s possible Director Graham or pitchers like him will have a similar experience that they, you know, that maybe were underappreciated, actually how incredible those guys are. But I do think one consequence of the league’s inaction on this is that they are now being forced basically in the middle of a season to adjust the way business is being done. And so we’re going to have some pretty interesting data actually that through June, maybe even probably through June, we had everyone using it. And then probably from about June 1st on, we will have a decrease in the amount of sickies.
S2: Sorry, did you mean July 1st?
S5: No, because June those when stuff leaked started leaking that they were going to start cracking down. And so you’ve already even though they haven’t the umpires have not actually made any move to eject people. Players know that’s coming. And so you’ve seen spin rates start dropping. And so, yeah, probably over the month of June, it will be a slide, but there will be pretty good data on what kind of effect this has. And I think that’s one of the things the league is looking for, actually, is do we have to move the mountain back? Do we have to increase the size of the bases? Do we have to ban the shift and ban kickoffs? Do we have to make these huge changes to the game? To increase offense or could we just enforce the rules on the books and maybe that would do it and I think they’re hoping that we’re going to find out. Nobody quite knows.
S3: I’m just thrilled that the dudes that invented Spider Tack did it because they competed in strongest man competitions and wanted to get a better grip on those gigantic boulders that they have to carry. Stefan Apstein is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. We will link to her coverage of the sticky stuff controversy on our home page. Stephanie, thanks so much for coming on the show.
S5: Thanks for having me.
S3: Next up, we’re going to talk to Sports Illustrated executive editor John Wertheim about his new book, Glory Days, about the summer of nineteen eighty four in sports, I Joel is going to step away for this segment.
S2: In nineteen eighty four, the top year end single on the Billboard charts was Prince’s When Doves Cry, the top grossing movie was Ghostbusters. The Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical went to Chita Rivera in the rink and there were sports to Gretzky won the Stanley Cup bird and Magic faced each other in the finals. For the first time, Michael Jordan and Martina Navratilova were ascendant and Krusty Burger was the official meat flavored sandwich of the 1984 Olympics. John Wertheim new book, Glory Days, includes a lot of stuff you probably didn’t know about that year’s biggest stories. John is here now to school us even more. John Wertheim, welcome back to the program.
S6: Pleasure. How are you guys doing?
S2: Well, so I want to talk more about Chita Rivera now. I want to
S6: start I
S2: want to start with how you open the book, which is with Michael Jordan and the other best college stars in the game at the US Olympic basketball tryouts in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where you grew up. There are something pleasingly human and small scale about what you describe of Jordan playing putt putt. You got guys playing arcade games, mingling with the teenage John Wertheim of the world. But there’s also something kind of retrograde about it, with Bobby Knight presiding over the whole thing and his tyrannical manner, like not letting him go to the NBA draft. These players, they’ve been getting exploited in a lot of ways. And so I’m curious about how you approach that tension in the book of celebrating the fun things about the past, but also recognizing where sports and society falls short.
S6: That is a great question. I resisted my instincts to give my whole Bob Knight rant and how we’re all complicit in this deplorable figure. But no, I think that’s a really good point. And I think part of it was I did not try to write this book as the that the warm glow of nostalgia. I mean, I tried to sort of make the point that one of the reasons that sports were considerably smaller then was because exactly what you said, athletes hadn’t realized the full sweep of their power. And yeah, but we were at a point where lottery picks in the NBA draft could be forbidden from attending the draft, not by the commissioner, not by their college coach, but by the Olympic coach, Michael Jordan. I had the story with with George Raveling after he was picked and picked. Third, he went to McDonald’s in Bloomington, Indiana, to celebrate. And, you know, it’s a quaint anecdote and it’s a little sort of insight into Jordan. But in a way, it’s kind of disturbing and horrifying that there was this level of power. So, yeah, it’s it was a fun book to write. It was a lot of boy things were a lot simpler back then, but I tried to avoid glorifying it because I think that’s that’s a great question. And I think you’re absolutely right. And it came this smallness came at a price. And a lot of that price was athletes recognizing the full measure of their power and their value.
