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Saturday sports: Baseball history then and now; pitcher's perfect game cut short

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Baseball honors Jackie Robinson. Woman in the coach's box. And would you pull a pitcher throwing a perfect game? NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Thanks for being with us, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: Good morning. Every Major League player wore 42 yesterday to honor Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier 75 years ago. But as we mark this anniversary, Major League Baseball still has a long way to go, doesn't it?

GOLDMAN: I read an article this week by the great sportswriter William Rhoden, and he recounted Jackie Robinson's last public appearance at the 1972 World Series. And Robinson...

SIMON: Pointing straight across at the - like, the dugouts and...

GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. You know it well. And he said, I'm extremely proud and pleased to be here this afternoon but must admit that I am going to be tremendously more pleased and prouder when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a Black face managing in baseball. As you know, he died soon after that - never got to see the majors' first Black managers three years later - Frank Robinson, no relation. But now on the 75th anniversary, as you note, there are only two Black managers in the majors, no Black general managers. The percentage of players who are American-born Black players hovers around 7%, 8%. And a big problem continues at the front end. Baseball is still fighting to gain traction with large numbers of Black kids.

SIMON: I should note about 31%, a third of the players in the league are Hispanic or Latino, which has been real growth. And, of course, increasing numbers of players are from Japan and South Korea. Major League Baseball is still a lot more international than, let's say, the NFL.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Absolutely.

SIMON: Historic moment in the coach's box - talking about the coach's box, as Jackie Robinson indicated - wasn't there?

GOLDMAN: It sure was - Alyssa Nakken, first female coach to work on field in a regular season game for the San Francisco Giants. Ironically, her moment, a moment of society moving forward, was made possible by a step backwards. The Giants' regular first base coach Antoan Richardson was ejected from the game after an incident in which a white coach on the opposing team said something that Richardson, who's Black, felt had racist undertones. The two men talked it out the next day in a - really a nice moment of reconciliation. But yeah, unfortunate that baseball had to kind of stumble through that historic first with Alyssa Nakken, who did get lots of nice congrats from players on the field and whose helmet was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

SIMON: Yeah. And we have just enough time for you to answer yes or no or, uh, I don't know. Moment that - well, Clayton Kershaw throwing a perfect game against Minnesota. I mean, perfect - every batter out, no hits, no walks. Only 23 perfect games in Major League history. But after seven innings, 80 pitches, Dave Roberts, the great Dodgers manager, lifted him. Now, why pull a great 34-year-old pitcher who may never get this close to a perfect game ever again?

GOLDMAN: OK. So I guess this is...

SIMON: Is this what's wrong with baseball today?

GOLDMAN: Some say...

SIMON: Would you pull that picture? Oh, go ahead.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) OK. I guess you've put me in the role of manager Dave Roberts. Yeah, that would have been a heck of a moment in April. But, Scott, I care more about October. It was a cold day in Minnesota. Kershaw had just six more outs to go. But why tempt fate? He's 34, as you said. He's been injured in recent years, and I want him fully healthy for when LA makes another run at a World Series title. Plus, Kershaw agreed with me, at least publicly. He said I would have loved to have stayed, but bigger things, man, bigger things. So there we go.

SIMON: I'm worried that any pitchers nowadays, because of algorithms, is going to be lifted before they can be as good or better than Bob Gibson or Cy Young. I get the last word. NPR's Tom Goldman...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...Mostly nice speaking with you. Thanks.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.