The Move Back the Pitcher’s Mound Edition

Listen to this episode

S1: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.

S2: Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis on Slate’s sports podcast, Hang up and listen for the week of May 3rd, twenty twenty one on this week’s show. It’s a guest Fast Master testifies in a Bleacher Report, will help us deconstruct the NFL draft. Ben Lindbergh of the Ringer will tell us why moving the pitcher’s mound back by one foot would be a good move for Major League Baseball. And finally, Rebecca Schoeman. We’ll explain why the unitard might replace the Liotard in women’s gymnastics and why that’s a big deal. I’m the author of the book Word Freak and a few Seconds of Panic. I’m in Washington, D.C. We are mixing and matching. This week, you’ll hear Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor, author of The Queen, host of Slow Burn Season four on the baseball and gymnastics segments. But you won’t hear his voice in this introduction or in the NFL chat. Slate staff writer Joel Anderson, the host of Slow Burn Season three and the upcoming Season six, will be audible in both of those. He’s in Palo Alto, California. What’s up, Joel? What’s up, stuff? You know what? Last week, Josh did say that we were going to continue to challenge our listeners. You know, we’re just going to throw them off and knock them off balance, see if they can readjust, get used to all the different voices and people. It’s a little like a way station. Now, the podcast is a way station. I think they did really well last week. So I think we’re upping the challenge here. I think it’s important to you got to keep challenging the listeners. That’s why every week, you know, this is what is it like your muscles, you know, saying you just can’t let them get used to the exercise. You’ve got to switch it up on them. That’s how you get growth. And we’ve also got two producers this week, Margaret Kelly and Jasmine Ellis and Jasmine with her first piece for Slate. Jill. Oh, that’s right. We got to insert some, I guess, Jasmine, we hate to make you insert your own applause, but you’re going to have to do it because it’s a big deal. So that’s great. You should check it out. It’s about the Oscar nominated short love song for Latasha. Isn’t that right, Jasmine? Yes, that is correct. Well, yes. So she’s very busy producing the show. But congrats to Jasmine. Please check that story out. It’s going to be great. Very proud of her, very excited for her to get that first byline up the way to so. For the last couple of months, it had been conventional wisdom that the twenty twenty one NFL draft would start with the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and then the New York Jets would take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. And of course, that’s actually what happened in the draft Thursday night. But the real intrigue of the night started with the third pick where the San Francisco 49ers moved last month in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. That move publicly signaled that the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan, were looking for the future franchise quarterback. And the subsequent speculation centered on two prospects Matt Jones of Alabama and Justin Fields of Ohio State. But in a trade that showed Shanahan is as good at misdirection in the so-called war room as he is on the sideline, the 49ers surprised almost everyone with their choice of Trey Lansford, North Dakota State. If anything, that pick in particular exposed so much of the predraft chatter and reporting for the unsourced bullshit that it is to talk about that move and the rest of the draft we’ve invited on Massachusetts. Fazzio Masta is host of the Great Untold Story series and a senior writer for Bleacher Report. And he used to be the NFL beat writer at The Washington Post, and he lives in Dallas right now. I’m not gonna hold that against him as a Houstonian, you know what I’m saying? But he lives in Dallas. But thanks for coming on with this, master.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Absolutely. I mean, it’s great to live in the best city in the states that we all can be from.

S2: This already was a mistake having him on. But so so Masters, should we have been surprised by the forty Niners pick there on Thursday night, or was it even a folly to try to guess at this in the first place?

S3: I mean, there was so much smoke that it was hard to understand what direction they would really go in. And Trey Lance or even just the fields would have made the most sense considering what that system is, the offense, having someone that could do all of those misdirections, those plays, a cow Shanahan loves and scheme up, it was clearly a better fit than Mac Jones was, a little bit more traditional, a save conservative pick that essentially it’s hard to understand what would be the upgrade between his ceiling and Jimmy Garoppolo ceiling, which I think we kind of all understand what Jimmy Garoppolo is capable of doing, or better to say what he’s not capable of doing. And you would you would have had a similar scenario, Matt Jones, where there’s not much there’s not a higher ceiling for him as there is for someone like Trade Lance, who is extremely athletic, who’s capable of a strong arm, capable of doing all the misdirection plays that the council is looking for and even finding other ways to kind of be more innovative in this space as we’re seeing other NFL teams start to catch up with what Carson and Sean McVay, Matt LeFleur have brought into the NFL, incorporating these spread offenses, that Joel, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Texas the state of Texas high school football really started and has transferred over to college, and now we’re starting to finally see it seeping in into the NFL. So it makes a lot of sense. They’re in a position now with Jimmy Garoppolo where they can just let free Lance, who’s young, he’s inexperienced. They can let him just grow and develop and allow Jimmy Garoppolo to kind of serve as a bridge QB until Trey’s in a position that they feel comfortable with throwing him out there. And there’s even some people thinking that he could potentially be better to start off on the weak one. I don’t know if honestly, I am one of those people that think that he should start immediately and right away. But you have the flexibility and options to do so on that training. Can’t figure all that out.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: He’s got such a great back story to this kid. I mean, this guy, you know, he went to a high school in rural Minnesota that ran a wing offense. They blew everybody out. He didn’t get many looks for four colleges for D1 schools. He ends up at at North Dakota State, where Carson Wentz had played. I mean, this guy was getting like recruited by Brown and Cornell. And I know, you know, no shade against Brown and Cornell. He only got one offer at Boise State. And he goes there and Red Shirts wins all sixteen games, which no team has done since like 1894 when Yale did it. Another Ivy League shout out here. And then covid plays one game last fall. So the rap against him was not a lot of film. We really can’t tell. He is young, he’s big six for twenty five, but he’s hard to program. But it seems like this is the kind of quarterback that damn you want to draft. Hi.

Advertisement

S3: Yeah, absolutely. And someone like him again with a guy like Shanahan who can help grow, develop, you know, a quarterback like that who has all the skill sets, he has all the tools, the capabilities. I’m really excited to see at what point does he really turn up and they really start him in messing with what the weapons and the offense that the forty Niners have and how much fun that has been with I mean, they’ve thrown in like six or seven different quarterbacks in that position. And somehow some way all those random backups groups have been able to find some level of success. And you get a guy that’s probably the most talented quarterback that the Cowboys ever had and wait till top priority three since.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah, I’ve got to say. RG three. Well, hold on. Hold on real quick, because you’re being really credulous of a dude who played at a school that is essentially the Alabama of its level. Right. So sure. So so try. Is a great athlete, like I’m not taking that away from him, but he also played in a team that has all the same advantages, I guess a lower level of competition the Jones had, you know what I mean? Like like I play the pro style, right. So people think the knock on back channels and God forbid me, I’m not defending Rodenbeck Jones. Like, I don’t think Mike Jones is going to be great in the NFL. But the argument against Mike Jones is that every time he goes out and plays, he’s got an advantage everywhere on the field against his opposition. But the thing that you can always go back and say, well, at least he’s playing against SEC defenses, right? So he may have advantages, but those advantages aren’t quite as exaggerated on that level because he’s going against Georgia, LSU, whatever, whatever. But Trey Lance played on that version at the Fox level. He had all the advantages, pretty much every skill group along the lines and excelled. But it was against FC as talent. So like, why should we believe that Trey Lance is going to be like this is just remarkable to me that this dude came from nowhere from the FCS level dominated one year and it was already the number three pick then. It does seem weird, like, you know what I mean? Like, why is everybody so credulous Australians?

Advertisement

S3: Yeah, I can understand that perspective on that. I think there’s a lot of I’m not sure kind of where this has happened, where before there has been this D2 kind of why is this even in consideration? That’s for some reason like that. That perception is kind of those walls have come down where people have been more open to outside power five conference kind of players and being mindful of the fact that the skill sets that they have and plus the NFL just being more open to guys who had success and spread and pro style offenses, but also the RPO style that we’re starting to see in the NFL. And I think that’s where the hope and optimism is at, is seeing the town, seen the athleticism and seeing the potential that he has within an RPO scheme that I don’t think you see with Matt Jones. You know, and to a certain extent, you know, there were some some scouts and breakdowns within him that talked about how, you know, he’s slow to get the ball out on RPO situations at Alabama that that I don’t think you’re going to have necessarily the same concerns with Trey. But that’s that’s where the potential hope lies for me

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: before we get too far down the rabbit hole of sort of projecting every guy that gets drafted as a Hall of Famer, I think it’s important to point out just how inexact the science is of of picking quarterbacks, because this was a quarterback having draft. Right. There were five quarterbacks taken in the top, what, fifteen picks. None of the twenty two quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2009 and 2016 are going to be with their teams come a fall. And if you look at that list, which I just did. Are you bleeders like three of the twenty two are quarterbacks that we’re going to remember Matt Stafford, long career, one team, huge numbers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, I mean, maybe Ryan Tannehill if he continues to succeed going forward. But everybody else I had Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, I mean, it is not exactly, you know, murderer’s row. And this is a this is this is a disease that afflicts the draft every year. But it’s especially relevant to this position because the idea of a franchise quarterback has become such a potent idea in the NFL that every team picking one feels like it has to justify that they’re picking the next franchise guy.

