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The Red Sox, Unbearded?; Creator of Pioneering Arm Surgery Dies; Make Sense of the Blade Runner's Fall from Glory; Female Wrestler Beating the Boys

Aired March 7, 2014 - 22:30   ET




Some Red Sox players kept their World-Series-winning beards, while others shaved.

DAVE ROSS, BOSTON RED SOX PLAYER: I was like, what did I just do?

ANNOUNCER: Unhappy. Two years ago the Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius was a hero the world over. Now he's on trial for murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He took a gun, and he shot this girl Reeva Steenkamp; and she is dead now.

ANNOUNCER: Unmatched. A girl set a school record for most wins on the wrestling mat, every one coming against a boy.

JULIA ERNST, WRESTLER: They're coming into the mat with this sense of superiority. Those are the ones that are going to go out on the corner or have parents that come and yell at them.



Last fall, the Boston Red Sox didn't just become World Series champions; they became a phenomenon. The bushy beards, the free- spirited approach, the way they uplifted their city in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Even Yankees fans were impressed.

Now spring training has arrived, and the boys are back. I spoke with three of the players who make up the heart of that Red Sox clubhouse: Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and David Ross.


NICHOLS: What's it like to be all back together again?

JOHNNY GOMES, BOSTON RED SOX PLAYER: You know, as cliche as it sounds, it was like being away from your family for four months. It's good to be back in the little -- the little safety nest that we've built. NICHOLS: You seem so close.

ROSS: I'll be talking to these guys, you know, hopefully when I'm 70, if they're still alive.

NICHOLS: I like that. You think you're alive.

ROSS: Yes.

NICHOLS: Your manager, John Farrell, says that he had to do a little bit of a double take, though, when he walked back in the clubhouse, especially seeing the difference. We got the side by side of Jonny here. I mean, you know, this is not the same person when you look at the side-by-side photos.

GOMES: We're in free agency here, you know. So I had to shave some years off, you know. So yes, the whole thing was a setup.

NICHOLS: Did anybody have to say, "Wait. I don't quite recognize you?"

MIKE NAPOLI, BOSTON RED SOX: Yes. I had to pick him up on one of the first days, and I was driving. I couldn't even look at him. I wanted to talk to him, but I was like -- I was like driving and looking out the side and look at him and it was just different.

NICHOLS: You didn't shave. You trimmed a little bit, but you didn't shave.

NAPOLI: I mean, I like it. I don't know. It's just -- it's part of me, and I mean, I don't think I have a wife like these guys.

ROSS: I did shed a tear when I cut mine off. I was like, man, what did I just do? It was a lot of work to get that thing where it was.

NICHOLAS: Did you think if you hit a rough patch in the season, maybe the beards are going to start to come out again?

GOMES: No. I mean, there was a couple of rough patches with the beards, you know? So I mean, we didn't want to take it off. But...

NAPOLI: My career is a rough patch.

GOMES: Yes. I mean, I tell you what, at the end of the day, you know, it is time to turn the page on the beard. I mean, there are some great athletes and ball players behind these beards.

NICHOLS: You guys had so many reasons to need the beards for team unity. You have those things to bring you guys together. And then of course, the Boston Marathon bombing so early in the season. What do you remember about that day and how the news kind of filtered to you?

NAPOLI: The first thing that came to my mind is somebody left the gas on or there was an explosion or electrical box blew up. Everybody's on the bus. We're trying to call our families. We didn't know what was going on. Cell phone's not working. It was just a weird feeling. We didn't really know what to do.

GOMES: We had two buses going this way and just getting past by fire trucks and ambulances and police cars.

NICHOLS: You guys were heading out to Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were going to Cleveland.

GOMES: And obviously the bombing explosion, and now we're getting on an airplane, the one thing that you fear the most if you're in the air.

ROSS: And then, by the time we got to Cleveland, I've never seen as quick of a turnaround of a group of guys. I mean, the responsibility that we felt as a team to come together and hey, like this is a tough time, let's go out here and show them what the Red Sox are all about and let's represent Boston in the right way.

NICHOLS: You guys represent Boston in such an intrinsic way in that fact that you were there, day after day. Baseball happens every day. You were something reliable that people could hold onto.

NAPOLI: We were going out there to do something good so they could get their minds off of it for a couple of hours.

GOMES: And I thought there was a good chance after that bombing, like you know, civilian, coming to the game, "Oh, I don't want to go to the game; it's not safe." I mean, that thing was just packed. That northeast, that Boston area, they don't shy away from anything.

