NPR

A Week Of Hot Sports News Casts Shadow On Reporting

It's been a scandalous week in the world of sports. Between Lance Armstrong's big Oprah interview and the discovery of Manti Te'o's unreal girlfriend, there are a lot of questions for people who report on sports .Host Rachel Martin talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about the events.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTS THEME MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Major League Baseball lost a pair of Hall of Famers this past week. Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and St. Louis Cardinal star Stan Musial.

NPR's Mike Pesca is here to remember the two greats. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: Let's start with Stan "The Man". I mean, he was named this for a reason apparently.

PESCA: He was...

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: He was, in fact, male.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: He was great. He was - if you see a list of the greatest baseball players of all time and Musial isn't in the top 10, throw away the list. Because I don't want to just lay a bunch of statistics on you but, God, his statistics are so good. He...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Give me a couple.

PESCA: Yeah. He's fourth all time in hits. He made 24 All Star games, he won three World Series. And such a long career. In 1942, as a 21-year-old, he hit .315. In 1962, as a 41-year-old, he hit .330. He clipped his eyebrows so he could see the ball better. His three MVP awards included four second-place finishes. And he finished to guys like Hank Aaron and Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson. And there was one year - I think his best year was 1943 - if he had just hit one more - I'm sorry, 1948 - if he had just hit one more home run, he would have led the league in doubles, triples, homers, RBIs and batting average. Amazing, amazing player.

MARTIN: I mean, clearly, he had skills. He was also though kind of a real gentleman. I mean, as I understand that Willie Mays once in a statement from the Hall of Fame: I never heard anybody say a bad word about him ever.

PESCA: Well, you know, Willie Mays didn't try to write a biography of him, but George Vecsey did. In fact, that whole - George Vecsey, the New York Times sportswriter, said there's no biography of Stan Musial. That was his motivation. So, he went to write a biography of him, and he found one instance of him being churlish to anyone, and that came from a Cubs fan. So, you have to wonder about that, saying about a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. You know, we tend to elevate the guys and call them gentlemanly guys, like Joe DiMaggio, and if you do a deep read into their lives it doesn't quite match the legend. But with Musial it does. And you say, you know, the thing is, and the central paradox of Musial, is that everyone says he's one of the five all-time great hitters, and then everyone in their next breath will say and he was underrated. And I think that speaks to the cultural dominance of the coasts. In fact, the name Stan "The Man" came from not the St. Louis Cardinal fans but from the Brooklyn Dodger fans. And a Cardinal writer overheard one of them saying, oh, here comes that man or here comes the man, and Stan "The Man" was born. But because he played in St. Louis and was unassuming, he didn't get maybe the acclaim of Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. But he deserves it.

MARTIN: We also have to talk about Earl Weaver. Arguably, maybe a testier guy.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Arguably. Listen to you hiding behind these weasel words. You know, this was another interesting example of personality. Because when people think of Earl Weaver, they think of this five-foot-seven - maybe - dude, you know, kicking dirt on the umpire and going crazy and tearing up a rule book in front of the umpire. But he was something of a baseball savant. And there's been this whole revolution in baseball that you get to summarize or boil down to money ball. But the things that money ball says, things like don't spend your outs on stealing or bunting, hit home runs, pitching, defense - this was all stuff that Earl Weaver internalized. He just kind of felt it. You could say that in the last 50 years, you could make the case that Earl Weaver was one of the best or the best manager who's managed in the last 50 years.

MARTIN: OK. You have a curveball this week?

PESCA: I do, because we've been talking about Weaver's personality and Musial's personality. You know, the personalities of athletes and what they mean and how we build them up has been in the news with Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o. And we've been following the story of the Notre Dame linebacker who apparently was hoaxed into believing he had a girlfriend who lived on the Internet and then she died. He took inspiration. But what do we take away from this, rather than reveling in a crazy story of the Internet and catfishing, and finding out there's this new verb called catfishing. Let me read this quote. It's from Tommy Crags - he's the editor of Deadspin, which broke the story. And he said, "I understand why a lot of people just repeated the story that Manti Te'o had a girlfriend." He says, "I have less sympathy for the folks who crafted those painstaking love story and cleat feature stories about Manti and his dead girlfriend. They were dumb infantilizing stories to begin with. And they were executed poorly and sloppily." And if there's any lesson to be drawn from this it's that this kind of simpering - I'll use the word dreck - simpering dreck should be eliminated from the sports pages entirely. And I think that we should do not only to check our facts, but check, as sportswriters, check the myths, check the myths we're creating and check them against the reality of these human beings who embody these myths.

MARTIN: Words to live by. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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