Advertisement

S3: It’s even more hilarious when Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were just traded. And then we spent all this time during their, quote unquote, era of being drafted talking about how the quarterback should take up the most percentage of the cap. And the Rams apply that same logic. The Eagles did trading up, getting assets, deciding them to extensions all for what you know, for ultimately to trade them away for fifty percent of what you got back in return on investment. You’re right. It’s there’s no science behind this thing. As a B writer, basically, it’s very obvious and clear that the draft is just selling hope and optimism to a very hopeless fan bases. And and this this this cycle of purgatory just continues year after year after year where, you know, you could go down every single position and say that. But obviously, the quarterback being the most valuable, quote unquote, position on the field, that’s probably the most logical sense in a very logical process, because I hate the draft personally. I think it’s a system that should not be happening, to be honest with you. I think it’d be much better to do some sort of free agency where if your team stinks, you have more cap or more salary available to spend on quote unquote, draft free agents. And the NFL oftentimes has a ranking system in which they judge to help the prospect better understand if you’re going to be a first round pick, if you’re going to be day to guy, or if it’s best to stay in college using that same system to create tiers between, you know, A, B, C and D and allowing teams that stink, being able to spend more money into your AI so they have some sort of leg up because who would want to go to Jacksonville? You’re not being paid properly.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: So that’s say context in Jacksonville.

S3: Exactly. You know, I’m making more money in Jacksonville, North Bay State taxes. OK, you can entice me. Maybe maybe I’ll pass it on L.A., you know, but beyond that, it’s just a crap shoot and it’s literally watching the lottery being played every single year where it’s it’s best for a teams approach to just have a thought process of accumulating as many draft picks as possible because you’re not going to hit as often as you are going to hit.

S2: Yeah. And also, I mean, it just feels like every year people sort of lose their mind over quarterbacks. Right? Like, you don’t mean like nobody thought Matt Jones was going to be a top fifteen pick coming into this year. Absolutely not. Right. And and so I guess maybe what sort of frustrating to be is that? Like I heard, there was chatter that, oh, yeah, next year’s draft class of quarterbacks is not going to be very good because, you know, all these guys come out. But we’ll just create a Mack next year, right? We’ll create a banjoes out of nothing. We’ll create even a Cal Trask, a dude who really didn’t have that much of a draft profile a couple of years ago. All of a sudden being a dude that somebody was considering, you know, within the top two or three rounds. Right. It’s like we’ll never run out of hope and trying to elevate these prospects. So, like, why you don’t mean, like, I guess like it just teams forget and they go on a run and they’re like, oh, I got to get this guy this year. But why? Because I might even be a guy you that sold on and you could always come back at it next year. That’s the thing that sort of frustrates me. I’m like, you guys forget this every year. Like, why are you panicking that you might miss out on Matt Jones? You’ll get a Mack Jones next year. Amnesia is one of the main ingredients of the NFL draft, of course. Look, there’s one quarterback we have not mentioned, and that’s Justin Fields from Ohio State fell to 11th with the bears. The bears traded up to get him. And, you know, going into this draft back in January after Fields declared that he was going to come out early, Mel Kiper of the ESPN had him as the number two quarterback behind Trevor Lawrence. And then there were the kinds of whispers and anonymous sourcing that you get with black quarterbacks still today. And I wonder if you guys saw that. I mean, is Justin Fields getting was Justin Fields getting unfairly damaged and his his reputation slandered in the lead up to this process? Mark Tanzy Johnson, I thought, did a really good piece in The Undefeated examining this question.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I clearly thought so. I mean, I was I don’t say up in the air in terms of what his prospects were throughout his past season, but I had thought those questions would be erased. After his six touchdown performance against Clemson, the Sugar Bowl, Amare Mitchell. We were texting back and forth in that game and it was just we were blown away by what he was capable of doing against a team that was sending a lot of pressure and obviously has a ton of athletic guys on defense. And he was just ripping them apart. And if that wasn’t the most clear example of what he’s capable of doing in the NFL, I didn’t know what else would be. And despite the fact that he had that level of performance, him sliding out outside of the top 10 to other guys in which we mentioned that have similar skill sets and similar ceilings, as we talked about with free lance trailers, has never been on that kind of stage before and put up that kind of performance. And so how how do you justify one going third overall and the other one going 11th? And, you know, we’ve been talking about Zach Wilson, which I don’t know what he’s going to be, and he’s just doing just all projection. And somehow some way he was able to curtail all the draft criticism and critiques and slide into that number two overall pick with no questions asked. I think that’s where the clear juxtaposition exists between when you see Zach Wilson being able to to coast and right up to number two overall pick and someone like Just Fields who’s had to work twice as hard to get to a position that he’s in and still not being able to be in a position where he can get drafted within the top five or even top ten.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: You know, Joel, what if Justin Fields had said as or train Lance, for that matter, had said, as Trevor Lawrence did, that I don’t need football to make me feel worthy as a person or it’s not like I need football for my life to be OK or I don’t have this huge chip on my shoulder that everyone’s out to get me. And I’m trying to prove everybody wrong. I think the double standard would have been pretty clear there. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there would have been a lot of questions about his work ethic and his commitment to the game and whether he’d be willing to be one of those first guy and last guy out, as opposed to the narrative about him, which was last guy in first guy out before. Like that was one of the narratives that was actually out there about Chesterfield’s. And it was later, you know, sort of dismissed. But I mean, that was the thing that comes up and it always comes up with black quarterbacks. And I think what’s really interesting about just the fields is that I’d heard of Justin Fields since he was a junior in high school, which is something that’s very rare. So he was identified years ago as one of like a generational type of prospect. He did nothing in college to disabuse anybody of that that assumption. Right. Like he was as good as everybody said he was. And it still didn’t matter when it came down time like he was still a first round draft pick. But I mean, I think we know that there’s a difference between being number two in number eleven. Right. So I think that was like really frustrating to watch. But I mean, we you know, we’re sort of used to that. And I don’t like kind of like say I don’t know how trillionths got in there under that, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t know. I don’t know how he sort of avoided that narrative. And I don’t know if it’s because he’s from Minnesota and played at North Dakota State. And so, like, maybe the scrutiny of him isn’t quite the same, but I don’t know. But does one quarterback we also have talked about who didn’t get drafted, but he also sort of like controlled the first night of the draft, Aaron Rodgers. Right. And the 49ers, who in the end said that they definitely wanted to balance it. It came out that they hit, you know, kick the tires and five Aaron Rodgers was available. So what message do you think that Aaron Rodgers will be playing for the Packers next year?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Man, I sure hope for the Packers like he is. If not, I mean, I’m not a Jeopardy watch person, but I am sure it’s hard to

S2: think about Aaron Contrarian here and say he wasn’t even that good hosting Jeopardy. He’s got to like the athlete. You know, he’s got the great inflation,

S3: the bravado of a he didn’t seem like he had the fluidity that you’re looking for now, but

S2: now his motion was not good. I you know, I don’t think you have the you know, the vocal strength.

S3: I will say the ratings will definitely be very high if he if he does retire and ends up being this Jeopardy! Host replacement. And I hate to say this man, but Petty Aaron Rodgers is my favorite. Aaron Rodgers. Because you love. Oh, I love this man, like beat, like people doubting you and you being able to prove him wrong and now being in a position where they’re not expecting or anticipating you to realize and recognize all these people didn’t believe in you. So you’ve got a situation where the Packers drafted, quote unquote, his replacement last year in Jordan Love. And now they drafted they traded up to get him. And the issue with Aaron Rodgers is that they didn’t tell him that they were going to do this. And so Aaron Rodgers was coming off of for Aaron Rodgers saying a down year the previous year, he comes back, grabs his ass off, ends up having an MVP performance. And it was very clear that Aaron Rodgers is here to stay. Now, he’s in a position where he’s trying to reportedly based off Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! Sports report. He’s reportedly trying to get Brian Nichols fired, the general manager who made this decision and was basically in a situation where he wanted to get Aaron Rodgers replace or start the succession process for Aaron Rodgers. And Aaron Rodgers ain’t having none of that. So now we’re in a position where, you know, Brian Murphy has to choose between Aaron Rodgers or his general manager. And I feel bad. I feel sorry for that man because I think it’s very clear what decision you need to make. But and that’s keeping Aaron Rodgers. You’d be you’d be foolish and stupid getting rid of him, especially after the draft now.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: And he does have some leverage, right? I mean, Carson Palmer went through this. Agents and players can refuse to show up at camp, absolu can force a trade. I mean, this would not be unprecedented.