NICHOLS: And after you guys won, of course, one of the great traditions in Boston, the duck boat parade. And you laid down at the marathon finish line that trophy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I mean, that was unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): God bless America

GOMES: There's not many championship parades that, you know, come to a halt. The fact that we put that World Series trophy, kind of put a Band-Aid on that area and the bad thoughts. I mean, now people can walk into that area and be like, that's where we put the World Series trophy, versus that's where the bomb went off. You know? So I think that was extremely important for the city.

ROSS: And it was a moment that, during our celebration and all the parade and everybody screaming for us, everything stopped. Like I said, this is what it's really all about. This is how important this was to us.

NICHOLS: And you guys are going to be playing again when they run the Boston Marathon again. And just a few weeks from now. It's a tradition in Boston. Patriots Day, they run the Marathon. The Red Sox play. That's how tied up you guys are in that event. What do you think that's going to be like?

GOMES: It's going to be a lot. It's definitely going to be a lot. I know for me personally, I'm about the non-runner of any of the guys on the team. And if I wasn't playing baseball, I would want to run. That's how -- that's how, like, I feel tied to this city and this marathon now. I would want to be part of what's going to go on there.


NICHOLS: When they do run the Boston Marathon next month, the start is going to be timed for the leaders to pass by Fenway right around the fifth inning. Don't be surprised if you see some of the players turn around and wave.

All right. Coming up, we will have much more from the Red Sox, including just what led to this from late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Thereby earning your new nickname, Mike Nipoli.



NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols and welcome back to UNGUARDED. We've been talking to the Red Sox' Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and David Ross. Last season they helped engineer one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of baseball, winning the World Series with a team the previous year finished dead last in its division. Maybe that's why they were celebrating so hard.


NICHOLS: So what is it like in the aftermath of a World Series win?

GOMES: I didn't come down for the longest time. It was like, is your feet back on the ground? And I'm like, "No, and I don't want to either."

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, TBS'S "CONAN": You're tasting food from three weeks ago.


NICHOLS: You did some fun talk show appearances.

FALLON: Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, for walking around Boston shirtless after the World Series parade, there by earning your new nickname, Mike Nipoli.

NICHOLS: No mention of this would be complete without Mike, who wandered the streets of Boston after hours, without a shirt.

NAPOLI: I would do it again.

ROSS: We hope he doesn't.

NAPOLI: Right.

GOMES: Better him than one of us. Because we might have been naked.

ROSS: That's how the text messages started. We're just "Is Mike alive? Let's just make sure Nap's OK."

NAPOLI: It was a good month for sure.

NICHOLS: Is Mike Nipoli going to catch on, you think? Or what?

NAPOLI: You take the nickname. I want the players.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the mentality like?

NAPOLI: The clubhouse and -- thank you, buddy.

NICHOLS: Do you think there's been a little bit of a cultural change in baseball because of your team last year?

ROSS: I think so. I mean, they're still not talking about our pitching staff. You know what I mean? They're still not.

GOMES: It's just ironic how that team worked out last year to where we didn't have one guy in the top ten in the Cy Young or one guy in the top ten in the MVP. But we had the best team. And you know, at the end of the day, I think it was all a message to us and a message to the league, that that works. You know? That works, 100 percent.

NICHOLS: So as you now go out in the world and try to do this again, you know that the record is not good. The World Series hangover. No Red Sox team has made it back there after winning the year before.

GOMES: Well, we're the second team in the history of the game to go from worst to win the World Series. So we've already covered almost impossible. I mean, to be able to roll into spring training with, you know, the worst record in the AL East and set a goal to win the World Series is either stupid or you guys are awesome, and it turns out we're awesome. So, you know, impossible has taken away. So I think we're up for the challenge.


NICHOLS: Certainly sounds like they are. And we will talk pitching for a moment, too.

Red Sox right hander John Lackey, who was just tremendous during the playoffs, well, he's one of the 34 percent of Major League pitchers who wouldn't even be playing baseball anymore if not for the career saving procedure called Tommy John surgery, invented by Dr. Frank Jobe and named after the first player it was performed on.

The process replaces the tendon in a damaged pitching arm with a tendon from another part of the body. The procedure literally changed the entire course of the sport of baseball. And Dr. Jobe died yesterday at the age of 88.

But I am now joined by Tommy John.

Welcome, Tommy.

TOMMY JOHN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER: Rachel, thank you for having me on.

NICHOLS: Well, Tommy, you blew out your pitching arm back in 1974. And at the time, what was the prognosis that you got about whether you would ever pitch in the majors again?

