SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.
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SIMON: Two NFL playoff games today. Will the Colts run out of luck - ha, get it? - against Tom Brady's Patriots? Will the Seahawks sink the Saints? And over on the other side of the world, will Serena serve herself into history again? Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine joins us now on the phone from New England Public Radio. Thanks so much for being with us, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you? Only for you would I try to break my neck on all the ice out here. I hope you're appreciative of this.
SIMON: Thank you. I do appreciate it. No, I do. And so do millions of listeners who want to hear you talk about the Hall of Fame. Three stars came in. Two pitchers who were inducted with just about universal acclamation. Let's talk about them first: Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Both were in the heart of that great Atlanta Braves rotation.
I will point out, Mr. Maddux won his first Cy Young Award, of course, and to me some of us will always be a Chicago Cub. What made them great?
BRYANT: Well, obviously what made them great was their consistency. And I think the thing that I love most about them, teammates, 14 straight division titles and a World Series as well, and both of those guys pitched in during an amazing as we all know as well, incredible era of offense and to be able to control the plate, to be able to keep all those steroid-laden hitters off balance and to do what they did during this time period was pretty remarkable.
SIMON: Which brings us to Frank Thomas, one of the great baseball nicknames of all times: The Big Hurt. Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, the slugger who wouldn't juice.
BRYANT: That's right. And we talk a lot about steroids, obviously over the last 10 years, 15 years, and we give a lot of criticism to the players that had to go kicking and screaming in front of Congress, including the commissioner, including the union. And Frank Thomas was the only guy to volunteer to say, look, I have nothing to hide, this is bad for the game.
And that meant a lot for me as a Hall of Fame voter. And not only did he do that but he also organized essentially civil disobedience in the White Sox clubhouse - which you never seen from ballplayers - to essentially force baseball to have drug testing by making his teammates not take drug testing, to push the threshold of positive tests, to guarantee that drug testing would be part of the game.
He did that. I gave him a lot of credit for that especially because it wasn't necessarily a popular move with his teammates, but that showed leadership to me.
SIMON: And should we take a few seconds...
BRYANT: And he's a great player too.
SIMON: He's a great player. And should we recall the fact that there were people that thought in the steroid era, what's wrong with Frank Thomas. How come he's not hitting 60 home runs? Turns out 'cause he was honest.
BRYANT: Exactly. And he actually had the career arc of somebody who was actually human.
SIMON: Who do you see - what do you see happening as the Saints head to Seattle and the Colts take on the Patriots?
BRYANT: Well, if you think about what happened before when the Saints went up there and got their bells rung, I mean, it was pretty bad. The Seahawks are the best home team in football. The crowd is unbelievable. The team plays much better up there. But the Saints did something nobody thought they could do. They went up into Philadelphia in the cold conditions and the won a football game, and I think that's going to give them a lot of confidence to play this game.
I feel like if they can get out to the second half and still be in the game, it's going to be pretty good. But if they come in slow, they're going to get demolished. Seahawks are the best team in football.
SIMON: OK. And I've got to ask you, earliest rounds of the Australian Open, all eyes on Serena?
BRYANT: It starts Monday. Serena Williams is making a championship run towards history; wants to catch Martina and Chris Evert at 18 Grand Slams. She's one away and believe me, she's playing like Hank Aaron played in the '70s, to break that record, and that's really important to her. And I think it's great for tennis, too. Everyone talks about the American men not being as good as they used to be, but Serena has held up her bargain for the end for the American women and for the country. She's terrific.
SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
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