DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in today for Terry Gross. There's a lot we've missed over the past four months of social isolation, and many of us have longed for the comforting sights, sounds and rhythms of Major League Baseball. After tense negotiations and much planning, big-league teams returned to the diamond last week only to have the game's revival threatened by an outbreak of COVID-19 among the Miami Marlins as they finished a weekend series in Philadelphia.
To talk about baseball's strange restart and the future of the game, we turn to one of the most respected analysts of baseball, Tim Kurkjian. He's a senior writer for espn.com, an on-air analyst for "SportsCenter" and "Baseball Tonight" and an analyst in the booth for Monday and "Wednesday Night Baseball." He's also the author of three books. The latest is "I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies." We spoke Tuesday morning, when events surrounding the infection among the Marlins were still unfolding.
Tim Kurkjian, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's good to have you. You know, we were supposed to have this conversation a week ago, but you lost your mom a week ago Saturday. And I just want to say we're really sorry for your loss.
TIM KURKJIAN: Well, thank you so much for that, Dave. She was the greatest mom, greatest wife and greatest grandmother ever. And she had three sons and a husband who love baseball, and she wasn't all that interested in it, so she took one for the team for a long, long time and did whatever it took to make her boys happy.
DAVIES: Yeah. You know, it's - I lost my parents many decades ago in my 20s. And one thing I've observed about friends who have parents who live, you know, a lot longer is their longevity is a gift, but I think it makes the loss tougher because you've had these years of a mature relationship. So this must be a hard time for you.
KURKJIAN: Yes. And my mom lived in our house - in our house - for the last 10 years, so my brother and I took care of her. She had terrible dementia right to the end, but she died where she was supposed to die, at our house with some dignity, with my brother and I standing right next to her. So God bless.
DAVIES: That's a blessing, and I'm glad you were able to join us for what's got to be a very hectic time for you.
So let's talk about baseball. We've had this eruption of COVID-19 among the Miami Marlins over the weekend which has caused the postponement of several games. There was a phone meeting among the owners and baseball commissioner Rob Manfred Monday afternoon. What have you heard about the owners' level of concern and when or if they might consider scrapping this season?
KURKJIAN: I, frankly, was a little disappointed that there wasn't a greater level of concern among the owners after they met. And the commissioner, Rob Manfred, came out and said, we are prepared for positive tests; the game can handle this; we will manage the Marlins situation; we will manage the Philly situation. But the big danger is how much of this has spread, and where does it spread from here? It's not just going to be the Marlins and the Phillies. Who knows how many other teams are going to be affected?
And I think it should've been the primary focus of that owners meeting - was, are we keeping our players as healthy as we possibly can? Are the health and safety protocols working? The teams have done a terrific job trying to take care of this, but understandably, COVID has overpowered the game and everything else in this country and the world. We need to keep a really close eye on this, and a very difficult decision might be upcoming.
DAVIES: Right. You know, when it became clear over the weekend that some Marlins players had tested positive, we heard that there was a consensus reached among the players on that team by, I guess, a text message group chat in which they would decide to go ahead and play Sunday's game. Do we know if Major League Baseball and the commissioner were involved in or even aware of that decision?
KURKJIAN: I believe MLB was aware of that, and I think there is some discussion, why was that game played? Even though the Marlins said, we want to play this game; we should play this game, this is a much bigger issue than just the Marlins. This is the team you're playing against, the place you're going to next. So I'm still not sure why they played that game on Sunday after an outbreak like that. We were all under the - you know, under the understanding that if there is an outbreak, we have to take some time out from this. And I think in hindsight, it was a mistake that the Marlins played that game on Sunday.
DAVIES: Right. And it's interesting that, you know, the Marlins' contact with the Phillies largely was outside, right? They weren't in the clubhouse together. So it'll give us some insight, I suppose, when the Phillies' results are in of the infection among players on the diamond. But it is tricky because, you know, the infection may not show up for - till a few days after you have it. So the Phillies - one specialist said the Phillies should be sidelined for at least five days.