JOHN: Well, Dr. Jobe told me if -- he said, "You really don't need the surgery, but I can 100 percent guaranty you if you do not have it, you'll never pitch Major League baseball again."

I said, "OK, if I have the surgery, what are my chances?"

And he said, "You probably won't pitch Major League baseball."

I said, "Give me numbers." I said, "I was a math major in college."

And he said, "Two, 3 percent."

Well, I was also valedictorian in my high-school class. And I know 2 or 3 percent out of 100 is much better than 0 out of 100. So I said, "Let's do it. Let's get it done now."

Now here is the reason why Dr. Jobe was a genius. He said, "No, Tommy, we can't do the surgery until these six doctors and their schedules line up where we can all be in the operating room together."


He said, "Because I don't know what I'm doing, and I need as many skilled surgeons as I can guiding my hands when we open you up."

The minute he said that, I said, "You're my doctor. Let's go for it."

NICHOLS: Well, we know that he's a career saver as a doctor. But what kind of a man was Dr. Jobe?

JOHN: The most humble man I've ever -- you know, he has every right to stand back and thump his chest and say, "I did Tommy John's surgery, and I did this." He never used the word "I." It was always, "Well, we did this. We did that." Instead of having a funeral, he wants to have a celebration of life at Dodger Stadium. And what we're going to try to do is try to get as many Tommy John recipients as we can to come to that celebration of life, have a picture taken, and that's kind of a tribute to Dr. Jobe.

NICHOLS: Wow. That's pretty cool.

How would you describe just how valuable the contribution of Tommy John surgery and really Dr. Jobe's other contributions in surgical procedures, how valuable were they in changing the sport of baseball?

JOHN: Three people, in my opinion, altered the face of baseball. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Marvin Miller, breaking the reserve clause and getting free agency for the players, and Frank Jobe for coming up with Tommy John surgery. Those three guys changed the face of baseball forever.

NICHOLS: All right. Well, thank you, Tommy. We really appreciate you being here with us.

JOHN: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

NICHOLS: OK. Coming up after this break, we will have the latest on another developing news story, the Oscar Pistorius trial. Arguably South Africa's most famous athlete, now on trial for murder. Stick around.


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. Those of you watching CNN earlier tonight saw our special on Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympian who earned fame competing alongside able-bodied runners at the London Olympics.

With Pistorius now on trial for murder, we wanted to get a broader perspective. So let's bring in Gareth Davies, who writes for London's "Daily Telegraph."

Gareth, you have known and covered Oscar since he was 17 years old. That's 10 years. What has it been like for you to just watch him on trial for murder?

GARETH A. DAVIES, "DAILY TELEGRAPH": Extraordinary shock. I mean, you've got to remember that I covered this, what was a boy at the age of 17 at the Athens Paralympic Games, who had extraordinarily come into the world without fibulae, without the shin bones in his legs, and he's been this fairy-tale story of a boy who felt he could run fast.

And had -- I've seen him grow into a man and fight the courts of arbitration in sports for the right to run against the able-bodied in the Olympics, who had grown and become a global figure for the Paralympic movement, the poster boy of the Paralympic movement. A kind of -- so if you like, very much a fairy tale. And obviously then, plunged into what is now a horror story, having shot and killed his girlfriend. When you know someone in that situation -- I've dealt with him dozens of times -- you begin to wonder if you really knew the person or not.

NICHOLS: And let's talk about this fall from grace. Can you put into perspective what you would compare it to? We've seen O.J. Simpson; we've seen Lance Armstrong. Is that on this level?

DAVIES: It's definitely on this level. If you know South Africa, you know that they really hero worship their sports stars. And this young man was one of the iconic sports stars in South Africa. This is a massive, massive trial, and of course, no jury and cameras in there. It's like the world is the jury in this case.

NICHOLS: Did you see any signs of anything like this coming, anything in his temperament?

DAVIES: I always found him honest, humble, and what I thought was open. When he was trying to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games, I sat in his hotel room with a previous girlfriend on his hotel bed, chatting to her, while he went into the bathroom to change into his evening legs for us to go out for dinner. And things like that have gone through my mind since.

NICHOLS: He has had some issues with guns before. Is that correct?

DAVIES: Yes, he has. I mean, he was stopped once in an airport where there was some kind of gunshot residue on his clothes. There is a slight kind of pleasure he takes from this whole process of being arrested and being checked. And it was just a mistake in the end. He had been at a range and shooting, and some of the residue had gotten onto his clothes; and it was picked up by the airport kind of testing indicators, if you like.

NICHOLS: Do you have any sense of how this is going to play out, what will happen here?

