SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for sports.
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SIMON: Baseball is back in Houston this weekend with a doubleheader today, the Astros versus the Mets. And the Stroh's may have acquired a game changer, indeed. Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN the Magazine joins us. Good morning, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. As the floodwaters began to recede Thursday, just before midnight, the Astros signed - landed, traded for a six-time All Star Justin Verlander, the great pitcher from the Detroit Tigers. How does this improve their chances in the playoffs and maybe beyond?
BRYANT: Well, it certainly improves them. It's - when you get a guy like Justin Verlander, I think one of the great things about these deals, especially at this time of the year, is it tells everybody on your team and in your fan base that we're here to win the World Series. We're not here to make the playoffs. Obviously, they've had a great year. They've got the best record in the league for virtually the entire season. The message is that there's only one outcome for us this year, and that's to win it all.
And so when you have a guy like Verlander and you've got McCullers and you've got Keuchel, you've got the pitching staff that nobody wants to go through. And it's a wonderful deal for Houston because, once again, the Astros have been to the World Series once. They lost to the White Sox in 2005. And they were close a couple of years ago - didn't get there. They lost in the ALCS.
And so right now this is the kind of deal that sports fans love. You want your team to try to win. You care about it. And now the organization is showing that they are doing everything they can to bring you a championship.
SIMON: It's impossible not to wonder if the Astros are going to play with an extra spark of intensity following Hurricane Harvey. Now is that just romantic nonsense on the part of us fans?
BRYANT: Yeah. You know, Scott it is. And I try at times - I'm conflicted about it quite constantly, to be honest. And I feel like, here we go. The minute the hurricane hit, I thought we were going back to the Katrina narrative or we're going back to the narrative when the economy crashed in Michigan. You know, Michigan state lets, you know, win it for Michigan or win it for New Orleans. Or - I think that that trivializes what's really taking place right now.
The Houston Astros in the scope of the devastation there, when you look at those photos, when you see what's happening and you're dealing with people whose lives are going to have - it's going to take months and years to put them back together - it's insignificant. It means nothing.
On the other hand, there is value in giving people who are dealing with a lot of devastation, a lot of pain, whether it's in your life personally or whether it's a national - natural disaster, to give them something that makes them feel good. And baseball does that.
SIMON: We were both in New York in the days after 9/11. I will never forget the tangible electricity of those October games at Yankee Stadium...
BRYANT: Oh, I was there, absolutely.
SIMON: ...The cop who sang "God Bless America," Frank Sinatra's, you know, recording "New York, New York," or the team pulling the mayor around the field. I mean, I'm not a Yankees fan, but I sold it each time they won that fall. I like to think that made some small difference.
BRYANT: Well, exactly, you had to feel that. I talked to Joe Torre about this, who was the manager of the Yankees at the time, just a few weeks ago. And he was telling me about after the towers fell, they went to the armory to just be supportive. And they walked in. And I think Joe was there and Willie Randolph. And Dawn Zimmer, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams were all there.
And Joe walked around. And he thought, this is stupid. I don't belong here. These people - you know, all the pictures were on the walls trying to find their loved ones. And he said, I don't belong here. Why are we here?
And then Bernie Williams walked over and said to a woman that, I don't have anything to say. I don't know what to say to you. But you look like you need a hug. And he gave her a hug. And everybody then broke - that broke the ice. And everyone came over to the Yankees to see them as their heroes.
And then Joe said, I do realize now that we have a job to do. That this is important to people. And we have to give them something to be happy about within all of this. And it changed his mind about the value of what they could bring to the people of New York.
SIMON: Yeah. And we'll just note on our way out, a lot of Houston athletes have publicly stepped up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
BRYANT: Yeah. J.J. Watt, $15 million he's raised in a week.
SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for joining us.
BRYANT: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.