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Saturday Sports: The Astros' Sign-Stealing Scandal; Rule Change In Women's Tennis

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Just when the week seems low, it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The Houston Astros say they're sorry, but it didn't make a difference. So come on. Get over it. Let's move on - while women's tennis will allow in-game coaching. We're joined now by NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SIMON: Tom...

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SIMON: I'm banging on a trash can.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SIMON: I'm sending you a signal. What is it?

GOLDMAN: How many bangs were that - was that?

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SIMON: Five.

GOLDMAN: Oh, OK. Then it's BJ (laughter) Leiderman, who writes our theme music.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh, man. You got it. That's amazing.

GOLDMAN: But, Scott...

SIMON: Yes?

GOLDMAN: ...I want you to know your signal didn't have an impact on my answer.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Still - still, I'm sorry. Let's move on. OK.

SIMON: Oh, that was so nicely done. I mean, that was a brief apology tour - 90 seconds tops, right?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Will it be that the Astros went on? Is it enough for the fans or other players whose careers they might have harmed?

GOLDMAN: I know. It doesn't seem that way. That's the consensus right now. You know, this was intended to mollify the baseball world, including those fans and opposing players, which is still very angry about Houston's illegal scheme to steal the signs of opposing catchers using trashcan bangs just like you and me, Scott. This scheme was in full bloom during the Astros championship winning season in 2017.

This apology tour, as you call it, on the first day of spring training two days ago - you know, it just made a lot of people angrier. The players and officials did say sorry. But they really didn't seem to have their heart in it. For the most part, players didn't talk details of what they did, why they did it, why they didn't do anything to stop it, even though they knew it was wrong. And there was no real acknowledgement of the other teams and players they hurt by doing this.

SIMON: Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred, I guess, is going to talk tomorrow. You're, of course - you're in Florida for spring training, right?

GOLDMAN: The epicenter.

SIMON: Should - (laughter) the epicenter of spring training. I'm going - he's got to worry about fans trusting the game. And does he also have to worry about Houston batters getting routinely plunked this season?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, because pitchers have been talking about that. You know, I don't think he was anticipating what he's going to get tomorrow, but - because things certainly have turned since Thursday. He's heard the weak apologies. He's heard Houston owner Jim Crane dig himself a hole with this comment that he didn't think the sign-stealing had an impact and then, a minute later, saying, he didn't say that. Now, Manfred will be asked about all this, whether he'll consider imposing any sanctions on Houston players who he absolved in last month's report on the scandal. And yes. What will he say to convince fans they can trust what they're seeing on ball fields? And what will he say about this threat of opposing pitchers seeking retribution? - tough word there - retribution...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...By throwing at Houston batters this season. Some pitchers are saying, yeah, they'll consider that.

SIMON: Yeah. New rule in women's tennis goes into effect Monday - coaching during matches. We remember Serena Williams at the - what is it? - 2018 U.S. Open - penalized for taking a hand signal from her coach to move up a little closer towards the net. From now on, that'll be OK. Remind us why it was ever banned.

GOLDMAN: Oh, because tennis is a tradition-bound sport - and tradition says tennis is a one-on-one contest. And players should be able to figure things out and make decisions on their own without coaches helping. Twelve years ago, the women's tour did start allowing coaches to visit players on court once every set. But now, as you mention, this new rule change will allow for the small moments of coaching from the stands, hand signals, etc. And a lot of people say this is good. It'll make matches more interesting for fans to be able to watch the - you know, the subtle player-coach interactions. For traditionalists who don't like this, the great Billie Jean King, who supports the rule changes, says, you know, players don't have to listen to the coach. They're still in control and make their own decisions. So it won't be cataclysmic what happens out there.

SIMON: I love Billie Jean King. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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