DAVIES: You'll know yourself, Rachel. You get to know athletes over a period of time. We lionized him because of this extraordinary story. It's almost like a miracle that he was running with the fastest people on earth. But he will always be tainted as the man with -- the fastest man on no legs who killed his girlfriend, no matter how the -- the trial plays out.

NICHOLS: Yes, certainly just a tragedy. And a stunning turn of events for people who have been watching him for years, as you have. Thank you, Gareth. We certainly appreciate the insight here.

All right. Coming up right after this break, we are going to switch gears and introduce you do a young woman who is defying expectations both on the wrestling mat and off of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JULIA ERNST: They'll see me, and I am battered or bloody noses, and then later on, they'll friend me on Facebook. They'll be like, "Are you sure that this is the right person?"


NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. I'm Rachel Nichols.

These days it's not unheard of for school-age girls to compete alongside boys in traditionally male sports. But competing is one thing. Consistently beating the boys, that is another. CNN correspondent Tom Foreman brings us the story of young wrestler named Julia Ernst, who's fresh off her third consecutive city championship.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. Front head lock. Front head lock.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the mat, the wrestler in green is fast, fierce...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drop that head.

FOREMAN: ... and female. It is a rare sight, even now in this overwhelmingly male sport. But Julia Ernst is a rare soul, a young woman beating the boys at their own game.


FOREMAN (on camera): How did you start wrestling?

JULIA ERNST: Well, actually, I started wrestling because I have a really great older brother that beat up on me a little bit before dinner, and I decided eventually that I needed to learn how to defend myself.

FOREMAN (voice-over): One of only three females on the seventh- grade team at her private school, by freshman year the others had quit, and Julia stood alone.

JULIA ERNST: Despite the fact that I have supportive coaches and supportive teammates, it's still an interesting feeling to walk into a room and be the only person of your type.

FOREMAN (on camera): So when you went up to -- to have matches with other schools...


FOREMAN: ... you encountered that quite often.

JULIA ERNST: Yes. Definitely. You know, you're in the locker room, and you can't really josh around with the boys. You can't really make nicknames for each other. Talk about whatever cool moves you learned in practice. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Julia.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Yet encouraged by her parents, who are into martial arts, she started winning over and over again, sparking a range of reactions. Some boys would outright refuse to wrestle hers. Others...

JULIA ERNST: If they're coming into the match with this sense of pride and a sense of superiority, that they are male, therefore they are going to win the match, if I do end up beating them, then often, you know, those are the kids that are going to go off and cry in the corner or be really ashamed or have parents that come and yell at them.

FOREMAN (on camera): Tell me something that people find surprising about you.

JULIA ERNST: That I am feminine. I'll go to wrestling camp with scores of boys. And they'll see me, and I'm, you know, wearing my singlet or my head cap and I'm battered or bloody noses or whatever. And then later on they'll find me on Facebook, and they won't believe that it's me.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Maybe that's because away from the gym, she can be all smiles and charm. But on the mat, she is all business. Just ask her coach.

JUSTIN GAVRI, GEORGETOWN DAY WRESTLING COACH: She's one of the hardest working wrestlers I've ever met. The hardest-working person I've ever met, whether it's schoolwork, whether it's athletics. She just -- she just goes as hard as she possibly could on everything.

FOREMAN: That wins tournaments and fans. With the season winding down, Julia, a team captain, faced one match to become the winningest wrestler in her school's history.

JENNIFER ERNST, JULIA'S MOTHER: Everybody was on their feet, shouting and cheering, "Julia, Julia!" And when she won, everybody jumped -- jumped up and down. Women were literally crying to see this victory. She represents for all these women. And I've had many conversations with women at these matches, "Julia is my hero. She's doing -- you know, she's trail blazing for women."

FOREMAN: Julia believes her little brother may soon enough eclipse her record. But for now, she reigns supreme: 26 losses, 107 wins. All against men.

(on camera): When you hear your coach talk about your record at your school, what do you think?

JULIA ERNST: I -- I'm happy. I'm very happy. I get a little bit giddy and do a little bit of a happy dance maybe.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Her grades are impressive, too. So next fall, she's off to Harvard with hopes of wrestling at the club level, where she knows boys will still be boys, and she's convinced she'll still be the girl who can beat them.

GAVRI: Great career. Great career.

FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


NICHOLS: Love the idea of that happy dance. Julia, you deserve it.

All right, that is going to be it for us tonight, but you can follow me on Twitter, like us on Facebook or visit us on the Web at And of course, you can find us right back here next Friday night on UNGUARDED, where the end of the game is just the start of the story. Good night.