S3: And we’re looking at a situation scenario where Tom Brady is setting the precedent for a lot of quarterbacks and a lot of athletes, to be honest, to to kind of follow the NBA footprint of athletes speaking out and being able to dictate and control their careers. And so you’ve seen a couple other quarterbacks attempt to do that this offseason. But as you said, I don’t think there’s there’s a quarterback that has more leverage in this situation than Aaron Rodgers to either force his way out of there or even retire because of the other options he has available off the field. That would be just as enticing for someone like Aaron Rodgers, who is, again, as petty as he is. He is a mystery as well in terms of what his interests are and his personality and his persona, that this is so fascinating for me and I’m so glad we get to talk about this all summer, because I do not want to talk about all the other nonsense that comes along with the NFL offseason after the draft.

S2: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, I mean, we got to pretend that like we know who the hell Roger Moore is. He’s absolutely he’s the next Tyreek Hill, you know.

S3: Yeah. Sky high bar high right now.

S2: Right. Well, we’ll see. We’ll see. But not with with Aaron. I think the thing is and we talked about this because we kind of we you and I, we talked Texan about this with the James Harden thing. I think any superstar that wants to make it messy for their franchise when he’s ready to go, you can do it. You know, I’m saying and like, it’s it depends what your what your appetite is if you’re a franchise, what your appetite is for that attitude. You know, I mean, if if the Packers he, Aaron Rodgers, can put the pressure on and make it uncomfortable for him, you know, do you hate the draft for the same reason I hate the draft is because it’s a restraint of trade and these guys can do better in a system like the one you described or also just that it’s ridiculous.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Yeah, or that’s part of it. But also, like I was really excited about this draft. There was a lot of mystique and intrigue. It’s very boring to watch like it drags out. I mean, you start off with a thirty minute presentation of Roger Goodell’s leather couch that he sat on last year in a quarantine draft, Kings of Leon, which I’m not familiar with that kind of music. And I was not aware that they’re still relevant. They saying the Negro national anthem, which was very off key, they did all of this leading up to a Trevor Lawrence picked and they milk it out for the whole ten minutes of the pig. It’s it’s ridiculous. Like there was maybe a good thirty minutes of drama that existed between the Cowboys and the Bears trading up to get Chesterfields. Outside of that, I was I was incredibly disappointed. I’m in a position where I have a great deal of decision fatigue from all these different streaming platforms and don’t know what I want to watch. I wanted to watch something that I felt I could entertain me. And I was disappointed once.

S2: The ratings don’t lie, though, Master. And that’s the problem here. I just as soon go back to the times when it was a bunch of dudes in a room with, like, you know, the helmet phones.

S3: Unfortunately, it’s still a bunch of dudes in a room if we’re getting back to the core of it and bring back the helmet. Fun. Yeah, yeah. Bring back the Eminem’s bring back the helmet phones, like at least have some of that in there. But it’s still a

S2: like I watch the video of the Patriots draft room that was the most boring two minutes of video I’ve ever seen. And not only was it a bunch of dudes, it was a bunch of white

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: dudes as the other thirty one teams can also probably relate to as well.

S2: I was more boring. Aaron Rodgers on Jeopardy! You’re watching the NFL draft.

S3: That’s what used to. But I don’t want anybody like that.

S2: I’d watch Jeopardy! You know, the NFL draft is way worse. Yeah, Jeopardy. I mean, somebody like me who buys every little draft guy that you can get at a bookstore, the bookstore, whatever, you know, you’d like the Aslan’s, whatever. I buy those every year and I still can never make it past, like, you know, pick eight like that. I’m just like I think I think I’ve done here.

S3: I’ve gotten enough hope. There’s more hope in the draft than Obama’s presidential campaign. Like, it’s that’s that’s really how it’s done every single year and it’s done successfully. So good for them.

S2: Well, unless you’re a Houston Texans fan. Yeah.

S3: Why would you have hope in Houston? That’s that’s a great question that will never be answered.

S2: Great time to get m. out of here. Thanks very much for joining us. Check him out. Untold stories. The Bleacher Report does great interviews with draft prospects to late into the draft. Please check him out and we’ll have you back on, hopefully talk about something a little bit more substantive than the draft.

S3: It sounds good. Appreciate you guys, man.

S2: Coming up next, we’ll talk to Ben Lindbergh of the wringer about a bunch of rule changes in baseball, including the possibility of moving the pitcher’s mound back. It was a sportswriter who noticed that baseball had two very big problems, too many strikeouts and not enough offense, and suggested moving back to the mound to end the pitcher’s baneful dominance as the kingpin and controlling factor in the game. The writer wasn’t Ken Rosenthal or Tom Verducci or Meg Rowley. It was Francis Richter, the editor of Sporting Life, and he was writing in November of 1892. I’m going to read a little more of Rechter here. With the pitcher reduced to the ranks, nine men instead of two will play the game. There will be a market increase in that future. So dear to the popular, hard, clean, hard hitting, less pitchers, intimidation of the batsmen and fewer chances of injury to the batter, more baserunning because of the greater number of men to reach Bass’s more brilliant fielding because of the increased number of chances for the infielders and outfielders. More swing, dash and go to delight the spectators for whom the magnate’s should legislate. Our friend Ben Lindbergh of the Ringer and the podcast Effectively Wild, included that fantastic history and a definitive piece in March about the potential impact in today’s game of making pitchers throw from farther away. Ben is here with us. Hey, Ben.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Hey, isn’t it great to have Mr. Rechter to cite all these years later? Somehow it’s more persuasive when you can cite someone saying the same thing people are saying now, but more than a century ago.

S2: All right. So the mound was moved back. Spoiler alert, five feet in 1893 to sixty feet six inches. And that’s where it stayed. Ever since this summer, though, the independent Atlantic League, with approval from Major League Baseball, will push it back one more foot. Let’s start with the problem then. It is kind of hard to imagine a dude in flannels and a handlebar mustache throwing from the same distance as Shohei Ohtani. So how out of whack are what Frances Richter called the two great principles of the game attack and defense

S4: more than ever? Frances Richter would be appalled, I think. But what we’re seeing now, because the league as a whole is heading to 32 right now with a three oh nine on base percentage and a three eighty nine slugging percentage. So this is making 1968, the year of the pitcher, look like a high offense era. We are seeing strikeouts in twenty four point five percent of plate appearances. So basically a quarter of plate appearances now are ending in strikeouts and that rate has increased now for more than fifteen consecutive seasons. So it seems pretty clear that this situation is not going to resolve itself because pitchers are throwing harder and harder and they’re bigger and bigger. You know, they’re much larger than they were when Frances Richter was writing in the 19th century. So they are not only throwing much harder than they were then or than they were a decade ago, for that matter. But they’re also bigger and they’re releasing the ball closer to home plate. And so it only seems sensible to me at least to move them back a bit, to try to balance the scales a little bit, because it’s pretty clear that hitters can’t keep up. And you just watch the stuff that pitchers have now, how hard they’re throwing and how much movement they’re getting with spin rates that are higher and higher every season and more optimal pitch selection. So they’re just not just firing fastballs in, they’re in quote unquote, fastball counts. They’re throwing any pitch at any time and throwing their best pitches more often. So I don’t think there’s any way for hitters to keep pace other than actually adjusting the dimensions of something. Could be the strike zone, could be the ball, could be the field itself. And I favor the field option.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: You’re arguing for changing something that’s fundamental to the sport. Ben and I grew up kind of being suffused in the history and nostalgia of the game. And one thing that I just read, I can’t tell you how many times was how perfect the design of the baseball field was. And the 90 feet was the perfect distance between bases, I guess. Sixty feet, six inches seems a little less perfect because the hole six inches apart is kind of weird. But how kind of, you know, baked in still is this idea among stakeholders in the game in particular, like the people that would be in charge of of making a move like this, this idea that the field is perfect and that it’s just a fundamental part of the game that we shouldn’t trifle with?

