SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for sports.
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SIMON: Nine, 10, 11 - the Yankees win last night, stopped the Toronto Blue Jays winning streak at 11. But this summer's dog days have seen baseball's underdogs rise up. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us from the studios of New England Public Radio.
HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: I'm fine because the three hottest teams in baseball are the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets, who happened to lose to Pittsburgh yesterday, and I don't want to cast a curse on them now...
SIMON: ...But a team from the north side of Chicago who defeated the White Sox, who aren't pushovers, 6-5 yesterday. What's in the water?
BRYANT: I think that curse predates you, Scott - even you. It predates you.
SIMON: (Laughter) Yes, hundred years old.
BRYANT: Once again, we've had this conversation a few times, especially we had it last year when you were looking at the Kansas City Royals doing what they did last year. And you're looking at some of these teams that hadn't been very good for a long time suddenly starting to compete this year. It's insane. It's fantastic in a lot of ways. Last year, you had Kansas City. You had Baltimore coming back. This year, you've got the Astros. You've got the Blue Jays. You've got the Cubs, and the Mets are in first place. It's insane.
And it's good for baseball. I think it's one of the things that you need, especially with a 162-game season. You need when those trucks roll out in spring training to feel like your team has a chance and more than ever teams feel like they have a chance. Right now, if the playoffs started, you'd have the Angels and the Blue Jays playing a one-game playoff and the Cubs and the Pirates playing each other in the postseason, which they've never done.
SIMON: Yeah, yeah. That would be wonderful, but I'm not going to get ahead of myself. Quick...
BRYANT: And the Mets in the playoffs as well, already.
SIMON: Oh, my word. Well, nothing that either of us would have predicted - you probably - when the season began. I think I remember you saying that. Of course I always predict the Cubs, but, you know, no need to reopen that. Quick switch to football. Michael Sam released a statement yesterday. He's leaving the Montreal Alouettes, says he's worried about his mental health. He was greeted with a lot of excitement in the Canadian Football League. Any insight into what might be going on with this young man?
BRYANT: Well, very difficult story. We always knew that there was going to be a price when you're the first anything - the first openly gay player, especially in that sport, especially being the Defensive Player of the Year in Missouri, as he was in his senior year, and then not getting drafted. And then trying to catch on with some teams, catch on with St. Louis, that didn't work. Tried to catch on with Dallas, that didn't work. And then he went to Montreal and was greeted with open arms.
I think a lot of the community wanted him to succeed. I think that the sports community wants to see this story work. And then he left the team. And then he left the team again. And so the one thing that we knew was that there was going to be a big price for being first. And I think that it's very, very difficult to know what's happening with him. What we do know, however, is that it's going to be very hard for him to continue playing because teams want you to be on the field. And if he's not there, it just makes it more and more difficult.
SIMON: Don't want the week to pass without noting LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers announced a program to send more than a thousand youngsters from Akron, his hometown, to college. This is a sports star. He's been famous since he was a high school athlete who's become a mensch, a real man in all ways.
BRYANT: He's walking the walk. Absolutely, it's wonderful. He's walking the walk. I think when you look at LeBron as a political figure, as a basketball player, he's starting to move into that Bill Russell territory, the Mohammed Ali territory, where he's not just a player. He's a citizen of the world. And I think this is what we've always wanted. We didn't get that from the Michael Jordan era. And he's ushering in something that should be respected no matter how many wins or losses he has on the field.
SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant. Thanks so much.
BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.