Sports History This Week
A Baseball Pioneer Finds His Way Behind Home Plate
February 20, 1951 (or July 1951). Emmett Ashford is waiting inside the ballpark of the Mexicali Eagles. At 36 years old, he's toiled around the United States, working toward his goal of becoming a professional umpire. Finally, he lands a tryout just south of the border to make it happen. But there's a problem: the other umpires needed to play the game are white— they won't take the field with a Black man.
Today, Emmett Ashford attempts to become the first Black umpire in organized baseball. Can he make it happen? And if so, can he overcome barriers to make it all the way to the majors?
Special thanks to our guests: Raymond Bell, the executive producer of “Called Up: The Emmett Ashford Story” and Doug Harris, the producer, director and editor of the same film; Adrienne Bratton, the daughter of Emmett Ashford; and Mark Armour, a baseball historian.
View all episodes
Looking Back at Sports History21:55August 16th, 2023. Over the past 16 months, Sports History This Week has covered sporting events from football to baseball to roller derby to a man skydiving from outer space. It has been an absolute joy working on the show, and we've loved hearing from the listeners along the way. In this episode, you'll hear from the team who produces and writes the show: what we loved, what we learned, and what we wished we had a chance to do. Thank you all for listening, and just know that we'll be watching the next big sports history moment as it unfolds. Special thanks to the Sports History This Week team: Jonah Buchanan, associate producer: Ben Dickstein, senior producer; Emma Fredericks, associate producer; David Ingber, producer; Kaelen Jones, host; Jessie Katz, executive producer; Cooper Katz McKim, producer; McCamey Lynn, supervising producer; Hazel May, associate producer; and Julia Press, story editor.
“The Great One” Becomes a King33:04August 9, 1988: Coming off their fourth Stanley Cup win in the last five seasons, the Edmonton Oilers do the unthinkable: trade Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s biggest superstar. Just as he’s entering his competitive peak, Gretzky departs a team where he looked like the centerpiece of a budding dynasty. And his destination is the Los Angeles Kings… in a city that barely knows it has a hockey team.Today, hockey changes forever, as Canada loses its greatest son to the United States. Why would the Oilers trade Gretzky? And how does Gretzky’s move reshape the entire NHL?Special thanks to our guests: David Staples, columnist for The Edmonton Journal; Bruce McNall, former owner of the L.A. Kings and co-chair of A-Mark Entertainment; Luc Robitaille, NHL Hall of Famer and president of the L.A. Kings; and Bernie Nicholls, retired All-Star NHL center.
Special Announcement00:42We’ll be back next week with a regular episode, but please listen to this for an important SHTW update!
Street Fighter’s EVO Moment #37 (ft. Justin Wong & Daigo Umehara)30:14August 1, 2004. Before esports became a billion-dollar industry, a few college halls in Southern California hosted a video game tournament: the Evolution Championship Series. Justin Wong is facing Daigo Umehara in the semifinals in Street Fighter III. Surprisingly, Wong has Umehara on the ropes. He goes in for a game-ending move when something unimaginable happens.Today, the moment that changes fighting games forever. When EVO Moment #37 takes the world by storm, it helps revive a struggling video game franchise. How does the moment come to be? And why does it have such a huge impact on the gaming community and beyond?Special thanks to our guests: Glenn Cravens, author of “EVO Moment #37: One of the Most Famous Moments in Competitive Gaming History”; David Graham, gamer, lawyer and EVO Tournament commentator; Daigo Umehara, professional gamer; and Justin Wong, professional gamer.
Barry Sanders Retires in His Prime29:37July 27, 1999. Barry Sanders, star running back of the Detroit Lions, writes a letter announcing his intentions to abruptly retire from the NFL. At just 31 years old, one of the game’s top players is ready to hang it up and walk away — on his own terms.Today, Barry Sanders stuns his teammates, his fans, and the entire football world. How did Barry Sanders become one of his era's most dominant offensive weapons? And what factors contributed to him retiring from football, at the peak of his powers?Special thanks to our guests: Charlie Batch, former NFL quarterback; Alex Kirschner and Richard Johnson, co-hosts of the “Split Zone Duo: College Football Podcast”; Pat Jones, former college football and NFL coach; and Scott Mitchell, former NFL quarterback.