KURKJIAN: And if so, Dave, then what are we going to do with the schedule? What about the integrity of the season? Again, this is so unimportant compared to the health and safety of the players and everyone else at the ballpark. But if you're going to cancel five games in a 60-game season, how in the world are we going to make them up? What is that going to do to the competitive balance of the season?
And, for instance, the Marlins and the Orioles are supposed to play a four-game series - two in Miami, then two in Baltimore. Those are interleague games. What if all four of those games get wiped out and the Marlins aren't to return to Baltimore or Baltimore to Miami? What do we do about those games? These are a myriad of questions that we have and, right now, very few answers.
DAVIES: Right, and they're technical questions, but, you know, games matter when the consequences are real. And so if teams are playing different schedules, it sort of undermines the value of them.
You know, other sports, including the NBA and pro hockey - you know, the National Hockey League - when they decided to restart their suspended seasons made a fundamentally different choice about where games would be played and the level of isolation that the teams would experience. You want to explain the difference between what they did and what Major League Baseball did?
KURKJIAN: Yes. The NBA is operating in a bubble. You go into the bubble, and you don't come out unless there are extraordinary circumstances that make you leave. That's the big difference. Baseball talked about having a bubble situation in Arizona and playing in all of the spring training sites there or a bubble in Florida and playing in all of those sites, thinking, well, maybe we can corral this if we're all close to one another.
But the decision was made - and it sure doesn't look like a particularly good decision at the moment - we're going to play in all 30 of our major league cities. And the danger there is you don't leave the bubble in Orlando with the NBA, but every baseball player is going home after a game or to a hotel. They're coming in contact with goodness knows how many people. And this is what executives told me all along. That's the danger - is nobody's staying in the bubble; they're all going somewhere else. And with all the travel that we've now started to do, you leave the little bubble in Chicago, for the Cubs, let's say, and you go to Cincinnati, now there's a whole different place to navigate - clubhouses, hotels, everything else. That's the danger of trying to play in 30 places instead of just one.
DAVIES: Yeah, and it seems odd because the stadiums they're playing in were built to hold tens of thousands of people who won't be able to be there. Why'd they do this?
KURKJIAN: They're trying to restore baseball to something like we know it to be, but that was a mistake. Baseball - this is going to be the most bizarre, strangest baseball season ever. And if you're not going to have fans in the stands, I'm not sure what the point is of playing, you know, in Anaheim Stadium if there's nobody there. If there are no fans, you might as well play in a minor league ballpark or some place that is closer together - less travel, fewer issues with a bubble. I mean, I'm still not sure, but they thought in the end we're going to have fans in the stands before the end of the season, but at this point, that seems highly unlikely.
DAVIES: So they were planning for that possibility that at some point they would get gate revenue.
KURKJIAN: Right. And, again, this is where the owners may have misread. They said, all right, 40% of our revenue comes from ticket sales, parking, concessions. We need that. And the only way we're really going to get that is with fans in the stands in our ballparks. And, again, that was - at this point, it appears to be a miscalculation.
DAVIES: You know, the league issued a - what? - more than 100-page set of protocols for safety. What are the rules when a team is on the road, when the Marlins are visiting Philadelphia? Do you know - can they go out anywhere? Are they - do they have chaperones in all places?
KURKJIAN: Well, they're not supposed to go out, Dave. And this is part of the problem. You're asking a bunch of guys in their young 20s to show discipline that they've never had to show before in their lives. And to tell a 23-year-old young single guy you are going to go to the ballpark and then you're going to go right to the hotel, you're not going to engage with anyone, you're not going to come in contact with anyone, this is the life you have to lead, that's a difficult thing to ask a player to do. And yet that's the only way out of this is complete discipline by our players, especially our young players. And, granted, you know, players have been tested, and there's all sorts of, you know, protocols in place - don't do this, don't do that. But you're still trusting people to be as disciplined and as regimented as possible, and that's asking an awful lot.
DAVIES: I know with the NBA, they have some really tough rules, and I think there's a hotline where if you see an NBA player violating, you know, wandering outside the bubble, you can report them. Does Major League Baseball have a similar kind of enforcement regimen?