S4: Yeah, there’s a lot of resistance to this proposal, and that’s why it hasn’t happened before now. In fact, MLB and the Atlantic League tried to implement this two years ago and they were planning on having it be a two foot move at that point. And there was so much resistance from the Atlantic League players that that ended up being scuttled. And so now so was the player.

S1: It was the players, not like the owners or the commissioner, I mean. You would think that the players don’t really care about the like the glory of the green grass and the sacred distance.

S2: Yeah, they care about they care about whether they’re going to blow their arms out more readily because of the psychology of thinking, oh, my God, I’m throwing from a foot or farther away or two feet farther away. What’s that going to do to my arm and my elbow? Yeah, there must be a big deal.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I mean, you’ve been doing this your whole life that from a certain place,

S4: there are multiple objections to it. One is just that it’s always been this way within living memory. And that’s the traditionalist stance. And then there’s the idea that, yes, maybe this will hurt pitchers. Now, I don’t think the evidence actually supports the idea that it will make pitchers more likely to get hurt. First of all, they’re getting hurt plenty as it is from 60 feet and six inches.

S1: So that’s very insensitive of you.

S4: But there have been studies done that have shown that it doesn’t actually significantly, measurably change your mechanics if you just move it back by a foot. You know, pitchers are throwing different distances as it is because catchers will set up at different distances behind home plate from pitch to pitch and from catcher to catcher. And really, you know, they’re throwing harder than they need to now. Like, if there were no catcher there, the ball would just go to the backstop on the fly. So it’s just sort of they’re throwing a certain distance or a certain speed and then the ball gets stopped at a certain point. I don’t think a one foot difference actually is all that meaningful when it comes to mechanics or how hard pitchers have to throw. And and there have been, you know, studies, as I said, where pitchers have been wired up and tracked and there’s no noticeable difference in biomechanics and maybe that’ll be different in games than it was in a study. And I would be in favor of testing this, not even in the Atlantic League, but in just some sort of non league scenario, you know, just set up a a lab and have volunteers come and say, hey, this is what we’re doing. And you can be aware of of the risks if you think there are any, just because you’re going to get a situation where pitchers will get hurt in the Atlantic League this year because pitchers will get hurt regardless of what you do. And if you’ve moved the mound, then they’ll be more inclined to say, oh, well, you hurt me, you moved the mound, and this is why I’m hurt, whether that’s the case or not. So I think that’s an issue as well. And there are also other legitimate objections to how this will affect hitters and how it will affect pitchers. You know, because, yes, hitters will get more reaction time, but breaking balls will move more. They’ll have more time to move in sync on the way to the plate. And so what will this do to wake rates? Will that offset somehow the added reaction time? I think that this will help hitters and it will produce the intended effect. And there are examples of this, like in the 19th century, you do have to go way back. But the mound distance or the pitching distance was moved three times back then. And each time it did increase contact and scoring. And this has happened in softball, you know, both at the high school level, at the NCAA level, women’s and men’s. And it’s been for the same reason that the mound has been moved and it’s had the intended effect. And when I was writing about this last month, we did a little test. I partnered up with Driveline Baseball, the player development facility, and they did some training scenarios where they just moved their pitching machine back by a couple feet and it did increase contact rates. And I think this is what would happen. But you do have to test it and it will be tested and then we will see what the effect is.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Let’s talk about another rule change that the Atlantic League is adopting this summer, and that is what’s being called the double hook DH where every team has a DH. So this would be American League National League. But if you remove your starting pitcher, you also lose the designated hitter. And the idea here being to encourage managers to keep starting pitchers in the game longer and also add a dash of strategy that people would complain would be eliminated from the game. If you just out of the DH to the National League to match the American League.

S4: Yeah, in principle, I like this because the purpose is to give managers incentive to keep pitchers and games, and I’m in favor of that. I think baseball is more entertaining when you have this constant character, you know, the starting pitchers, the protagonist of the game, and you get to see him go through lineups multiple times and, you know, maybe get tired and find ways around it and adjust his repertoire as the game goes on. So I enjoy that. But I don’t know that this will actually have that effect for a couple of reasons. I think, first of all, the reason why we’re seeing pitchers get pulled early in earlier primarily is that the stats show that they get a lot less effective each time they face hitters within a game, whether that’s fatigue or the familiarity or some combination of both. And I don’t actually think that this will dissuade managers from pulling them that often because the difference between, say, losing your DH and probably having a pinch hitter take the pitcher’s spot in the lineup, it’s just not that big a difference, whereas the difference between a tired pitcher who’s facing the lineup for the third or fourth time and a. Reliever is actually a much larger difference on the whole, so I don’t think analytically it would actually make sense to keep the pitcher in much longer because of this rule. And there’s also maybe the unintended effect, which is that if your pitcher is that pitching well and gets pulled, then suddenly you are placing that team that is probably already losing because the pitchers getting knocked around at an even greater disadvantage, because now you’re taking away one of their hitters. Right. And so I think this might have the effect of making games more lopsided and making comebacks less likely.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Picking up more offense, though, isn’t that what we want?

S4: Well, no offense. Or it could be pitchers actually hitting more because of this rule. I just I don’t know that I ever want to see pitchers hit at this point. And I know I’m anchoring the traditionalists in the audience, but I’m a pro DH guy just because pitchers are so incompetent at the plate these days. So anything that might increase pitchers hitting is something that I’m not sure I want to see at this point.

S1: So is there any sort of coherence if we look at all of these? Things that have actually changed or being proposed, I mean, there’s also the like ghost runner and extra innings that’s happening in the major leagues now. There are seven inning double headers. There’s the two things we’ve already talked about in this segment so far. There’s, you know, other proposals like, you know, if we want to get into the homerun derby in the Pioneer League, that might be a little bit unfair to lump that in. But this kind of it does feel fair to say that we’re in more of an era of experimentation than we were like five or 10 years ago. And that’s probably a good thing. But if we look at all of these proposals or changes together, then do you feel like it’s kind of like, let’s just throw things against the wall and we’re desperate to try to make our sport more popular? Or do you feel like there is like, let’s favor rules that do X and things are like kind of pointing in one direction, even if it’s like a broad, general direction?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Yeah, there’s clearly more of a willingness to do something, and I think that’s good. But I’m not sure that the something that they’ve picked is necessarily the thing that would have the greatest effect. And maybe that’s because the thing that would work would actually be one of the tougher things to sell, like moving the mound back. And if you have to convince the players to go along with this, then maybe it’s like, well, we’ll just do what we can and hopefully it will have some effect, even if it’s not confronting the real problem, like some of the things we’re talking about, the length of games, games are longer than ever. The average time of a nine inning game this year is three hours and seven minutes, which is tied with last season for the longest ever. And it seems like what they’ve decided to do is just, well, let’s lop off a couple innings, then let’s just make the games shorter sort of arbitrarily. And I know there’s kind of a pandemic aspect to that, but really it seems like, you know, we want to make the game shorter and we’ve essentially surrendered. We’ve just given up on the idea of improving the pace and just making games move more quickly.

S1: I mean, the issue the issue there is that you’re cutting the game off in the wrong place. Like if you knew a game was going an extra innings, you would cut off like the innings in the beginning of the game, not the end. What it’s more the most exciting. The problem the problem from a marketing standpoint is if you’re trying to say, like, OK, our big changes are that our sport is boring, so we’re going to give you less of it. Like, that’s that’s not a great sales job that you’re giving to the fans. And so I think you’re right that that issue isn’t that there’s too much baseball. The issue is that the baseball that exists isn’t exciting enough. But the thing that you need to do to fix that, I think, like you said, is probably harder to sell, harder to implement and maybe more risky.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: I think it’s doable, though. We don’t even have a pitch clock in the major leagues. It’s been tested for multiple seasons in the minor leagues, seemingly without incident. It actually helped and no one seems to mind it. But we still don’t have a pitch clock in the major leagues. We don’t.

S1: Do you think that is?