Seattle Loses the Supersonics (ft. Damien Wilkins)32:25July 18, 2006. The owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, Howard Schultz, calls a press conference. Ever since the Starbucks chairman took over the team, he's been hemorrhaging money. Now, Schultz has run out of patience too. He's selling the team... to out-of-town buyers.Today, the SuperSonics are sold out. The franchise delivered Seattle its first pro sports championship, was a cultural touchstone, and produced superstars like Gary Payton. Fans are desperate to keep the Sonics in town. So why do they leave?Special thanks to our guests: Adam Brown, producer of the Webby Award-winning film "SonicsGate"; Chris Daniels, longtime Seattle reporter and host of the podcast “Iconic Sonics"; Loren “Big Lo” Sandretzky, Sonics superfan; and Damien Wilkins, former Seattle SuperSonic.
Chastain’s World Cup Winner (ft. Kristine Lilly & Briana Scurry)28:54July 10, 1999. It’s 107 degrees on the soccer field in Pasadena, California, at third-ever Women’s World Cup. The US Women’s National Team is stuck in a scoreless tie against China. Just a few years earlier, these teams were playing in stadiums that looked like they belonged to the local high school. Now? They’re playing in front of 90,000 screaming fans, desperate to see the U.S. come out on top.Today, the U.S. Women’s National Team puts the finishing touches on one of the most iconic tournament runs in American soccer history. How was this team able to vault women’s soccer to a level most would have thought impossible? And how has the sport changed in the 24 years since?Special thanks to our guests: Julie Kliegman, copy chief for Sports Illustrated; Kristine Lilly, former USWNT midfielder; Briana Scurry, former USWNT goalkeeper; and Amy Shipley, former sports reporter for the Washington Post.
Kobayashi Arrested at the Hot Dog Eating Contest (ft. Takeru Kobayashi & Joey Chestnut)33:43July 4, 2010. Nathan’s Famous is holding its annual hot dog eating competition on Coney Island. But this year, one perennial champion is not taking the stage: Takeru Kobayashi. The legendary eater destroyed competition for six years in a row, launching him into international stardom. But then, things start to go wrong.Today, Takeru Kobayashi looks to make a statement. In front of thousands of spectators, Kobayashi gets arrested at the very competition he used to dominate. Why is there so much drama at a hot dog eating contest? And how does the original competitive eating superstar get to this point?Special thanks to our guests: Yukako Maggie James, Kobayashi’s former manager and wife; Takeru Kobayashi, competitive eater; Gersh Kuntzman, longtime New York journalist; Joey Chestnut, competitive eater; Ryan Nerz, author of “Eat This Book, A Year of Gorging and Glory On the Competitive Eating Circuit”; Noriko Okubo, Kobayashi’s interpreter and agent; George Shea, chair of Major League Eating.
Maddux Throws a Maddux (ft. Greg Maddux)24:02July 2, 1997. Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux takes the mound for a regular-season start against the defending champion New York Yankees. And in typical Maddux fashion, he starts making quick work of the Yankees lineup. In fact, he gets through the game so quickly, that Major League Baseball would eventually add a new stat into its official glossary to commemorate this, and other performances like it. Today, Greg Maddux inspires a baseball writer named Jason Lukehart to create a statistic called “The Maddux.” So what exactly is a “Maddux”? And how did coaching and strategizing in the sport of baseball eventually lead to the abandonment of the techniques that made Maddux so successful? Special thanks to our guests: Anthony Castrovince, writer for MLB.com; Jason Lukehart, baseball writer and inventor of “The Maddux” baseball statistic; Greg Maddux, four-time Cy Young Award winner, Hall of Famer, and namesake of “The Maddux”; and Jameson Taillon, pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.