KURKJIAN: Well, it's not a hard-and-fast regimen, but they have lookouts for people all the time. One of the New York Mets told me that when he gets to the ballpark every day - this was during summer camp, the second spring training - like everyone else, he got his temperature taken twice before he got out of his car at the stadium. Then he stood in a line like he was at an amusement park and stood in line with everyone else, got to the front, had to answer all the questions, take additional tests before they would even let him in the ballpark. And then if he went out to lunch during the day, which really never happens, he would have to go through the whole protocol again to reenter the stadium. That's how careful some teams have been about this. And yet still there are positive tests, which, again, just speaks to the power of this virus.
DAVIES: And what kind of rules govern a player who decides I don't think this is safe, I'm going to sit out the season? There have been a few, right?
KURKJIAN: Yes, there've been more than a few, and most of them have been done for family reasons. You know, Buster Posey just adopted twin girls who were premature, and there was no way he was going to be anywhere near potentially infected players, people and then bring that home to his children. And I'm, of course, a thousand percent behind any player who says I have a health issue at home, and I am not going to let it affect me. Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, one of the real, real good guys in the game, he has a mother with multiple sclerosis. She cannot go near anyone who's been - you know, she's much more prone to this. So Ryan Zimmerman said, I can't play this year. David Price of the Dodgers did the same thing. And it's possible now with this outbreak that we're going to see more and more players do that. Tim Collins, relief pitcher for the Rockies, saw the outbreak on Sunday and Monday and said I'm not playing. And he opted out.
DAVIES: And the rules allow them to do that without financial penalty.
KURKJIAN: Well, there's a financial penalty to some degree, but, yes, if you have a medical condition, in theory, you're supposed to get paid even if you opt out. But there are some players who aren't going to get paid. Ian Desmond of the Rockies, you know, left $5 1/2 million on the table because he's got four kids at home, and he needed to be home with his children and, you know, educate them on what everybody's going through here. So not everyone's getting paid, those who opt out, only a few.
DAVIES: Right. And it's interesting. You have some players who have particular vulnerabilities, like Didi Gregorius, the shortstop for the Phillies, who has - I guess it's a - is it kidney condition, which makes him vulnerable. He's out there on the field with a mask all the time, so everybody makes their own call.
KURKJIAN: Right. And David Dahl of the Rockies has a similar medical condition. And, you know, it has amazed me that a couple of players have been even mocked for wearing a mask during a game. Clint Frazier of the Yankees wore a mask during an exhibition game. And in our Twitter universe, he got mocked. Like, what are you doing? Are you some sort of wimp? All he's trying to do is keep himself healthy and, just as important, keep his teammates healthy. So I'm not sure that our fans are looking at this the right way. Our fans really want baseball and so do I. But to repeat, the health of the players is got to be the most important thing here.
DAVIES: I'm going to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MAX MORAN AND NEOSPECTRIC'S "ALL RIGHT (FEAT. FIEND AND NICHOLAS PAYTON)")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking about the shaky start to Major League Baseball this year with one of the most respected analysts in the game. Tim Kurkjian is an on-air analyst for ESPN.
You know, it was interesting. When I watched some baseball over the weekend, one of the things that dawned on me is that, you know, a lot of baseball is sort of naturally socially distanced. Runners take leads. Fielders are spread out. But the batter, the catcher and the umpire are very close, particularly the umpire and the catcher. I mean, they kind of work as a - almost as a physical unit, covering the plate and catching the ball. That's got to be - if there's any place to spread the virus, I think it would be there.
KURKJIAN: Right. And that's why some home plate umpires have worn a mask underneath their mask. And yet, anyone who's worn a mask - and I've worn one every day since the middle of March - it's not particularly easy to breathe in one of those things. And when you're working a game in St. Louis in the middle of the summer or (laughter) almost any hot weather place, and you're trying to work a game behind the plate in that kind of heat with a mask on, that is not an easy assignment.
