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World Series Game 5: Will The Royals Claim Their Second Championship?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It all comes down to this. Tonight, the Kansas City Royals need just one more win to claim their second-ever World Series championship. The Mets are going to try to make sure that does not happen. But beyond the big game, this matchup has a unique place in baseball history. Joining us to talk about all of that is Dave Zirin. He writes for The Nation. Welcome, Dave.

DAVE ZIRIN: Hey, great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, I've previously disclosed my fondness for the Mets, having been born and raised in Brooklyn. So you can imagine this is a little bit of a tough day for me. I know you're going to help me get through it. So...

ZIRIN: I am, absolutely.

MARTIN: Do they still have a chance?

ZIRIN: Yes, absolutely they have a chance. Yes, I share your biases. Yes, I'm from New York City. Yes, I've been a Mets fan my entire life, but I feel hopeful, not despondent, for a very simple reason. The Mets have three starting pitchers - one after the other - lined up that make me think them winning three in a row, while probably not probable, is definitely possible. Starting tonight with Matt Harvey, then Jacob deGrom, who's been the best pitcher in this entire post season on any team, and then, of course, Nick Syndergaard, who just looks so terrific in the last game. He's the only person who's been able to keep the Royals down. So please do not lose hope.

MARTIN: OK. Well, what are we looking forward to tonight? What should we be looking for?

ZIRIN: Well, there's one thing that we have to look at above all else. And that is the Mets ability not just to have a lead, but keep a lead. I have no doubt that the Mets will come out. They'll be at - they'll be in New York, but here's the problem. The Kansas City Royals now own the record for most post-season comebacks when down by at least two runs. And I don't believe in fate except when it comes to baseball, so this really worries me. But the team that they beat is the '96 Yankees, who came back five times from down two runs. The Yankees, of course, went on to win the World Series.

MARTIN: OK - sobering. But...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: All right. Let's talk - let's talk - let's broaden out just a little bit. One more - you know, to that end, you wrote a piece earlier this week that I want to talk about now - very interesting piece. The headline is this - for the first time in history, the World Series is between two teams that were never segregated.

ZIRIN: Yes, it's really interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, I love it because it's one of those things that just shows that, you know, the past isn't always necessarily past. You know, that's one of the things that baseball does more than any other sport - is that it provides us with these living links to our own history. It's never quite worked out that two of these teams that did not come into existence until after 1947 played in the big game. It points to the ways in which the teams that were segregated were able to build on their own institutional power in the sport, first and foremost, to scoop up some of the best Negro League talent. And I'm thinking about teams like the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals, both of which had post-World War II explosions in titles and glory precisely because they did what teams like the New York Yankees did not do until much later. And that's say, well, wait a minute - we need to actually get the best players available and not only the white players.

MARTIN: But the other point that you make in your piece is that the presence of African-Americans in this sport is at a very - is very low. Why is it that black American participation in this sport is at such a low level? And why is that a problem?

ZIRIN: If you look at the demographics of Major League Baseball rosters, what you see is something that I think is very sobering. You see that there is not a lot of effort by Major League Baseball to try to actually develop the talent that does exist in -particularly in urban areas, particularly in black and also Latino communities inside the United States.

The other side of it, too, is that Major League Baseball now depends more than ever on the NCAA and the college system. The problem with that is that the rosters of NCAA baseball teams are something like 98 percent white. And I think for people who want this to truly be a national pastime that everybody has a chance at, then you want to see infrastructure, coaches, instruction take place in a much greater way throughout the United States than it currently is.

MARTIN: Well, you've given us something to think about. Thanks, Dave. Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports for The Nation. Dave, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ZIRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.