S3: Look, these are constructs that we make as writers and journalists. But this was kind of a dividing line. And the three of us, I think, are sort of exemplify these different periods. I mean, I was in college in 1984. I remember all of this stuff as part of my, you know, almost adult life. John, you were a twin. And, you know, you’ve got to see Michael Jordan up close in Bloomington, Indiana, as a wide eyed kid and sports fan and Josh. You were just you were you know, you were in a sentient being yet. Really, you were what for? So to me and this could be my own personal biases, that it does feel like this was a time when we were entering what we think of now as the modern era, because it wasn’t as if there weren’t athletes who are change agents politically, socially, economically. Curt, flood the Olympics protests. I mean, these things all happened. But it’s the sort of cold calculus Reagan era transition that maybe I think is what we’re talking about here. You know, it’s the it’s the it’s the business maturation of sports.
S6: Yeah. This was all in some ways very much of a piece with nineteen eighty four as this is Reagan and you know, deregulation, tax cutting, full bloom. And this was, you know, what we would now call, you know, this, this is the free market at its best. And you have these figures who David Stern who unfortunately is no longer with us. He was great with this book and had a lot of really sort of, I thought, pointed recollections. David, David Falck, who says, listen, I don’t want my athlete to be just another guy that Converse throws on a poster and gives him some shoes, like, let’s really try and maximize this brand. And I think there was there was this awakening. I don’t think you’re right. I mean, I don’t think it was a high point for athlete political activism. But I think it was this point when athletes say, wait a second, I’ve got a lot more value here that I can unlock. And with the help of these, you know, figures like David Stern and Vince McMahon and David Falk, they were able to do that. But, yeah, I mean, I think this was very much of a. He’s with what the country was going through to in nineteen eighty four, you had you know, I mean, I didn’t realize this when I undertook the book, but it became clear to me pretty on that early on that the the great binding force, the great sort of unifier of this summer when sports went big time, was cable TV. And the folks that could see around the corners, like like David Stern, say, hey, this opens up a whole new world. This opens up a whole new way to get our product out there. It’s a whole new revenue stream. This sort of dawn of cable TV, I think plays a huge role in sports, moving out of quaint college town. Put the athletes in your Converse sneakers to Michael Jordan, ending up that summer with his own signature brand of shoe.
S2: You know, I mean, you mentioned the kind of lack of social activism. But one of the stories in here that really stuck out to me and I I think was lingering on, is this being the kind of height of Martina Navratilova s career as an out gay woman at a time when that just was unheard of, especially for someone of her level of prominence, but also, as you describe, the way in which she transformed her body through diet and exercise and physical fitness and just the ways in which she was not embraced for her outspokenness, her pride, but also just her total dominance and prowess. And it’s just a good reminder of the ways in which we kind of, as a culture and society, just absolutely revere the dominant athlete. Except except when we don’t like there are there are exceptions. And and it’s worth, I think, lingering on the fact that she was an exception.
S6: Yeah, I, I actually learned I mean, you know, I have the good fortune of working with with Martina Noer quite well. And I still had no idea what she went through, how this was all spun. I think that’s a really good point, that we we celebrate dominant athletes unless and until we don’t. And then we tear them down for the most, you know, for the for the flimsiest of reasons. I mean, you go back and read the clips and here is this woman. I mean, this is this is mid 80s. This is 30 years before Caitlyn Jenner. She’s already gone through a stint with with Renee Richards as her coach. And when people ask Martina about it, she says, you know, it it may not make sense to you, but Renee wasn’t comfortable in a man’s body. And this is a change she had to make. And I have to respect that. And you could cut and paste that and add 30 years time and, you know, you would be where we are today. Martina would say, I don’t understand her. I want to address the things I can change. And one of the things I can address is my physique and my conditioning. She was mocked at the time and she had, I think, gnarled vines of veins was how the British tabloids put it. They talked about how Martina used a supercomputer to try and look at the statistical tendencies of her of her opponent. So that was seen somehow as dishonourable, if not outright cheating, which of course, early analytics adapter. They talked about how Sports Illustrated talked about how Martina had an entourage that they mocked. Now, certainly in tennis and beyond, every individual sport athlete as a as their own team, which gives them a competitive advantage. I mean, Martina was way, way ahead of the curve and at the time was not only not acknowledged for that, but was was mocked for trends that would harden into, you know, every bit as. But I mean, now you’d be crazy not to work on your conditioning and consult analytics. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t given full credit. You she was mocked for that at the time athlete’s age when they’re done playing. And I think Martina Navratilova, whose career has aged extraordinarily well, she was she should be getting a lot of credit now that she didn’t get in the 1980s.