And yet, it's necessary for the catcher and the umpire to stay a distance apart. And yet, the catcher is protecting the umpire from getting hurt. The umpire is literally hiding behind the catcher so he doesn't get hit with a foul ball more often. And to ask them to be socially distanced at all is another really difficult thing to do.
DAVIES: Right. And, of course, the umpire is yelling out the calls. You know, there's also just - there are the rules that are to deal with the pandemic, such as prohibiting spitting. I mean, how can players - they spit all the time. How can they do this (laughter)? By the way, why do you think baseball player spit so much?
KURKJIAN: Well, (laughter) it's an outdoor game. It's reflexive now with them. They don't even know that they're spitting. They don't even know that they're putting their fingers in their mouths. And they're going to have to do a better job at trying to police that. But I maintain it's impossible when you've been doing something on a field since you were 8 years old to ask a baseball player not to spit. And then, to potentially penalize him for doing that, that's ridiculous. That will never fly. But what has surprised me, Dave, is we were told that these players are going to be sitting six feet apart in dugouts everywhere. There will be no high-fives. There will be no touching of any sort.
And yet, I just watched a game on Sunday with the Rays. And they won in walk-off fashion. And it was a great, spirited victory. And there were hugs. There were high-fives. There was no concern about health and safety protocols there. They broke every rule in the book. And I don't blame them. Reflexively, you win a game, you see a teammate, you jump up. You high-five him. You hug him. But that's not the way it has to work. And baseball players have to do a better job policing themselves on that no matter how hard it might be.
DAVIES: Arguments, you know? I mean, we've all seen the manager get up in an umpire's face and just, you know, yell like, you know, he's going to kill the guy. What are the rules about that now?
KURKJIAN: Well, you have to stand six feet away from the umpire. And you have to have a mask on when you do this. Derek Shelton, the manager - the new manager of the Pirates, got his first major league win the other day and got thrown out of the game because he argued with an umpire. And the umpire didn't like what he was saying. But Derek Shelton did it properly. He did it with his mask on. He was six feet away.
This wasn't Earl Weaver turning his hat around backwards and getting right in an umpire's face, spitting all over him like umpires and managers do. I miss those days, frankly. Every once in a while, those were very entertaining. But, yes, the managers and the coaches all have a new responsibility. If you're going to deal with an umpire, you're going to deal with social distancing. Otherwise, you're going to get thrown out of the game.
DAVIES: The other thing that's just - we're noting is that, while ballplayers are young and they're in age categories where they're likely to survive the virus just fine, a lot of these umpires have a few more whiskers on them, right? They need to be a little more careful.
KURKJIAN: Right. And almost 20 different umpires have said, I'm not working this year. It's because of their age. It's because of the dangers involved. And again, I support anyone who says this is a physical threat to me. And I'm not going to do this. And the older you get, the bigger the problem. And it has to do with coaches also. Eric Young, who's a first base coach for the Braves. He's up there in age. And he said, I'm not going to work this year because I can't do this. I'm of the wrong age for this. So I totally understand that, too.
DAVIES: Tim Kurkjian is an on-air analyst for ESPN and a senior writer for ESPN.com. We'll talk more about the future of baseball after a short break. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF CARLA BLEY'S "BASEBALL")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross. We're talking about the shaky start to Major League Baseball's abbreviated 60-game schedule with Tim Kurkjian. Several games were postponed after a breakout of COVID-19 among the Miami Marlins after their weekend series in Philadelphia. Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for espn.com and an on-air analyst for "SportsCenter" and "Baseball Tonight." We spoke Tuesday morning as events surrounding the COVID infections were still unfolding.
Let's just talk about the experience of playing without fans. What kind of a psychological adjustment is it for ballplayers to be in these huge, silent arenas?
KURKJIAN: Well, it's an enormous adjustment. I covered the fanless game in Baltimore in 2015, and it was the strangest baseball game I've ever covered.
DAVIES: That was during the Freddie Gray riots, right? Yeah.
KURKJIAN: Yes. Chris Davis of the Orioles hit a homerun in the first inning and ran around the bases in total silence. It was so eerie.
