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How Two Baseball Teams Got Their Dubious Records


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


MARTIN: And that music means it's time to talk with NPR's Mike Pesca, who will open his mind and his heart as we discuss interesting contours in the world of sport. Good morning, Mike.



MARTIN: That's not the kind of heart I'm talking about opening.

PESCA: Oh, metaphors. OK.

MARTIN: I know. All right. So, we're going to discuss baseball. And we are going to begin our conversation with a couple of dubious records. Do explain.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, literally the records of the Marlins and the Astros are pretty terrible - historically terrible. We're about 40 games into the season. You know, historically, Memorial Day weekend is when you begin to take measure, and fans of these teams will say wow. They're terrible. In fact, they are threatening to be historically terrible. Usually, what you do when you think about terrible teams - the Astros have 13 wins and the Marlins have 12 wins - is you compare them to the worst team of modern baseball - the 1962 Mets who finished the season with 40 wins. And these teams, though they are on a pace to have 42 or 43 wins, right now, they have the same record around where the Mets were back in 1962. They are just so terrible, the Marlins are doing it without batting and the Astros are doing it without pitching. I mean, the Astros are on pace to give up, like, more than 300 runs or have a run differential of 300, which means by the end of this season, they'll have given up 300 more runs than they've scored. That's awful.

MARTIN: Are these two teams, are they having just a bad year, just a bad season or is there something exceptional happening?

PESCA: Right. They're not saying, wow, we didn't expect that to happen. We thought we would contend for a pennant. These teams were designed to be this bad. And it's actually a logical - it's cynical but logical - philosophy. Which is in baseball, if you're a 60- or 70-win team you're not that much better off than if you're a 45-win team. I mean, people will stay away from the park if they have an assumption that you're going to lose. And even if you have a 51 percent chance of losing or a 71 percent chance of losing, you're not going to draw. So, the idea is there's no reason to try to spend any money on free agents if you know you're going to be bad, and in a few years, you're could be good. I have to say the Astros, they have new ownership and they seem like they're kind of in the right direction. It seems totally bizarre to say that about a team this bad, a team that will probably set the strikeout record in modern baseball. But they have, you know, a fiery manager, and even though they have a bunch of guys who don't deserve to be in the major leagues, their farm system is pretty good. If I was an Astros fan, I wouldn't despair.

MARTIN: In the long term. So, you're just saying stay the course, it'll get better. What about the Marlins?

PESCA: Yeah, definitely in the long term. You know, the Marlins are actually, baseball-wise, kind of in the same position. But it's just so depressing with the Marlins. I think they had bad faith with their fans because the fans ponied up in the form of taxes. You know, they built a new stadium and it's been estimated they're going to be paying, like, over $2 billion over a few decades for this new stadium. And as soon as the new team got there, they tried to have a good team - didn't work out - they sold everyone. They traded everyone. And even though they have some good prospects coming, just the entire tenor, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, as anyone who has tried to eat an aggressive game fish can tell you.

MARTIN: OK. What's the curveball today, quickly.

PESCA: All right. So, I am obsessed with the NBA pre-draft height measurement. You know, you have to be tall to be in the NBA. So, what they do is they take all the college seniors and foreign players and they give them two measurements - one in socks and one in sneakers. Now, guys usually go up an inch, you know, an inch and a quarter when they put on their sneakers. But every year, there is a guy who just explodes, has, like, really thick sneakers. And this year it's Seth Curry, the brother of Stephan Curry. He plays for Duke. He's 6-1 out his sneakers, and he's 6-3 in sneakers. How could this be? One: I found out what kind of sneakers the guy wore. It's LeBron 10s. Two: I go to a store. I say give me the LeBron 10s. I'm going to try this on and I'm going to measure it. In fact, I'm going to do it. But for a really good comparison, I bring Brian McCade(ph). He's an engineer in New York, but he has pretty much the same dimensions as Seth Curry - not the same outside shot. But he's 6-1 outside of sneakers and he weighs about 180 pounds. So, we put the sneakers on Brian, we put the sneakers on me, couple of measurements - guess what?

MARTIN: What happened?

PESCA: Exactly two inches. The LeBron 10s are the thickest sneakers I have ever seen. They're very good and bouncy - they cost about 300 bucks. But, yeah, these sneakers will add two inches to your height. That's got to be worth, like, a few hundred thousand dollars in the NBA, where height matters.

MARTIN: I'm ditching my stilettos. NPR's Mike Pesca in New York. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.