S3: You do a great job of bringing us back to some of the sort of seminal on chord change moments in sports, in basketball, particularly Magic and Larry playing each other for the first time in the finals and the draft of nineteen eighty four in which the Bulls take Michael Jordan transforming the league. But I think one of the most important from a business perspective is the events of that year. And that summer is one of the most boring. It was the Supreme Court decision that basically gave college football conferences the ability to negotiate their own television deals. I’m old enough to say that I wrote a piece about this for my college newspaper that summer. This was this was incredibly transformative in terms of shaping the multibillion dollar landscape of sports, as we now expect them to be.
S6: Yeah, this was a Supreme Court case and the decision came down that summer. I think that’s exactly right. And I think I think one thing that struck me about this summer was none of this seemed. Truly transformative or propitious at the time, I mean, there wasn’t a huge Sports Illustrated story about the Supreme Court decision where, you know, all these college programs could negotiate their own TV deals. Just think about where that could lead. What might that do to bargaining powers and conferences and the NCAA’s monopoly? But in retrospect, yeah, that was that was a huge moment.
S3: You didn’t read my coverage in The Daily Pennsylvanian. You don’t know that I didn’t address all of those issues,
S6: that the DP was not, unfortunately, footnoted in this. But I think I think seriously, I think you wrote about this at the Journal, and I think this was one of these. I mean, again, some moments from the summer got huge amounts of credit and attention and others did not and loom large. You know, here we are. Thirty five thirty seven years later.
S2: So you’ve got Mary Lou Retton with the Stars and Stripes leotard on the on the cover, which I think is the kind of iconic image of that summer and a lot of ways. And Stefan, thank you for noting my age earlier in the segment. It’s important that such with myself, Senate senator myself in this in the story. I am curious from both of you guys, I guess, because you were you know, the eighty four Olympics were such a huge event was the the Soviet boycott. It didn’t seem to damper Americans enthusiasm for all the gold medals that were won. People people didn’t seem to be like the gold medal in the 84 Olympics doesn’t really count as much because like the Eastern Bloc is in here, we still managed to be very proud of ourselves for all of our achievements that summer,
S6: we all got free Big Macs and fries and that that that help from Krupski cover over pay for young Krusty Burger. Exactly. That’s a great reference. No, I mean, I think some of this, too, and I honestly think this fits into a bigger picture about why the Olympics may have lost some relevance. We didn’t know who these athletes were, right? I mean, maybe it heard a few gymnasts. Maybe you knew about the bonus, but it wasn’t as though you felt like you were playing, you know, the team without Kyrie Harden and Durant. But we didn’t really know who these athletes were that we were missing. I thought the L.A. games, too, did a lot of things really cleverly. I mean, one of them, of course, this this was a huge financial success as an Olympics. I mean, I think the total sponsorship from Lake Placid, the previous Olympics held in the US was ten million dollars at the L.A. Games, had a two hundred and fifty million dollar surplus. But I thought the the L.A.. I believe
S2: in capitalism. Yes.
S6: Yeah, exactly. You had that. We had that line free written the I thought the L.A. organizers go back and watch the opening ceremony. The theme, the thematic colors are like pink and teal. I think they went a long way to sort of, you know, to not to turn this into jingoism or patriotism. And it was a sort of celebration internationally. And they sort of bend over backwards. There’s a delegation here from China, and I think they sort of went easy on the on the rah rah Cold War themes. And I think in a way that I think in a perverse way that sort of downplayed the Soviet absence. But I also, you know, it’s a different time. I I wrote about how there was an electronic messaging system at these games that no athletes, hardly any of them actually set up a password. But basically, it was one of the first email systems that they were showing off. You could send a message to another athlete without even picking up a phone. You could just type it into this computer. We know who these athletes were from the Eastern Bloc countries. And I think that went a long way toward sort of muting the fact that you had this this glaring absence.
S3: Well, and I think also their absence probably was a prod to Peter Ueberroth and the organizers of the Games to ensure that there was something larger than the international competition, that the commercial aspects of the games could be exploited to their fullest, not as a way to shove it in the east bloc’s face, but just because we want to make money here. And it’s been an undervalued asset every four years.
S2: So, John, we’ve talked a lot about stories that you get into here in that you provide more detail and stuff folks may have heard of. What’s your favorite nineteen eighty four story that maybe folks don’t know about or have totally forgotten?