Buck Showalter, the manager of the Orioles, told me - he said, we had to be real careful talking to our players in the dugout because the other team could hear us. He had to be real careful talking too loud or the umpires could hear everything you said. And Buck said, I could hear every word that Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne - who were the broadcasters that day in the press box - he could hear every word that they said. That's how quiet it was. And Buck even laughed and said, we didn't even need our bullpen phone. I just stood on the top step of the dugout and said, you better get Britton up.
KURKJIAN: That's how quiet it was that day. Now every game is going to be like that. So teams have done some movement here to get crowd noise into the game and to put fans - you know, cardboard cutouts in the - to give it more of the fan experience. But I must tell you, Dave, I enjoyed our game that we did on Monday night. You could hear the players yelling. You could hear one fielder yelling to the other, I got it; I got it. And you just don't hear that on a routine pop-up in a ballpark 'cause there's so much ambient noise from the crowd.
DAVIES: Right. And as we mentioned, some teams are putting cutouts of fans in the seats. In Philadelphia, I think you can buy it for 40 bucks, and they'll put your image there behind a plate. And - is this true that Fox Sports is actually going to put digitally created fans throughout the entire stadium so it looks like it's a full ballpark - Fox Sports?
KURKJIAN: Yes. And they're, I believe - that's not my network, but I believe they're interviewing, like, digital people in the crowd who aren't even real, which is just amazing to me. And other ballparks have - you can buy your own cardboard cutout and put it in your seat. So - you have to pay to do this, of course. But if a baseball hits your cardboard cutout in your seat, someone will gather that baseball and send it to you as a souvenir because it landed in your seat. This is what baseball is doing to improve the experience. And I repeat, I'm all for any of this. But if I were doing this, I don't need cardboard cutouts, I don't need digital people, and I don't need piped-in crowd noise.
DAVIES: So these teams are all coping with things that are very different. I mean, the safety precautions, the threat of the virus itself, empty ballparks, on and on - what kind of teams will cope best and perform best in this strange season?
KURKJIAN: I think a shortened season benefits a mild contender, an average team, much more than it would in a 162-game season. Baseball - one of the great beauties of it is ordinary teams can get hot for 30, 40, 50, even 60 games and play really well. But the ordinary teams can't keep that up for 162 games. Over that length of time, the Dodgers, the Yankees just overpower you. They wear you down with their talent and their depth and their resources.
But the best part about baseball - and this doesn't happen in basketball - is that bad teams can get hot. Bad teams can go into Dodger Stadium and win 2 out of 3 against a far better team. So I think this adds a layer to this season - sixty games, mad dash to the finish, 16 playoff teams. Everyone has the same chance. All the games matter. And I think it's really going to affect a team that's not a solid contender, like a young team like the Padres who come flying out of the gate, let's say, develop some momentum with a young team. That's where a shortened season - that's the kind of team a shortened season can really help.
DAVIES: I want to talk a little bit about how we got here - you know, the the long saga of negotiations and bickering that led to this season. You wrote recently, baseball with its soothing daily rhythm, its innate beauty and its rich history and tradition has always been vital to lifting the nation. Instead, this spring, when collaboration was critical, baseball contaminated its own game and alienated its fans, some of whom will never come back. How did baseball contaminate its own game this year?
KURKJIAN: Well, it's really unfortunate that during a pandemic, while protesters were in the street about social injustice and millions and millions of Americans were out of work, baseball chose to have a petty discussion about the finances of the game. And they never did come to an agreement between the owners and the players on the how we're going to get paid, salaries and everything else, for the 2020 season. So they left it to the commissioner, who had the right - it was built in the original contract in March - to implement a season, which is exactly what he did.
And I just thought it was a really bad look for baseball that as the whole country was struggling with something far, far more important than baseball, that baseball seemed to be bickering over money. And that was not a good look for the game. Everything should have been presented on (ph) this is a crisis situation. We have to do everything we can to get the game back on the field and help the morale of the country. And baseball did not do a good job with that.
DAVIES: You know, people are always wondering whether things like this will permanently damage baseball's standing among its fans. I mean, this - there was the bickering this spring, and then we had the dreadful cheating scandal among the Astros. What's your take? Will all of this matter in the long run, or will fans always be there?