S4: I think it’s just a the kind of saying that there’s no clock in baseball. Right. Sort of that romanticism, just like the you know, we haven’t had it before. And also because I think pitchers don’t like it. Right. They don’t want to be rushed. They don’t want to feel like there’s a clock counting down. I think that might change as the younger generation comes up, having pitched with the pitch clock in the minors. And so they’re sort of used to it. But a veteran, you know, like if you give them a choice, why would they want to have a clock on there? I don’t think they mind as much if they’re taking more time between pitches because it actually helps them. I think there’s been some studies that have shown that pitchers throw harder when they can take more time to recover between pitches. So why wouldn’t they want to take that time? And hitters want to step out of the box and they want to adjust their batting gloves. And there are some rules on the books for those things that just aren’t enforced. And I think, as you said, it would be harder to enforce them than it is to just say, well, let’s just end games when they’re getting good. And I’m very anti I call it the zombie runner rule, not the ghost runner rule, but I’m very against that. And it just feels like giving up to me, really, that we haven’t even tried these very simple solutions. And instead we’re just seeing less baseball because we can’t improve the pace of the baseball that we have.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Right. And there are multiple problems here, though. So the pace is one thing. And, you know, the two things that make games longer are the two that we’ve just identified, the pitcher taking too long and the batter taking too long. Watch any game from thirty years ago or forty years ago and it just moves.

S1: That’s the right kind of nostalgia, Stefan.

S2: Yeah, yeah. That is the right kind of nostalgia. But there are other problems, too, that they’re trying to address. And I think this is fine. I mean, experiment, I don’t like banning shifts, but, you know, experiment with it if you think that it’ll help with with increasing offense, making the bases large. Or in which is happening in triple-A baseball this year is a safety measure, and that’s fine, you know, I don’t think any of us are really worried about now relief pitchers being required to face three batters before being pulled from the game, which was another test that another rule change that got a test run in the Atlantic League. The thing has been that that really interested me is that the fingerprints on all of these changes are Theo Epstein, the former Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox executive who is now working for the commissioner’s office. And Theo Epstein is someone that I think we would all trust with trying to figure out ways to both improve the game aesthetically and in terms of the length of play. Is that fair? And do you see Epstein as the sort of principal figure in trying to figure out how to fix baseball?

S4: Yeah, I like that idea. I’ve compared it to like a white hat hacker. Kind of like you bring in someone who has helped expose the flaws in the rules or exploit these problems and then have them fix your system. So that’s kind of what it would be to hire a successful GM who’s maybe exacerbated some of these trends that we’re talking about and then have him figure out how to fix them.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: And Epstein and Epstein has admitted that, right?

S4: Yes, right. And, you know, I think his loyalties may be sort of pulled in a couple of different directions because he does have ownership aspirations and is involved in investment groups that are getting involved with, you know, purchasing teams. And so he’s working part time for the league and maybe also hoping to springboard into owning a team. And then he’d be right back into doing the things that he was doing as a GM. So maybe he’s not a perfect person because of that. But I think he has the know how to do this. And I like that they’ve brought him on in that role and some former players as well. But a lot of these changes that we’re talking about, like like you, I’m fine with the three better minimum and I’m fine with the bigger bases. But these are changes just on the margins, like it’s not going to make much of a difference.

S1: One thing that interests me here, Ben, is the potential union politics of this. How might that play out with a rule change that would just so clearly advantage hitters over pitchers? Would that be something that would be really hard to overcome or just how would that play out within the players union?

S4: Yeah, it’s interesting because pitchers don’t want anything that will hurt pitchers and hitters don’t want anything that will hurt hitters. Although really like if you’re leveling the playing field for everyone, then in a relative sense, it shouldn’t actually matter that much. You know, seems

S1: like a hard argument to make. It does.

S4: Yes. Of hitters want to have flashy numbers and they want the ball took over the fence. And if it doesn’t, you can say, well, it’s not going over the fence for anyone else either. But that doesn’t really mollify them, I don’t think. And it does disproportionately hurt certain players more than others, depending on the shape of their production. But I think that’s one issue that you might have players divided. And then the other issue is that you might have players as a whole opposing some of these measures just because they’re OK with the way that the game works. And there is something in the current CBA that the commissioner can just sort of impose these rules, like he can notify the players that he’s making some change. And then if they don’t agree, then a year later they can just unilaterally do it, which is what happened with the three better minimum four pitchers. But when you’re talking about things that might have some health and safety component and you’re doing this against the backdrop of the CBA expiring this year and the fact that there’s more tension between labor and management than there has been in some time and there’s the prospect of a potential work stoppage, then do you want to inflame those tensions further when it comes to imposing some rule that players aren’t going to like? So the fact that MLB has a strong union, which I think is on the whole a good thing, in some ways it does make it a little harder for the sport to change. And I should say one more thing, which is that some of these rule changes that we don’t like, that fans tend not to like players like and the league likes. So when it comes to shortening games with the zombie runner rule or seventh inning games even, doesn’t seem like anyone involved in the games actually makes these things because they want to go home earlier. They don’t want to have the game that tires everyone out. And so we might not really have an advocate here in this negotiation because the stakeholders are in favor of these things, even if they’re arguably fan unfriendly.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Ben Lehnberg writes about baseball for The Ringer and talks about it on the podcast effectively while he’s also the author of The MVP Machine. And the only rule is it has to work. Ben, thank you so much for coming on the show again. Thanks, guys. Coming up next, the conversation with Slate writer Rebecca Shulman about the end, perhaps, of the gymnastics Liotard.

S1: The European Gymnastics Championships in Switzerland were potentially a massive moment in the history of the sport, and not just because Eleftheria Petronius of Greece won, the men still rings. Congratulations on that, Stefan. By the way,

S2: Eleftheria Petronius, it’s what I thought of the Rings. Josh, the Lord of the Rings. It was his fifth straight euro gold. Greek reporter Dotcom called him one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. And one of the greatest athletes in the world of sport.

S1: Seems like an unbiased source. All right. All right. The back to the topic at hand here. The biggest news of the championships was that three German women, Elizabeth Sites and Kimberly, were unitards instead of leotards. Rebecca Sumant wrote in her piece about it for Slate. This was a revolutionary site, particularly because those German women framed their move as a direct rebuke of sexualization in gymnastics. Rebecca, thanks for joining us.

S5: Super excited to be here, as always.

S1: Thank you. And just fill us in a little bit more on the background. What were the German women wearing? What did they say about it? And was it covered in Swarovski crystals?

S5: Well, I’ll do the last question first. Yes, it was extremely covered in Swarovski crystals. So what they were wearing is essentially just a long-legged version of what most elite gymnasts wear when they compete. So on the top, it looked just like your standard very blinky leotard. And then it just didn’t stop at the hips. It went all the way down to their ankles and it gave them this sort of full body, long line effect. It was actually it was really gorgeous. They all made posts about it on their social media accounts. And the sexualization was actually not the first thing that they said. What they said is that they wanted every athlete to have the choice to feel comfortable when they were competing. And they didn’t want and especially Elizabeth Seitz said, you know, I I want athletes to have another option if they’re feeling uncomfortable or even sexualized. So the sexualization was actually, you know, just part of a larger picture.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: And what you point out in your terrific piece, Rebecca, is that that the leotard isn’t peak performance where it’s about how coaches want the gymnasts to look. It’s how they you know, it’s for being looked at, not performing your best, right?

S5: That is correct. And I would actually even go one step further and say that it is how judges and the International Gymnastics Federation want gymnasts to look. And it’s sort of about a long standing culture of aesthetics where, as you know, women’s gymnastics started essentially as dance that had like maybe one forward somersault or like one cartwheel in it if you were going to be really flashy. But they were grown women whose bodies and fitness were on display. It started as just a as a display of their of their physical bodies and their physical fitness. And that’s essentially what they were judged on at the very start of gymnastics as an Olympic sport almost a century ago, as women’s gymnastics became more of an athletic feat and now is among the most athletic of all the feats somehow. Yes, OK, leotards have become stretchy and definitely shinier, but they haven’t become any more practical and they are other than being, you know, form fitted so that they don’t get caught while you’re doing skells. I would not consider a leotard to be optimal performance wear for gymnastics whatsoever.

S1: And you have first hand experience of this, right, Rebecca?

S5: I do. So I was a competitive gymnast for about five years and, you know, trained in gymnastics for on ten. And the way it goes at practice is you do a skill, you get a wedgie, you fix your wedgie, you do a skill, you get a wedgie, you fix your wedgie like you just get a wedgie. Every time you do the splits, every time you move. Having a super expensive, custom made leotard cut exactly to your proportions helps a little bit, but not as much as you might think.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: And can you just describe to the extent that leotards are useful in evaluating a gymnast performance or like why are they constructed in the way that they’re constructed? Because there is some sort of logic, even if it’s like a slightly twisted logic, right?