S6: I don’t have a good sense of how well known this is. I honestly don’t think I heard about it or knew the full story. But the fact that the New England Patriots dynasty can be traced to the Michael Jackson disastrous victory tour, which was backed by the Sullivan family, which essentially collateralize Sullivan Stadium where the Patriots played. And when this tour was a financial disaster, it caused the Sullivans to sell the team and through a number of coincidences and savvy maneuvers that ends up with Robert Kraft. I did not I didn’t realize the Patriots dynasty in some ways owes itself to Michael Jackson feuding with his siblings at a disastrous concert tour. It was promoted by Don King, but no, I don’t know, I mean, I think the I think we just didn’t realize, I guess Michael Jordan would be the the simple answer and the beginning, you know, late spring, beginning of the summer. He doesn’t even want to turn pro. He wants to go back and be a senior. And Kenny Smith is his point guard and he loves college. And he drives around this old General Motors car that says, you know, MJ magic. And by the end of the summer, he is the third pick in the draft. He has a gold medal. He is this ascending athlete. People are recognizing that he’s not just this once in a generation player, but once in a generation charisma. And in 90 days, I mean, he has not played a game with the Chicago Bulls and he already has his own signature shoe. And I think there’s something sort of symbolic about that transformation. Michael Jordan, the happy go lucky college kid to driving around Chicago in a limousine with with his own signature shoe deal on billboards and a gold medal around his neck in the span of only a few months.
S2: The book is Glory Days, the summer of 1984 and the 90 Days, the changed sports and Culture Forever. If you’re looking at the cover of the book, you’ll see that the man’s name is L.. John Wertheim become John, but he answers to both. And we’re going to have him stick around to talk tennis with us. But for now, John, thanks and congrats on the book.
S6: Thanks, guys.
S2: And now it is time for after balls and we’re going to take over after hours with some tennis Tack, John, we’re going to we’re going to bust the format, but we do need to name the after balls, as is tradition. And a thing that I learned from this book that has nothing to do with me for is that Ron Garros is an actor, as I did like it. It never occurred to me that this is that this is a person. And he was like he was like a fighter pilot.
S6: World War One pilot in a squadron. Yeah. And the Mediterranean. Very good. Yeah. People think he was a great French champion. I don’t I don’t you know, he played casual tennis at the club,
S2: very French to name the tournament after a guy who has nothing to do with the tennis. But for our role on Garros today, let’s talk about Ron Garros and Stefan. I feel like Novak Djokovic, blah, blah, blah, blah. Best ever, maybe 19 Grand Slams, but we’ve got to talk about your about your man. What a what a valiant effort to, you know, when to when two sets. I mean, come on. What in a best of five it’s almost impossible to do better than winning two sets. It’s almost literally there’s only one way you can do better than that. So no one says, do you want to do you want to have a little bit of of time for Stefanos Tsitsipas Appreciation Minute?
S3: Oh, only a minute. Look, I was I was I was pretty despondent after my guy failed to close out Djokovic. It was very Tsitsipas him. And I’m hoping that one day he gets beyond this. You know, in some ways the failure suits him because he is such a empathetic dude. You know, he is you know, he posted a picture on Instagram and on Twitter after the loss. And it’s it is a picture of him holding the second place, Trey, and looking so sad. You just want to hug him. And all he wrote was Prewitt post fuels passion, you know, and I admire that he still finds the wherewithal to come up with a hallmark phrase even in the depths of his own despondency. But like, he played great, didn’t you, John? I mean, this was, you know, in terms of like the incremental growth for an athlete faced with these the greatest players of all time standing in front of him. Do we feel now that Tsitsipas is the one that when Djokovic in the doll and Federer kind of finally hang it up, he is the one that is in the best position when he gets to be twenty five, he’s twenty two now between twenty five and thirty five to be the guy that can win multiple, multiple majors.
S6: That sounds exactly like what you would tell him. Yeah. I mean I think first of all Tsitsipas sounds suspiciously like your sport, a crat. Would you do his voice. I just want to point that out. No, I
S3: think it’s a little bit of Greek tinge in my sport. Course I try to distinguish them, but there’s definitely some overlap.
