Feb 10, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT
Every year, when pitchers and catchers report, Buster Olney leads off a column with a re-telling of his story about the time he thought Deion Sanders wanted to beat him up. It’s over at ESPN today, but it’s an Insider thing. For those of you who aren’t insiders, here’s the gist:
- Olney was a rookie reporter covering minor league baseball in Nashville. Deion Sanders was the bonus baby/superstar for the Columbus Clippers;
- Olney did a feature on Sanders who, at the time, was the flashiest, money-loving, me-first player around. Olney says it was “harsh — probably too harsh.” But he never says he got anything wrong in it either. What’s more, he gave Sanders a chance to comment before the story ran. Sanders blew Olney off in the clubhouse without a word;
- The next day Olney gets a message that Sanders wants to talk to him and “he’s pissed.” Olney tells the messenger that if Sanders wants to see him, he knows where to find him. Sanders never comes. Later that day he gets an autographed baseball from Sanders with the message “Keep writing like that your whole life and you’ll always be a loser.”
As a story, it’s a good one. Though I’ve never been a Deion Sanders fan, I’ve always found him to be an interesting subject of study and I like hearing about young reporters learning the ropes.
But Olney always tells it as something more than a story. More like a life lesson. The tone and several comments in it seem to say “oh man, I was young and foolish and boy have I grown up and learned my lesson since then.” He ends it by saying “Words to live by.”
I read this story every year and every year I’m at a loss to understand what the real lesson of this story is. I’ve never seen Olney’s column about Sanders — it’s from a defunct paper in the 80s — but I’m struggling to get what lessons young Olney was supposed to be learning.
OK, it was harsh. Nowhere, however, does Olney suggest he got his facts wrong. Or even that it was unfair (harsh is not the same thing as unfair, no matter what some people would have you believe). Sanders, the older among you will remember, was quite a character back in those days. If anyone was owed some criticism it was a young Deion Sanders. And Olney gave Sanders the opportunity to give his side before the story ran. To rebut the quotes from Olney’s other sources painting Sanders in a bad light. So it doesn’t seem like there’s a lesson about the actual process of reporting. Maybe someone who is a trained reporter can tell me if I’m missing it, but it seems like he dotted what needed to be dotted and crossed what needed to be crossed.
So, tone: Maybe it’s not a story Olney would write in the same way today, but Olney is quite capable of being critical when he wants to be. And I’ve never seen any suggestion from him that he thinks a story about a player’s persona or deportment is off limits. Certainly a lot of things get written about players’ attitudes by established journalists now, so it’s not like Olney learned some important lesson about that either. At least not one with universal application as his overall tone suggests.
There is an element to Olney having to steel himself when he heard that Sanders was angry. He wondered if Sanders was going to beat him up and what he’d do about it if he tried. He made the decision not to run to Sanders’ locker with his tail between his legs when Sanders summoned him, and that bravery played well with the people who witnessed it. Is the lesson to not be afraid to stand up to the rich and famous people he covers? Possibly. But then why all the apparent self-flagellation earlier? Worth noting that Olney, who hails from a family of Vermont-farmers, has almost zero apparent ego as a writer and never pounds his chest, so it’s hard to feature this as a “I learned to be a big man” kind of thing that you might expect from a lot of the smaller men who cover baseball for a living.
I dunno. I really don’t know what the lesson here was supposed to be. To me it sounds like Olney, in 1989, wrote a tough but ultimately fair story and offended someone who probably needed some offending back then. Maybe I’m just missing something, but I miss it every year.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:07 AM EDT
Its like watching a car crash. No, wait: a tricycle accident.
Sep 2, 2015, 7:04 AM EDT
Was this a . . . statement game?
Sep 1, 2015, 11:34 PM EDT
Would it endanger or enlighten Berrios’ career to give him a few starts in a postseason race?
Sep 1, 2015, 10:49 PM EDT
It was Cal Ripken Jr. Night on Tuesday at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, with the Orioles celebrating the 20th anniversary of Ripken taking over Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played …
Sep 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Stanton has been on the disabled list since June 27 because of a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
And he did it on the night the O’s are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
Sep 1, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York shares the plan …
Sep 1, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
The reworking of the Red Sox has already begun under new club president Dave Dombrowski.
Sep 1, 2015, 6:51 PM EDT
It was a rather uneventful triple play as far as triple plays go, but cool and rare nonetheless …
Sep 1, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT
From beat writer Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com …
Sep 1, 2015, 5:17 PM EDT
Teixeira has started just one game since fouling a ball off his shin two weeks ago.
Sep 1, 2015, 4:54 PM EDT
Kelvin Herrera and Alex Rios are already infected and will could miss up to two weeks.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT
Gordon missed two months with a groin injury.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
He deserves to be in already.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Olivera was traded from the Dodgers to the Braves as part of July’s three-team, 13-player deal.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:14 PM EDT
Former Rookie of the Year and All-Star closer.
Sep 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Wait — he wasn’t with the Dodgers already?
Sep 1, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Jessica’s a regular on Sunday, Monday or Wednesday night baseball, whenever the time comes,” Kruk said.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s pretty nice. But it also cost $1.6M.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
He’s running out of time.
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired 0
- Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results 19
- Yankees reveal Mark Teixeira’s shin injury is “more than we thought” 15
- There’s a chicken pox outbreak in the Royals’ clubhouse and multiple players are infected 24
- Shoeless Joe Jackson is not being reinstated 64
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 66
- Cubs acquire Austin Jackson from Mariners 22
- Unknown Cuban ballplayer sleeps outside of Dodger Stadium, hoping for a tryout 34
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- Dan Patrick: When does ESPN cut ties with Curt Schilling? (202)
- Curt Schilling taken off of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast this week (134)
- Joe Girardi would like Carlos Gomez to “play the game right” (97)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (87)