S5: Yeah, well, they are, especially if you’re in perfect elite shape. They’re very flattering. They make you look leggy. They make legs look long and strong. And so you want your legs to look long and strong, but you want your arms to look graceful. So the long sleeves also make arms look longer, but somehow. But they also obscure the incredibly jacked muscles that most elite gymnasts have. And so the result is to essentially make you look a little bit more like a ballerina, even though you’re doing all of these incredible feats

S2: and more specifically, particularly the cutouts on the legs have. Intent, both for aesthetics and for judging,

S5: yes, having your legs bare also makes it so that you can see for breaks more easily and the most form breaks in the code of points are generally in the lower body. It’s a foot flexed its well, I guess that would still be visible, but it’s a leg bent at any degree, its legs apart. It’s, you know, the leg not in the exact perfect position. And so when for the same reason that ballerinas wear tights that essentially match their skin color under their leotards when they perform, you want to be able to see the minutia of the legs and the muscles when you’re judging. However, as gymnastics has become less balletic in recent years and more emphasized on difficulty, I would argue that that is actually not as important as adherence to the leotard might think so.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Well, the German women kind of brought up the sexualization point, as you said, a sort of not the absolute main thing that they were arguing about. It does seem incredibly important to talk about it in relation to what these girls athletes in the sport are generally girls. Although, as you do note in your piece, elites are getting older in recent years. But these are outfits that call attention to girls butts and crotches. I mean, just to be as direct about it as possible. I mean, it seems incredibly fraught, particularly given what we know and I guess perhaps should have been paying attention to, moreover, over decades, just about sexual abuse in the sport.

S5: Yeah. So if you’re coming at gymnastics with your mind in the right place, basically the athletes should be able to compete naked like that would be the ideal, I guess, on some events, maybe not in bars. But, you know, you want to be able to see as much of the athlete’s body as possible just to see their alignment and where they are. But as we have seen in the last couple of decades, not everybody is coming in gymnastics from that point of view. And so, yes, the leotard itself is revealing, as you know, such no, you know, notable feminists as Jerry Seinfeld have reminded us. But it’s also just about not giving the young woman a choice of what to wear. That is in and of itself more endemic of the culture of sort of the predatory culture, the grooming culture, the culture that enabled abuse, the lack of choice as to what to put your body in and to how exposed you want to be when you go out there. That’s actually the thing. And I think that’s the thing that got a little lost in translation when people were translating what the German women were saying.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah. And the not only that, but the acceptance that this is the standard that you have to do this. If you want to be a an elite gymnast, you have to look this way for the judges, for the coaches and for the fans.

S1: It’s about control. Right. Like everything in the sport is about control.

S5: Control. Yeah. And nothing exemplifies that more than the notorious wedgie deduction. And that means that if your leotard creeps up, you’re behind in the middle of a routine. If you touch it, if you so much as touch it to adjust it, you will get anywhere from a two to five tenth deduction for like a behavioral violation or a tire violation from the judges. And that is akin to having like a serious knee bend or even like a fall where you don’t fall all the way like five tenths of a point is huge. That would be the difference between, you know, first and twenty fifth place.

S2: You’d point out in the piece that that gymnasts glue their leotards to their bodies to avoid that.

S5: Sometimes. Yes, it’s sort of a you know, there’s a lot in common with sort of the beauty pageant world as far as like spraying fixative on to your face so that your makeup doesn’t run and using extra super industrial strength hairspray. And part of that is also, yes, sometimes gluing or fixing your tired, your person.

S2: This does not seem like optimal for an elite athlete like you want to be wearing the clothing that allows you to perform at your best. I think, you know, I understand that there’s an adjustment here that this is what gymnasts are used to doing from the time they’re four and five years old. But in a perfect world where as the German women have advocated, if gymnasts could select what they wanted to wear without any fear of criticism from judges or coaches, what would they choose and what do they practice it?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Well, some would choose the Liow because it’s traditional and they look elegant and leggy in it, and they like the way it looks. Some would probably choose what they practice in, which is a tank sleeved either Leo or just a very fitted tank top with sort of short spandex shorts that cover their whole behind. That’s what gymnasts generally train and nowadays is sort of spandex shorts that look just. They like spandex athletic shorts for any other sport and a sleeveless top,

S1: one thing that you mentioned in your piece that I thought was really smart was that in track and field and in swimming, there has been more of a move towards full body gear for, I guess, aerodynamics and hydro dynamics. And it just again, emphasizes the point that you’ve been making about how gymnastics is in sort of a different category as a sport where performance isn’t the one and only consideration. I mean, like in track and field and swimming, the absolute only consideration is just going as fast as you possibly can. And so I do wonder if you think from a pure performance standpoint, as far as doing all of these incredibly taxing and athletic elements, do you feel like the full body? Outfit would confer the same kinds of advantages that it does in these other sports

S5: because it’s been used so little so far. That’s a little bit hard to judge. But I would say certainly from and definitely not. I mean, you know, aerodynamics are not as important as in gymnastics as they are in track and field, for example. But from a psychological standpoint, absolutely. For the young women who feel self-conscious in leotards, for the ones who don’t, then I don’t think it would make a difference either way. But for the ones who do, then I think it would make a huge difference. I mean, I remember being a gymnast and having gone through puberty and the meet’s where I would compete, where I was also on my period. I was not thinking about my routines. I did not think about my routines for a second. I was just thinking about like, oh, my God, everyone’s like, I’m on my period. Oh, my God. And that’s if I had been able to wear tights, that would have made it have been a game changer.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Well, just think of how many young women either don’t go into the sport or get pushed out of the sport because of feelings like whether that specifically or just other elements where you’re made to feel unwelcome because of the way you look or because of, you know, the things that a coach asks you to do, just any kind of element where you’re allowed to assert some amount of control over your own body, your own routine, anything I think would make to such a big difference.

S5: Yeah, absolutely. But it would be a big change in the culture. I mean, we’re talking about a culture that until very recently, really, like any time they went to their national training camp, they were starved. What they were eaten was watched very carefully controlled, made very unappetizing on purpose. So they’ve said and so their bodies were always looked at. Are you getting big? Are you getting are you gaining weight? Are you gaining weight? And so their bodies are so, so scrutinized. And it’s only in recent years, as more adult women have continued to dominate in gymnastics, that that has become less acceptable thing for coaches and national team coordinators and such to do. And so I think that this sort of wearing the unitard sort of goes hand in hand with being like, you know what, my body doesn’t actually belong to you. You can you know, you can coach me to have it do the things that we want to do to excel, but it belongs to me.

S2: You pointed out in the piece, Rebecca, that the the German women are elite. These are these are some of the the best athletes in certain disciplines in the sport, but that they’re not the Americans. They are not the most high profile athletes. And I’m I’m curious what the odds are of American athletes making this kind of move and piggybacking off of what the Germans have done here. Simone Biles, just dump Nike as her sponsor and move to the the women’s brand athlete of the business. Repercussions of her switching to a unitard would be off the charts as the message it would send to young girls and women who on BYLES has also said that that’s what she stands for and when wants to be a voice for.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Yeah, well, you know, Simone Biles has a very lucrative line of leotards as most professional gymnasts or former gymnasts do. And I think it would be a great business decision for her to add unitards to that line. I mean, that would be especially if she competed in one. If someone else competed in a single event at Tokyo wearing a unitard, it would change the sport for what people wore on it forever. But, you know, I think from what I’ve seen, some Bienne seems to feel pretty comfortable in LEOs. So that might not be something that she’s going to choose for herself. But there might be another gymnast on the US squad who either out of friendship with the German squad or just solidarity or just thinking it looks cool. I mean, the the reaction within the gymnastics community has been overwhelmingly positive. And so I would not rule out the idea that maybe someone on the US squad might wear a unitard for an event or two. But I would imagine they also probably have had their lives made for a while. And those things like, you know, custommade LEOs cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So it could go either way.

S1: I’m Rebecca. You are a German speaker and a huge gymnastic fan. And so you’re the target audience for the story. But I’m wondering how big of a story is this in gymnastics world? What are other gymnasts saying? And do you feel like I mean, the thing kind of overhanging this conversation is like this could be a big deal. Maybe like what will happen? Will we start to see other women competing in this or is it just really too soon to tell?

