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Saturday Sports: MLB All-Star break; Shohei Ohtani on top; Wimbledon Week 2

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Boy, I've missed being able to say, and now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Major League Baseball All-Star break. And there is no star bigger in the firmament than Shohei Ohtani. Wimbledon - one week down, one to go. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Listen. Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in Seattle on Tuesday marks the halfway point of the season. What should we know about the season so far?

BRYANT: Oh, the one thing we're going to do, Scott, that I really love today is we're actually going to talk about baseball and not talk about rule changes. It's...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Been a great season of surprises. I think everyone was expecting the San Diego Padres to go out and beat everybody because they spent all that money. They've got four guys on the team with $300 million contracts, and they're one of the worst teams, one of the biggest disappointments...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...In baseball, along with the New York Mets, who - we have Buck Showalter, who won the Manager of the Year award, and now everyone's thinking he's going to be the first manager fired this year. But on the other hand, the Atlanta Braves are a great team. The Tampa Bay Rays are a great team.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers have completely surprised everybody. So there's a lot of good surprises going on here. And I think one of the things that I sort of enjoy about this, too, is the difficulties of the American League East. Every team is over .500. The people up here in Massachusetts are moaning about the inconsistencies of the Red Sox. They're in last place, but they're over .500.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Everybody's good in the American League East. But the real story this year so far has been, of course, individually, Shohei Ohtani - team-wise, Atlanta, Tampa Bay.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. Oh, my God. We have never seen anything like this in sports. I mean, the best pitcher in the league and the best hitter in the league all at the same time - arguably the greatest of all time.

BRYANT: Yeah, it's crazy. He's not just a guy who can pitch and who can hit a little bit. He is a cleanup hitter. He's the best hitter on his team. He's the best hitter in the - one of the best hitters in the league. He's a home run hitter. He's also a starting pitcher. He's not a reliever who comes in and...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Pitches for a couple of innings. He's a starting pitcher, as well. No one's ever seen this. People have compared him to Babe Ruth. He's not Babe Ruth. He's not Babe Ruth at all because when Babe Ruth - Babe Ruth started his career in 1914 as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. And then in 1919, 1920 - after he joins the Yankees in 1920, he becomes a hitter.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: But he never did both the way Ohtani is doing it. He's an anomaly. He is completely idiosyncratic. And the sad thing about Shohei Ohtani is that he hasn't made the playoffs. Nobody really gets...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...To see him. He's out in the West Coast. He's playing on a team that's second to the Dodgers in a two-team market. And we've never seen anything like this, and we don't get to see him in any real capacity on the big stage because his team keeps losing. Now - they were having a great season this year, and now they lose Mike Trout with a wrist injury. He's going to be out eight weeks. And now they've lost four games in a row. But I'll tell you one thing about Ohtani. I remember there's - he's not taking people by surprise. When he first came up in 2018, I got a text from CC Sabathia, the great Yankees pitcher.

SIMON: I'm sorry. We had a sound dropout. Did you say you had a text from CC Sabathia?

BRYANT: I did.

SIMON: Hold on. I've got to check my phone now.

BRYANT: Did CC text you today?

SIMON: I - not so far. He's been too busy texting you, but, yes. Go ahead. Yeah.

BRYANT: Normally, he and I will talk about Marvel movies and...

SIMON: Ha - normally, he and I will talk - go ahead.

BRYANT: So sorry...

SIMON: Demean me.

BRYANT: I don't mean to...

SIMON: Go ahead, Howard.

BRYANT: ...Name-drop. It's not on purpose. It's - a there's a purpose to this.

SIMON: All right.

BRYANT: And the purpose is, he calls me, and he says - he texts me, and he says, dude, this guy is the greatest player of all time. And I said, of all time? He goes, yes. He's the greatest baseball player who has ever lived. And I said, he just got here. And this was 2018. He said, listen. This guy does things that we did...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...In the eighth grade, that we did in Little League. He's doing things at the major league level that we did when we were kids. And you know what? When you put it that way, nobody else can say that.

SIMON: Yeah. Oh, by the way, Mike Trout just texted me to say, and he's right.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Tell him to get better.

SIMON: Let's take 20 seconds. What are you looking - watching for - week two of Wimbledon?

BRYANT: Well, unfortunately, if you love drama, you're not getting it on the men's side because Novak Djokovic is the best. On the women's side, a Swiatek-Sabalenka final would be something to behold.

SIMON: All right. We'll look forward to that. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DHARMA SONG, "PLASTIC DOLL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.