KURKJIAN: Well, fans will always be there. We have gone through two world wars. We got through the Black Sox scandal of 1919, which was, you know, debilitating to the sport if it didn't get cleared up. We've been through steroids. We've been through now sign stealing. Baseball is the greatest game ever, in my opinion. I'm hopelessly biased on this. And baseball will always survive because of that great, rich history and tradition. And it's just such a great, seductive sport once it grabs you. However, this situation was different. The world has changed. The game has to change along with it. And people are looking at the world differently now. So I think it's going to take a while for baseball to get its fans back. And, yes, they're going to lose some fans forever. But I refuse to believe baseball will die because of this. It's far too good a game for that.
DAVIES: You know, one other thing that might have gotten more attention in a different year is that Major League Baseball is proposing to reduce the number of farm clubs in the minor league system that they support. This is a pretty intricate issue. I don't really understand it, but it's certainly spurred some objection and outcry from communities that love their minor league baseball teams. What's your take on this?
KURKJIAN: Well, I love minor league baseball, and before corona came along, baseball was strongly considering cutting out 42 minor league teams. And I thought it was a shortsighted look by people who do not understand that the minor leagues is the lifeblood of the major leagues. It is the pipeline of development to get players to the major leagues and have them ready when they get there. And to not understand the importance of minor league baseball to cities, towns and communities across this country is also very shortsighted. Minor league baseball is critical to Major League Baseball. And my concern now is, you know, teams are going to say, hey, we just played a baseball season - truncated as it was - without a minor league system. We can do more of this. We can cut all these teams if we want. That's a really bad idea. And I love minor league baseball, and I hate to see what is happening to it right now.
DAVIES: Yeah. It seems like people go to games. I mean, every minor league game I've gone to was well attended. They ought to be generating some revenue. What's the problem here?
KURKJIAN: Well, again, I just don't think - it's a financial issue, as every financial - as is everything in baseball, maybe everything in the world. They feel like teams don't need six farm clubs. They don't need a short season A team. They only need one A ball team. And I certainly understand the financial aspect of it. But if we're going to try to develop players, the best way to do that is to have more teams, not fewer teams. And I've always been amazed by the disparity in the way we treat minor leaguers in meal money, in pay certainly, in playing conditions. And even though these minor league ballparks are so much better than they used to be, there are so many gorgeous little parks out there, I'd hate to see any one of them go away because of financial reasons.
DAVIES: We're going to take a break again. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Tim Kurkjian. He's a veteran baseball analyst for ESPN. We're talking about the future of baseball. And we'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEEP BLUE ORGAN TRIO'S "TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're talking about baseball's strange and threatened season as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic. We're speaking with Tim Kurkjian. He is an on-air analyst for ESPN and a senior writer for espn.com. You know, your most recent book, which is titled "I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies," is sort of this kind of treasure trove of memories, anecdotes and insights organized into chapters. One of them is about the sounds of the game, you know, the distinctive sound of the ball hitting a bat, somebody says the sound of the ball hitting an athletic cup that a player's wearing. What are some of the sounds that you think are most memorable about the game on the field?
KURKJIAN: Well, the crack of the bat is something that has always fascinated me. And I've had players tell me - and I wrote it in that chapter - that you don't even have to see who's in the batter's box to know the sound of the ball coming off his bat. Like, Josh Hamilton was an amazing hitter. And I had players tell me I didn't even have to look. I knew the sound of the ball coming off his bat sounded different than everyone else's. And that fascinates me. I've always loved the smack that the ball creates, the pop when the pitcher throws really hard and the catcher catches it. Roger Clemens said that he grew up at the Astrodome in Houston. He used to go and listen to Nolan Ryan warm up in the bullpen, that pop in the bullpen. I mean, those are the kind of sounds that I love. Chipper Jones told me he always loved the sound of Bobby Cox, his manager, walking on concrete in metal spikes, which managers don't do anymore. And he said that always reminded me the game is about to start because I could hear Bobby walking down from the clubhouse to the dugout in his metal spikes. And Stan Musial told me what he missed the most is when he would go to sleep at night - long after he retired, he would go to sleep at night with the sounds of the ballpark in his head. And it was so soothing, it would put him to sleep.