S6: No, I think he was a terrific tennis player for four, six point seven rounds and then and then faded. No, I mean, I think you’re right. I mean, I think on balance, if you look at this objectively, he’s twenty two years old. I mean, you know, he’s he’s almost twelve years he’s almost a bar mitzvah, younger than Novak Djokovic to say nothing of Nadal and Federer who are even older. He can play on clay. He’s an athletic he’s a wonderful player. And his defense, I thought, was a real revelation of this tournament. The question with him, he’s he’s a sensitive guy. He’s an emotional guy. And if you saw it, there were there was there was a subsequent tweet that he lost his paternal grandmother right before he took the court. You just worry about the hoariest sports cliche, but you worry about the scar tissue. And he is such a sensitive, emotional seeking guy. You wonder how he comes back from this. I mean, he lost a match two years ago with the French Open to stand up Rinka, this sort of epic five set match. It took him months and months and months to recover from that. The good news here, they’re only, you know, two weeks from today, Wimbledon begins. He’ll have other opportunities. He will you know, he’s a career high ranking. It was his first major final. He acquitted himself well, but he probably should have won that match. I mean, he’s up he’s up two sets to love. He’s playing great. His opponent looks spent and he just didn’t close. And I think the big question is just how does he recover from that? I mean, I think you’re you’re the the optimist view is in his first major final, he did great. And this is incremental. This is the next steps to win one of these. What’s the big deal? The one sort of asterisk here is he’s such a sensitive soul. You wonder how does this manifest itself next time he’s in this position?
S2: Yeah, he had this issue with, like, beating denial. Medvedev, like he had some mental block about beating to any beat. He beat that guy. So. So there you go. But he. It’s tough to tell with him because, I mean, Stefan and I like sometimes trade back and forth that photo of Tsitsipas in the hot tub where he says nourish, nurture sensations. I mean, there’s some sense in which he’s like a figure of like of mirth, but also he like kind of performs like desire and want to in a way that like maybe this post Big Three generation hasn’t like and I don’t know if it’s a performance or I mean, I would I would have to guess it’s sincere. He seems like a sincere young man, but he like acts like he really desperately wants this in a way that I think sports fans like. And he’s endearing. He is endearing. But it’s just continues to be notable that the Djokovic, who now has 19 slams, can tie in at all and Federer Wimbledon can win. The calendar slam is now on each grand slam twice has now been Nadal, two of the three times he’s ever lost at the French, blah, blah, blah, et cetera, et cetera. Like unbelievable resume. Extremely notable in this match, John, that he was not getting the most fan support of the two guys on the court. And so I’m wondering, is it going to be like Australia in twenty twenty six? Like when is the match going to be for Djokovic finally gets the love that he’s like so, so desperately been craving his entire career.
S6: This is these are the rhythms of tennis. I don’t you know, it’s one of these things where you might
S2: write the Josh is the fan
S6: favorite. Oh, absolutely. And it’s always for different reasons. Right. So sometimes it’s the underdog. Sometimes it’s the acknowledgement of Nadal. You know, when Djokovic plays Federer, it’s like ninety five, five. At some point tennis will give him his due. But I think there’s almost something the more eager Djokovic is for affection. It seems like the more eager fans are to withhold it. If he said I don’t give a shit, I’m just here to win titles, I suspect he might even be have more fan support. But it’s one of the sort of there’s a
S2: like being a human being a huge asshole. Never heard Jimmy Connors in terms of crowd support.
S6: Yeah, exactly. I mean, Condorcet, I don’t give a shit. I mean, Djokovic has this and I guess it’s it’s endearing me to Djokovic sort of has this a certain level of neediness to him where he wants to be in and he wants Federer’s level of popularity. If he just said, I don’t give a shit, I’m here to take the trophy, I suspect and in a perverse way, it might help his popularity more. But meanwhile, I mean, I don’t know what we say, this goat debate that I resist. And yet at the same time, I recognize it would be weird if we didn’t have it right. I mean, if people said, I don’t know who’s better, LeBron or Jordan, I’ve never really given that much thought. It would be strange. And I think the same thing in tennis, as reductive as this this conversation is. But I don’t know how we have this conversation credibly anymore. I mean, Djokovic has a winning record against the other two guys. He’s won the double career slam. As you say. He’s the youngest of the three. He’s probably not done winning. He’s been number one for more weeks unless we are adding some some variables. And I don’t know about I don’t know how we just have this credible conversation anymore. You’re a team. You know, your tennis guy, Josh. What do you think?