S5: I think we will. I think that they looked amazing. And so I think people were, you know, understandably a little bit hesitant to be like, is that going to make me look short? Is that going to mess up my lines? But their lines looked absolutely gorgeous. And so I think that, you know, everybody lots of high profile, Jim. Just like Dhanuka Francis, who’s a superstar in the U.K. and competing for Jamaican, the Olympics used to be a superstar for UCLA. She has come out and said she thinks it looks amazing. So I think, by and large, like every gymnast who has a leotard line is going to be like, I want a unitard right now because it’s more money. And it’s just, yeah, I think they generally find it pretty empowering. This was huge news in gymnastics. So, yes, the Greek gentleman winning the rings that the two big things out of Basel were that Nikita Negaunee did a triple back bike and that was off the hook. Unbelievable. And it was the German gymnast, LEOs. Those were the well and a couple of other things. But those were the two. The two, the two biggest ones. And so this was huge in gymnastics news. And it was also really huge news in a lot of international countries where women tend not to wear such revealing clothing. And it did sort of open the door for like it was really huge in the Times of India. Ran a big bit about it. And there are lots of young athletes in India who who are Muslim and are not going to want to compete in a leotard. So I thought it was very interesting.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Rebecca Schumann writes about gymnastics for Slate. Her piece headlined Is This The End of the Gymnastics Leotard? We’ll link to it on our show page. Rebecca, thanks so much.

S5: Thank you. It’s really great to be here.