DAVIES: Wow. There's also the sound of players talking. Adam Dunn used to just chatter all the time, right? And then you said there's this outfielder, Carlos Gomez, when he was running the bases would make a distinctive sound. What would he do?
KURKJIAN: Right. He would - he sounded like a freight train. That's how people - he would be - you know, he'd be snorting and snarling. And he'd make all these noises with his heavy breathing. And every time he would come out of the box or run after a ball in the outfield, you could hear him run the bases. You could hear him run in the outfield, which I always thought was so funny. And then there's Andrew McCutchen, Phillies outfielder, who, as a younger outfielder, was so light on his feet you never heard him coming in the outfield. He was so quiet that the left fielder and the right fielder always had to be careful because they couldn't hear Andrew coming. With Carlos Gomez, there's not going to be a collision in the outfield because you can hear the freight train coming. But Andrew was so light on his feet, he - and he never breathes hard. He never even knew he was coming. Those are the sounds of the game that I love so much.
DAVIES: Wow. There's a chapter in your book about batters getting hit by pitches. What have players told you about what that feels like?
KURKJIAN: Well, in that chapter, I left out all the batters who'd been hit in the head that I've talked to because it's just too graphic. It's too dangerous. So I just talked about other parts of the body. Like, Torii Hunter told me that he got hit in the ribs by Danys Baez at 97 miles an hour. And he said it hurt so much that I was seeing red, and I couldn't think clearly anymore. The pain was that intense. And he said, I just picked up the ball - which, of course, dropped right there at home plate - and threw it at Danys Baez because, he said, I don't even know what I was doing. That's how much it hurt.
Will Rhymes, an infielder for the Rays, got hit in the forearm with a pitch. The minute he got hit, he said, I just broke my forearm, went to first base. And when he got there, he passed out. He fainted. And the next thing he remembers is looking up at the top of Tropicana Field and seeing - he woke up out of a dream after passing out after getting hit by a pitch.
And Adam LaRoche told me he got hit in the knee once, and it hurt so much that he had to take a knee, which players never do because they can't show that it hurts them. And he said, but I had to take a knee there because I thought I might throw up on home plate, and he said, I couldn't do that in a game. That's how much it hurts when you get hit by a baseball.
DAVIES: Yeah. You know, it's amazing. And when I see it, I mean, it just - I think I wouldn't get up for two days if I'd taken one of those pitches. And they typically run down to first base, and they never rub the spot that was hit. Are they trying to send the pitcher a message here?
KURKJIAN: Yes. If you show a weakness that you hurt me, that pitcher is going to remember it. And then he's going to hit you again because now you're afraid of him. This is the most underrated part about our baseball players, is the courage it takes to stand in there when a ball that hard is coming at you at 95 miles an hour and being able to play with the pain that they play with. And when you do get hit in the head, to come back and play the next day is a miracle. The average fan would never get near home plate if he ever got hit anywhere, let alone in the head.
DAVIES: Right. Before I let you go, coming back to this season, do you think we'll make it to the end? Will we see playoffs?
KURKJIAN: Well, that's about a three-hour discussion, Dave, but note my hesitation. I don't think we're going to make it through this season. And I sure hope we do. The owners really want to make it through this season because all the money - most of the money comes from the playoff money, and that's in October. But with the latest COVID and with all the roadblocks ahead, I think I would be surprised if we finish this season. And if we don't finish it because corona overpowered it, I'm OK with that, and so should everyone else. Health and safety should be all that matters, not a truncated 2020 season.
DAVIES: Well, Tim Kurkjian, thank you so much for speaking with us.
KURKJIAN: My pleasure, Dave. Thank you.
DAVIES: Tim Kurkjian is an on-air analyst for ESPN and a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book is "I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies." Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a newly discovered session with drummer Art Blakey and his band, The Jazz Messengers. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.