S2: Maybe we should continue this in the in the bonus segment. What do you think?
S3: Yeah, that’s what I think, too.
S2: But for now, that is our show for today. Our producers this week is Margaret Kelley. Listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out to Slate Dotcom slash hang up. You can email us at Hank at Slate dot com. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show and to read reviews on Apple podcast for Joel Anderson Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levin remembers. I’m OBD and thanks for listening. Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, I really milked the the whole slate plus thing this week. Good job by me, but back with us is John Wertheim. Hey, John. Hey, guys. And on the go topic. So you’ve always been extremely sensible on this matter, John, and saying that we should wait until their careers are over. But I appreciate you just throwing sense out the window for for raging hot sportstalk. And so let’s get into it. I guess the case for Federer would be and I think it’s diminishing, but the stretch of dominance that he had when he was the greatest player in the game in the 20s is that more dominant across more surfaces and across a longer period of time than definitely than Nadal has ever had. But as a more dominant than Djokovic has had or has Djokovic his last few years just even made that argument nonsensical. At this point.
S6: Djokovic won his first major in 2008, and here we are 13 years later, Djokovic, who actually won more titles in his 30s than either Federer or Nadal. I mean, I think honestly, he’s he’s a lovely guy. I certainly get the the passion and affection for him. But I think the strongest case for Federer is visceral and it’s artistry and grace. And it’s you really you don’t want to quantify this thing if you’re a Federer fan, because it’s very hard to make an empirical case. I mean, I don’t know where you are with this to be part of is like I hate this discussion. It’s three titans. Why do we have to do this? And I also realize part of being a sports fan, it would be it would be weird if we did not have this conversation, if we said, you know, there are three pretty good and LeBron and Jordan are both amazing players, why do we have to decide who’s better? There would be something inconsistent with being a sports fan to to make that sort of a concession. So I understand why we have this goat conversation. But, yeah, I mean, I don’t know what you do if you’re a Federer fan right now, because empirically it’s getting really, really difficult.
S2: Just logoff basically like I
S3: don’t want any more
S6: logoff or else just really stress that which cannot be measured. And he’s he’s a dignified guy who plays beautiful, graceful tennis. But I don’t know how far that gets you at the bathroom.
S3: I don’t know that it matters. I mean, I just feel
S2: like when matter
S3: Stefan when
S2: possibly matter more
S3: three these three tennis players, it is just the craziest 20 years because I mean, if you eliminate any one of them from life, they weren’t born.
S2: Wow. OK, does
S3: you know
S2: which one are you eliminating really. Which one do you not want to
S6: have been born. Baby, you
S3: can rotate probably Djokovic you all hit Djokovic. I mean if you eliminated one of them from this to somebody have twenty five thirty majors is, is that dominance the only thing we should be celebrating and discussing that it is just ridiculous that these three men have so overwhelmed all the other men that play the sport for so long. That’s what I always come back to. And maybe that’s because I’m a Federer fan. So it’s my way of accepting that Federer is not going to win this goat conversation.
S6: No, I think you’re right. I mean, just statistically, it is comical and there’s no sign of it ending, too. I mean, Federer broke through in twenty three at Wimbledon. We’re going on almost twenty years of this and it just keeps going. And I part of me wonders, you know, you sort of take inventory of the moment and it’s amazing that you have three guys who right now have fifty nine majors among them. I don’t know what happens to tennis when I see a kid saying, well, he wasn’t so good. He only won like six or seven majors. Dad, I mean, I wonder the expectations that are being set here. But, you know, I mean, there’s a lot going on. Part part of this is the best of five format where as we saw yesterday and as we saw in the fourth round, the other guy can get hot for an hour or Djokovic can can pace himself and ration his energy. I think it’s not insignificant how much money these guys make. And they can staff themselves with full teams and they can they don’t have you know, they’re not waiting in line for the Hertz counter, but they’re also not playing every event, even if you account for all of that, the fact that three guys are playing simultaneously that are ritually winning every single one of these I mean, since since the Obama presidency, only one guy has broken through who’s not in the big three and won a major. And that was when two of the three didn’t show up. And Djokovic hit the woman in the, you know, in the throat with the ball. So this. This. Level of collective during a pandemic, during a pandemic. Exactly, that was that was the the one time a member outside the Big Three has won a major. So it’s you know, we’ve sort of exhausted testicles. How to make the case that this concentration is absurd. We’ve exhausted the vocabulary and
S2: Del Potro when the US Open during the Obama presidency, you
S6: know, since since the Obama presidency, since the U.S. Open. Twenty sixteen. So since since Trump got it. Nevermind that’s how back we’re going anyway. That Andy Murray grabbed a couple and stand of Rinka got three in Del Potro in 2009. But in Marin Chelate still won the twenty fourteen. But I mean literally three, three guys have won the overwhelming proportion of majors played in the last 20 years. There are only 40 of these a decade and these guys have won 59.