S2: And now it is time for after bawls the first NFL draft, Joel was held eighty five years ago in February, nineteen thirty six at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Fancy, it was conceived by future Commissioner Bert Bell as a way for the nine team owners to stop getting into bidding wars with each other for the best college players. Of course, let’s restrain that trade. Joe, you know who the first pick was in the NFL draft? Was it that that Heisman guy from Princeton or something close? It was Jabor Wanger. Oh, the Philadelphia Eagles had the worst record in the league, so they got to go first. Berlinguer was an all-American from the University of Chicago, who has The New York Times wrote in his obituary, ran past, punted, kicked off, kicked extra points, blocked, tackled, caught passes, returned kickoffs, called the plays and played 60 Minutes a game. Wanger, a few weeks earlier had indeed won the award that a year later would become the Heisman Trophy. The AP reported that Berlanga immediately received interest from a half dozen NFL teams, but he didn’t accept any of them because he wanted to preserve his amateur status to try to make the nineteen thirty six Olympic team in the decathlon. Then the NFL came up with the idea of a reverse order of finish draft and the Eagles picked BR. Wanger and then hearing that he wanted a thousand bucks a game to play, which was about ten times the going rate the Eagles dealt his rights to the Bears. Wanger didn’t make the Olympic team in that Times obituary. He was quoted as saying that he asked the Bears for twenty five thousand dollars over two years and a no cut clause, and he was rebuffed by George Halas, the owner. Newspaper reports at the time said that the Bears offered thirteen thousand five hundred for one season. Pretty good. Berlanga, though, wanted fifteen thousand. And that was that. Berlanga took a job selling foam rubber. He never played professional football. I do want to note here, Joel, that in that Heisman voting, Berlanga finished ahead of Monck Meyer of Army Pepper, constable of Princeton, which is who you must have been thinking, of course, and William Shakespeare of Notre Dame. Wow. He went by Bell. His family claimed to be direct descendants of the other William Shakespeare, the football players, nicknames included, of course, the Bard of South Bend. And my favorite, The Merchant of Menace, Merchant of Venice, the Merchant of Venice. Notre Dame took a promo shot of Shakespeare staring at a football like he was Hamlet. Looking at your skull. Shakespeare was taking third in that nineteen thirty six draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. And like Burr Wanger, he didn’t think the money was good enough. So he never played in the NFL and he also worked in the rubber industry, rising to become the president of the Cincinnati Rubber Company Men Big Industry back in the nineteen thirties. Huge. It was like the plastics of the nineteen thirties. Yeah, absolutely. And I would like to argue that not playing football because the money isn’t good enough, something that people kind of making the league minimum might want to consider as well. Like I mean it’s football is hard. It had paid off Buddy for a lot of the devastation. I think it’s still true today. Yes. Joel, what’s your Jabor Wanger? Or maybe we should go with Merchant of Venice. What do you think? The Merchant of Venice time. Let’s go with Merchant of Venice. Joel, what’s your Merchant of Menace? So, yeah, my Merchant of Venice. So it’s hang up and listen, listeners likely already know. We talked last week with Joanna Harper, a leading researcher on transgender athletes at Loughborough University in England. Before and after her own transition, Harper was a highly competitive long distance runner give given her background as Joanna question last week that in its way was a little abrupt and a lot more dismissive than I intended. But the basic idea was that I wondered why people were trying to prevent trans girls from competing at the high school level. Who gives a fuck? Who wins high school athletics? Why don’t they want to show up and compete against whoever the fuck shows up? I said fuck a lot last week, apparently, but so Joanna gave a nuanced response to my question, both validating the concerns of people who priced high school athletic glory and arguing on behalf of a more inclusive approach to girls sports. As an athlete, Joanna said, the only thing you can control is your own performance. And I want to dig into that just a little because some of our listeners took umbrage with my comments last week. First, let me explain. I’ve been going to high school sports events ever since I was about eight years old when my father would scoop me up on Friday nights and take me to watch the big football game around town. I was a high school athlete myself, and if I do say so myself, I was pretty good at football and track and my memories of those days are some of the fondest of my life. And since I’ve become a professional journalist, I’ve covered high school sports for newspapers in Fort Worth, Shreveport and Tampa. My first real story for a national media outlet, BuzzFeed Sports, was about a big high school football game in Miami. I’ve seen what high school athletics can mean from giving underserved communities something to be proud of, to allowing some children a path into college that otherwise wouldn’t be available. And the games are meaningful to the people who play them in the communities to support them. I would never deny that. But what I was talking about last week was something else. Whether who wins those games matter. I was reviewing this website of the National Federation of State High School Associations. As one does the NFC a list. Its goal is ensuring that all all the emphasis mine here students have an opportunity to enjoy healthy participation, achievement and good sportsmanship and education based activities. All OK. I also found a piece on the site titled Why We Play the Purpose of Education based Athletics. In that piece, the associate director of the Minnesota State High School League said athletics and activities are the reason why kids show up. It’s the glue that connects them to their school. We have to realize it’s about purpose. It can’t just be about physical skill development and what could be more purposeful than connecting our trans boys and girls to their schools and communities, especially since we know, as research has shown, that transgender youth struggle with high rates of anxiety, depression and suicidality. So again, I ask why we shouldn’t prioritize protecting children as opposed to creating an artificially competitive environment. And I say artificially competitive because I know how L’Oreal do man. A lot of you would take your kids and place them in private school leagues or exclusive travel clubs or even arrange for expensive athletic training that is available for only the wealthiest among us. You can move into another district, you can send them to private boarding school, or you can pull them out and make them compete at a country club. You can make your son or daughter a winner if you really want to. But high school sports reflect the values of our communities. I’ve been to football stadiums as impressive as any colleges, costing as much as 70 million dollars. I’ve been to basketball gyms where they didn’t have air conditioning or set of visitors bleachers. At least one record setting relay team I covered almost twenty years ago didn’t have a track at its own school. They were forced to practice on a cinder track around their really unkempt practice football field. It was frustrating that this group of champions didn’t have the facilities that their talent would have seemed to deserved. But in the end, it didn’t matter. They showed up in spite of their particular set of disadvantages, and they competed anyway. That’s what high school sports is supposed to be about. But real quick, let’s go back to that case in Connecticut that we talked about last week, where a number of people filed a lawsuit last year trying to block a trans girl named Terry Miller and another named Andrea Yearwood from competing in track. One of the people who was part of that lawsuit was a girl named Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School. Mitchell claimed in filings that she should not have to run against trans competitors because and I quote, no matter how hard you work, you don’t have a fair shot at victory. Not long after filing that lawsuit, Mitchell beat Terry Miller twice in a span of eight days. She won twice. And as Joanna mentioned last week, it was Mitchell, not Miller Yearwood, who earned a scholarship to William and Mary. It’s also worth noting that last week a federal judge dismissed that case on procedural grounds because Miller and Yearwood graduated and the plaintiffs couldn’t identify any other trans female athletes. So I repeat my question. What are people really afraid of here? If you’re worried about something other than protecting the lives of children, then I suggest you’re scared of the wrong thing. I was great, Joel. I’m really glad that you addressed the issue. Both the high school sports question and the broader question of what the issues are here in terms of competition for the vanishingly small number of trans girls that are seeking to. At not just the high school level, but even younger. Yeah, absolutely, I just you know, you just heart just kind of goes out to the Millers in the yearwood’s of the world, man. Like they want to belong. They do belong. And they should be allowed to compete. And I’m sorry that I got so focused on saying, fuck, last week. Maybe my message got lost, so lost in the fucks. That’s our show for today. Our producers this week with Margaret Kelley and Jasmine Ellis was in the past shows and subscribe or just reach out to Slate that hang up and you can email us at hang out at Slate dot com and please subscribe to the show and wait and review us on our podcast for Joel Anderson and Josh Levine. Stefan Fatsis remembers Elmo, Baby, and thanks for listening. Hello, Slate plus members, thanks for being Slate plus members, Joel is here and he and I are going to talk about whether it’s time to go back to the ballpark stadium arena. I went to my first outdoor game, first activity, really. And it’s like we haven’t even gone to a restaurant and sat inside. I am double vexed and it’s been more than two weeks since I got my second shot. So I was invited on Sunday to go to the Washington Nationals Miami Marlins game at Nats Park here in D.C. Friends, kids, bar mitzvah. So instead of having a party, they invited a bunch of people to the ballpark, which was really nice. Yeah. So it was it was interesting. Joel, you know, what did you feel? I mean, did you feel pressured, like, let’s say that you had not had your second shot when you did, would you have gone? I don’t know that I would have gone had I not been two weeks clear of my second shot. You know, I’m definitely in the last couple of weeks. Since the shot, you know, feeling way more comfortable outside, you know, like recognizing that the risk of transmission outside is incredibly low to begin with, I don’t feel the need to wear a mask when I’m walking down the sidewalk. I don’t live in a very congested neighborhood in terms of foot traffic. But when I go up to the, you know, into town, into the you know, where the commerce is, I put my mask on as a courtesy, obviously, even when I’m walking down the street. But for this, this was definitely a different calculus for me. It was like, you know what, I have gone three weeks ago to this game or two months ago to this game and sat outside with mask on. I’m not sure. I’m not sure that I would have felt comfortable doing that. Would you have gone if it was the Texas Rangers ballpark and everybody was allowed in there? You know, and I’ll tell you, and this is what I want to talk about. So, yeah, the the rules inside the National Stadium are you got to be masked up when you’re there except when you’re eating or drinking. And most people were very compliant to D.C. as a rule, has felt very compliant to me in public. It’s clear that most people, either for reasons of concern about contracting the virus or just out of social consciousness and courtesy our mask and pretzels. Yeah, yeah. I mean, people are normal. They’re like behaving the way people should behave. So the Nats thing, like, I knew that the Nats had respected capacity. Unlike some other teams, the Nats capacity is at twenty five percent, which is about ten thousand people in the ballpark. And Max and I wasn’t sure how they were going to restrict that. But so I guess we get to the stadium, we get up to the section and what they’ve done is they’ve zip tied all the seats that are not available for use really individually zip tied the seats so you cannot pull down the seat and sit in there. So, like, my row was like. Two people and then four at three empty seats and then another two seats, you could sit in on another three empty seats and then a group of four seats and then three empty seats. So it’s like scattered. So you had groups of two groups of three groups of four in terms of the ticket sales. But if you wanted to go like talk to and in this case, there were like 50 people there from, you know, for for the party, you had to squat. And, you know, there was there was no way just going to walk over and sit with somebody. You had to swap seats if you wanted to have a conversation with somebody else. So and, you know, in the concourses, people were masked up. There were security people patrolling the stadium, like and someone came up to dude in my robe and said, you got a mascot up if you’re not eating or drinking. So they’re trying to enforce it. Man, that’s going to be really tough, don’t you think? I mean, I just I can’t imagine that that’s going to go. But that’s not what’s happening everywhere else around the country, though, right? You know, I mean, like, I feel like we’ve seen pictures of people at games and people are not totally messed up. Yeah, right. I guess I wonder how that’s going to hold as we get further down into this thing. Right? Well, I guess it’s going to be one of the questions, Joel, the like, whether people will sort of take to heart the CDC recommendation that sitting outside in a small group is OK, especially if you’ve been vaccinated. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. I think it’s a you know, I, I don’t I don’t know. I did you did you read the news story today that they basically have given up on the idea of herd immunity in the country, and it’s largely because people just refuse to you know, some people won’t get vaccinated, some can’t get vaccinated. And in some ways, people are just getting infected too fast to to get herd immunity. So I think that, like, people are going to get more comfortable and more belligerent as we go forward here. You know, I mean, like it and look outside. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but like, I just wonder, like modeling that behavior for NBA games, you know what I mean? Or whatever. I just wonder, like, what that’s going to actually start to look like, because people have shown that they’re very resistant to not it doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated. I’ve always thought the issue is whether or not you’re modeling. Right. Socially responsible behavior for people, right? Oh, totally. I mean, and I have to say, the one thing that made me feel good here’s like looking out over the we were sitting in the upper deck and looking out at the ballpark and seeing how spaced everybody was that was there. And it was a much chillier vibe. It felt like, oh, sports are nice when people aren’t like in your grill and screaming and like losing it over some dude making an error. I’m going to ask you, did you enjoy that? You enjoyed the experience? What? I actually enjoyed the experience. It was really pleasant. We were sitting in the shade. It was a great game. Max Scherzer, like, pitched a beautiful ball game. They won three to one. Ryan Zimmerman hit a three run homer. There were a couple of controversial plays that required replay, but everyone was sort of just like chill and watching the game and talking to each other. And there wasn’t there wasn’t that that that that overwhelming sense of unnecessary, you know, investment and drama, it was more like I’m just hanging out watching a baseball game, and that’s kind of cool. You just happy to be out, huh? Yeah. And I think, like everybody in the stadium share that, you know, where are all your food through the app concourses? Everybody was masked up and it was really very, you know, very controlled and calm and and I don’t know how I would have felt, though, you’re right. Like if there had been five forty five thousand people there or whatever the capacity is at that ballpark and like you’re leaving the ballpark and you’re in a giant herd walking down the ramp or on an escalator. I ain’t there yet. I was going to ask you, how far are you willing to push this? You know, I’ve said I was like, oh, yeah. Would would have been. Is this is this it? Is this the only way that you’re willing to do it? Like, at what point do you think you mentally could get comfortable with thirty thousand people. Yeah, I don’t know that I’d be comfortable in a fall in a feather but I mean at least right now. But you know, if you had asked six months ago, would you be comfortable going to a twenty five percent capacity ballpark if you’re vaccinated? I’m not sure I would have said yes either. I mean, if somebody called you today and said, I got two tickets for the Warriors, I got two tickets for the Giants, what would you do? I wouldn’t go. I wouldn’t go. But, you know, I mean, there’s a couple of things at play there. I don’t enjoy going to games like I like I like the experience of watching games. To me, it tends to be better on TV. Well, you now, if it was a high school football game or something like that, let me rephrase the question. If somebody said, let’s go check out the number one team in California, oh, they happened to be like Palo Alto High School. I be that might be real tough. It was good. It was a good game. I had to go to that. We’d be outside. I’d have I’d be messed up. In California is a place where there’s like a lot of social pressure to, like, model good, you know, mask behavior. So. I might do it, but, yeah, I don’t know that I’m quite ready now, you know what? One good baseball game to go to. Well, you don’t have to worry about sitting next to anybody in the Bay Area, but probably the Oakland A’s. Yeah, you go so you go to the Oakland Stadium and you won’t be near anybody. I can promise you. Like no matter what, under any circumstances, even even even if thirty thousand of the seats are zip tied, still, you’re sacked. You got your whole section to yourself. Yeah. Oh, you’ll be fine. Yeah. So you can, you can hold out a whole section so. Yeah. Maybe an A’s game. I’d go to it. Feel comfortable. Yes. I mean the calculus I was making as we were leaving too is like, all right. And that’s this big stadium. There were like eighty five hundred people there out of a potential ten thousand on Sunday. And my next thought was like is would there be any difference in going to like a soccer game? Right. So there’s a new soccer stadium in DC out field where DC United plays and the women’s team also plays a handful of games every season. And, you know, that’s a smaller place and even at restricted capacity. Would that feel any different? You know, the ramps are narrower. The concourse is an hour. You know, you’re still going to be spread out because this is a city ordinance, I think, on the on the twenty five percent capacity. But does that make any difference? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just glad to hear that there’s been a use for zip ties in DC. They weren’t used to the word government. So that’s right. I’m glad they finally got back to using zip ties for the intended use. That’s it for today. Slate plus members. We are very grateful for your membership. We will be back with more next week.