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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on college football's delta variant dilemma, and Cabrera's journey to 500 home runs

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

The college football season is almost here. Miguel Cabrera is attracting big crowds to Tigers games. And it's Friday. All good reasons to check in with Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon.

He joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss those stories and other sports news. Here's their conversation.  

Doug Tribou: First, John, let's acknowledge that the Big Ten is scheduled to start its football season on time and with full schedules. Michigan State opens against Northwestern two weeks from Friday. The University of Michigan will face Western Michigan two weeks from Saturday. That's a big change from where we were at this point last year.

John U. Bacon: Yeah, and there’s only one reason. And that's the vaccine, of course. So, thank God for that. We're still a long way from home. So, do us a favor and get vaccinated so we can watch football. I mean, something that stupid and superficial.

DT: The state of Michigan's COVID-19 numbers remain relatively low compared to states being hit hard by the delta variant. But the cases are on the rise here. The Wolverines are opening at home with no capacity restrictions at the Big House.

U of M will require masking in all indoor spaces and recommend it in outdoor areas. Other schools will likely take similar approaches. How will that hold up this season?

Big Ten football will return with full schedules this fall. The conference has not issued any limits on stadium capacity.

JUB: Well, it depends largely on the individual choices people make. Now, [the University of] Michigan has already instituted a vaccination requirement for faculty, staff, and students. But two-thirds of the people in the stadium are not students. One-third have no affiliation with the university – more than that oftentimes. Being outside helps, certainly. But I'll say this, this time last year, there's no real way out. Now there is.

DT: I personally know some longtime season ticket holders who have said, “No, we're going to step aside this season until things are more clear.” It'll be interesting to see if, on game day, there's just space in the stadium because people have chosen not to show up.

JUB: There will be. Now, what can happen with that stadium, and I've seen this before, if you're missing 20,000 people out of 110,000, you can barely tell the difference because those seats are 18 inches apart. Not many of us fit in 18 inches anymore. Let's be honest about that. So people are spread out a little bit. So you really can't tell.

You won't really see a big impact until it's down to 70 or 80,000. Then you might see the difference, and you might see that this fall is my prediction.

DT: Well, we'll talk more about the actual college football that will be played this season as we get closer to the start date. But let's turn to baseball. Bally Sports Detroit, the TV network that carries Tigers games, has suspended color commentator and baseball Hall of Famer Jack Morris for comments he made during a game against the Angels this week.

When talking about how to pitch to Angels star Shohei Ohtani, Morris used a stereotypical Asian accent to say, “Be very, very careful.” Should Morris get another chance behind the microphone?

JUB: Depends, honestly, on how he responds to his reeducation program. It was obviously incredibly insensitive, ridiculous. And then, the apology was worse, which is often the case. “If I offended anybody.” No, that's not the measure. It's not an apology. What you do is you apologize, you mean it sincerely, and you fix whatever needs to be fixed. Now, the question is, will Morris be willing to do so?

DT: Miguel Cabrera's quest for 500 home runs has been drawing big crowds to Tigers games at Comerica Park. The countdown has been a chance to celebrate one of the game's all-time great hitters. What stands out to you about Cabrera's long tenure in Detroit?

JUB: He's been oftentimes the only real reason to go down to Comerica Park if you're a baseball fan, beyond the experience, of course. He's played with great joy throughout his career at a time that has not been very joyful in Detroit. Third thing is, he's about to enter a very exclusive club. Only 27 players are in the 500 Club. The first is Babe Ruth.

And also lucky for the Tigers that the chase to 500 has been stretched out [since his 499th on August 11]. They're getting good crowds every night because of this. Good for him and good for the Tigers. One of the very rare happy stories you've given me today, Doug. So thank you for that.

John U. Bacon will appear at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on Thursday, September 9, at 7 p.m. to debut his latest book, "Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America's Worst High School Hockey Team." You can get more details at letthemleadbybacon.com.

Editor's note: Quotes here have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation near the top of this page. 

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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