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Buster Olney defends his Pujols-Howard story

Mar 16, 2010, 1:15 PM EDT

Buster Olney.jpgEveryone has had a lot of fun with Buster Olney’s report about the Phillies having internal discussions about trading Ryan Howard for Pujols.  Today Buster strikes back. After making it clear that he never said that any St. Louis-Philly negotiations took place and that neither team was inclined to make such deal, Buster says he was dead on the money. He adds:

And as a reporter, when you have confirmed information that the
Phillies have discussed internally an avenue through which how they
might pursue the best player in baseball — and you know exactly who
said what to whom, and how sturdy the intent was — that is news.

news in the same way that it would be news if you knew what the
internal conversations were within the Twins organization about how to
replace Joe Nathan, if you knew whether they talked about Heath Bell or Jason Frasor or John Smoltz.

The only difference was, in this case, is that the internal conversations were about two superstars. And while it may be inconvenient to some, it’s credible.

I think Buster’s technically right about this, but I think he also has to know that talking about potential candidates to replace an injured closer is a totally different deal than throwing what could be the biggest trade in recent baseball history out there.  It’s not Olney’s fault that everyone went crazy with it, but knowing how quickly “internal discussions” get blown up to “a deal has been discussed” which in turn gets blown up into “Team X and Team Y are close to making a deal,” he had to have at least expected some of this would happen.

I think the greater lesson here, however, is that it’s important to read the reporter’s words more closely and pay less attention to the headline (often applied by an editor), the TV anchor’s summary or the scroll on the bottom of the screen.  From what I’ve seen Olney didn’t oversell what he was reporting. But ESPN kinda did, and they didn’t do their reporter any favors by doing so.

I’m also thinking that Olney might have gotten a bit more mileage out of this by placing that little news nugget in his back pocket and bringing it out later as flavor in another story.  Peter Gammons is a master at this.  Six months from now, when there’s actual news about Pujols, how slick would it have been to simply drop something like ” . . . and there aren’t many good options. A trade for Pujols would be nearly impossible — the Phillies talked about it last spring and shelved the idea — but the Cardinals have to pursue . .”  Gammons has been doing that stuff since I was in diapers and it has gone a long way towards cementing his reputation as a Man Who Knows Things.

Again, none of that is a slam on Olney. Just some observations about the media environment in which we find ourselves.

  1. Jonny5 - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    ST Louis has 2 more “cheap” seasons of Puljos. It would be due to complete brain failure for them to trade for Ryan Howard who has a larger pay coming than Puljos for only one season before he goes FA. The Phills would have to give up more than Howard, which would also be due to serious brain failure. Either way, it makes no sense. Now I do see Howard being traded for other players (plural) of lower caliber to make room for Werth and his payday. In my honest opinion Werth may be more valuable since he’ll probably demand less $ than Howard. I’d let Howard go, bring in some pen arms for exchange. Then they keep Werth. As a Phills Fan, i’d love to see both stay, but that’s probably not going to happen unless Ibanez has an awesome spring and gets traded. This would be the best case scenerio imo.

  2. peteinfla - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Craig – I have to disagree with you on this one. For Olney to even mention it lends credence to it, even if it is a non-story. If 2 coaches talked over dinner or a beer, and you overheard one of them say “wouldn’t it be great if we could get player X or pitcher Y?”, isn’t that also an “internal conversation”? It seems to me that any reporter can make any claim, citing “un-named sources”. But unless they are willing to name these sources, and go into some type of detail regarding the context of the conversation, it is really nothing more than hearsay, and should not be presented to the public at all. Not by any reporter – even Olney.

  3. gumbercules - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    I’m still not sure exactly why Olney would have reported this. Anyone with half a brain would realize that it is the stupidest idea since stupid was invented way back in 1743. Even sports radio callers get screened out with a suggestion like this.

  4. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    The question isn’t whether this is news. The question is whether it’s true.

  5. (Not That) Tom - Mar 16, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    “It’s not Olney’s fault that everyone went crazy with it”
    Of course it is. That’s like saying it’s not the movie patron’s fault for everybody going crazy just because he yelled “fire”. Bad analogy aside, Olney had to have known a rumor of this magnitude (i.e. a trade involving the best player in baseball) would get blown out proportion. If he didn’t then he knows even less about baseball and journalism than we give him credit for.

  6. (Not That) Tom - Mar 16, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    On the off chance, no matter how remote, the deal came to fruition, Olney could claim he broke the story.

  7. YANKEES1996 - Mar 16, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    I don’t hold Buster Olney completely at fault for this, as usual most of the blame belongs to ESPN for creating the frenzy for what else…ratings. This type of internal discussion happens in all sports and involves all types of players at all different skill levels. Buster should have remembered who he works for before he opened his mouth about this however.
    I cannot even begin to think about the magnitude of the displeasure that would be present in St.Louis if a move like this actually happened, it will be bad enough if they lose him via free agency.

  8. Bill@TDS - Mar 16, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    It’s not about treating the information as news, it’s about how he handled that information when he decided to act on it. Whatever the truth behind his information is, there’s NO WAY it justifies treating it — Pujols for Howard, straight up — as something that could actually happen. The way he wrote as though the Phillies might need some convincing to do it, and as though the Cardinals might be enticed to pay more money for the same number of years to an inferior player the same age as Pujols because Howard is considered a hometown kid, is just downright laughable and displayed an appalling lack of common sense and basic baseball knowledge. Assuming he had actual information, he handled that information as poorly as it could possibly have been handled.
    Can’t resist linking to myself here, since I wrote a whole ton more about this this morning:

  9. willmose - Mar 16, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Flash! This reporter has just learned that ESPN has had internal discussions about trading Olney to an unnamed Connecticut farmer for a load of horse manure. The internal discussions centered around how much horse manure to get for Olney. A source at ESPN familiar with the discussion quotes one executive as saying, “While Buster only produces a few pounds of horse manure a day, it is the gift that keeps on giving.” The source added that several tons would be required to make the deal. ESPN has denied the story and threaten to sue me for tampering with one of their total green employees right before St. Patick’s day.

  10. YANKEES1996 - Mar 16, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    Now that is top-notch professional journalism at is best. Oh yea, it is damn funny also!

  11. Craig - Mar 16, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    Every team in major league baseball would like to trade their first baseman for Albert Pujols. You got it here first. Call me “scoop”.

  12. Fred - Mar 16, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    I’m pretty sure about every team has had “internal discussions” about a trade involving Pujols. That’s not news. Thus, Olney was not reporting. He just didn’t have anything to report so he filled space so he could keep his job. If he cited his sources, it might be news. Otherwise, it’s gossip rag crap. I notice ESPN (East coast Sensationalism Pandering Network) has him listed as a senior writer. Is that because he’s a senior citizen?

  13. willmose - Mar 16, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    Glad you enjoyed the comment. On a more serious note, I wonder if Buster Olney was asked by his source to spread the story. If so it well maybe tampering. After all Puljos is under contract. The internal discussion isn’t tampering, but making that discussion public by a team offical would be.

  14. Brian - Mar 16, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    That is precisely what I was thinking. I’m sure every team in baseball has had, at some point, “internal discussions” on how to acquire Pujols. A front office wouldn’t be doing its job if they didn’t at least consider a way to make it happen.
    I also found ESPN’s headline for the article ridiculous. It made it sound as if the Cardinals had made the offer and the Phillies were now considering it.

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