S2: I don’t want to get her name wrong. So the pronunciation wrong. So can you name that the woman who won the French Open
S6: place, Barbara Reggie Kova singles and doubles. I’ll have you know.
S2: So here’s a kind of nerdy question like the last eight winners on the women’s side. You’ve got some like all time greats in there. And also you’ve got Ulyanovskaya, Pinchao, but Maria Sharapova, Serena, Carbapenems, the US thinkorswim. And how about Sparty, you guys, far Tack. And then our recent Eriksen winner. Why does it seem like, John, back in my day you had a Rancho Sanchez Vicari, you had like the the woman like Queen of Clay. No, not like on a Rafa level, but like, why is it that there aren’t women, it seems like to me, who, like, dominate on clay in the same way that there are men who dominate on clay?
S6: That is a great question. But I do wonder if Rafa Nadal isn’t in the conversation. Does the men’s draw look similar? I mean, go back and look at who the men’s winners were before Rafa arrived on the scene. And it’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and it’s Al Costa and know Gaston Gaudio. Gaston Gaudio won the French Open the year before Nadal streak began. So, I mean, I do think the dollar sort of distorted this. It is interesting, though. I mean, part of it is I think that the the clay of today is not necessarily the clay of the nineteen eighties and nineties when
S2: they don’t make the clay like they did when we were a kid. Stefan.
S6: Well, it wasn’t bricks the way it was when we were kids. Exactly. You know, sometimes you say drawers were wide open coming into this event you had. You know, you had our party was playing wonderfully, you had Naomi Asaka is not going to play Clay Court is a step down, but she’d won her last 14 matches and majors. You had the defending champ last year from seven Tack was coming and playing. Well, the notion that a player who was unseated would take the title was unthinkable two weeks ago. It did seem like women’s tennis was settling. And you had this this group of maybe six or eight players that were really establishing themselves. And this year, none of them got out of the first few rounds.
S2: It’s it’s funny. Like, back to the big three thing for a moment, Stefan. It just feels like at every major, it’s always like this is this could be a changing of the guard moment. And like on the women’s side, I was like, you know, at the midpoint of last week, I was like, all right, we’ve got to be prepared. Coco Golf is like first major like that. We should think about what to write or how to cover. And that obviously went down the tubes in the quarterfinals. But on the men’s side, it was, like I mentioned, Del Potro because they kind of had Del Potro on the brain, like it seemed like maybe this is the 2009 US Open thing where it’s like a coronation. And then this guy and his first major comes in and announces himself. And it just seems like every time we savvy tennis watchers think we know what’s going to happen or see, like the change coming around the corner, it’s just like, nope, not this time.
S6: We have over we oversell it in both directions. Right. So if the women had a little more of the men’s predictability, you would probably be a good thing. And if the men’s had a little more of the women’s whimsy, that would be a good thing that every event we say is this the time when the new generation finally assert themselves and we have regime change. And on the women’s side, we probably oversell, oh, we have this the solid PAC at the top and now we’re finally going to see some order restored.
S2: And, well, we know Soccer Player plays, she wins. I mean, that’s not that’s pretty orderly
S6: on hard courts,
S2: on hard courts.
S6: But but yes. But yeah, you’re right, John.
S2: We’ve we’ve put you to work today. We appreciate it.
S6: Always happy to talk tennis. It’s got
S3: to work for the free publicity for your
S6: book. No, exactly. This this is the worst idea. If you have the same thing, the worst part of the process, the writing process, I have no issue with it. It’s the marketing and promotion that you wish you could subcontract. So I appreciate you. If somebody else wanted
S2: to write a book for me, I’d be happy to promote it. Actually, that you seem like a strange strain on things. But look, it’s your journey. So congratulations on the book and sorry, sorry to put you through the wringer, but its glory days. Thank you also to Slate plus members will be back
S7: for more next week.