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.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Do you want to feel really old? OK, here goes.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:58 PM EDT
After stepping down as assistant general manager of the Nationals earlier this month, Bryan Minniti has accepted the same role with the Diamondbacks.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Moss will use crutches for around four weeks and the expectation is that he’ll begin running in 12 weeks.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:16 PM EDT
Aoki’s defense has been an issue throughout the postseason, with Yost frequently taking him out late in games.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
One of the game’s top shortstop prospects, Russell saw some time at second base in the Arizona Fall League.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Take notes, Braves fans.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT
Tim Lincecum is being sent for an MRI regarding the lower back/side issue which caused him to exit from Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Dave Magadan surfaced as a candidate for hitting coach vacancies with the Yankees, Athletics, Red Sox, and Mets, but he’s sticking with the Rangers.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
For the majority of Long’s tenure the Yankees had one of the elite offenses in baseball and overall from 2007-2014 they scored MLB’s second-most runs, but the lineup fell apart during the past two seasons due to aging and injuries.
Oct 23, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Sizemore’s numbers in Philadelphia were nothing special and for the season overall he hit just .233 with five homers and a .654 OPS in 112 games.
Oct 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Bad year at a bad time for the 33-year-old free agent.
Oct 23, 2014, 5:04 PM EDT
‘Tis the season for concern trolling about World Series ratings.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
That’s quite a change from last time Cabrera hit the open market, when he managed only a two-year, $16 million contract coming off a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Great Moments in Expectations-Setting
Oct 23, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Stinson has had brief looks in the majors with the Orioles, Brewers, and Mets, combining to throw 52 innings with a 4.47 ERA in parts of four seasons.
Oct 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
He only played 49 games this season, but they were 49 pretty good games.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
On your mark. Get set. Complain!
Oct 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
He previously managed in the Brewers’ minor league system.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Will the Blue Jays trade Lind after he hit .321 this season?
Oct 23, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Or did the players actually have something to do with all of this?
- The World Series ratings are low. So what? 60
- John Hart to be named Braves President of Baseball Operations 3
- No, Ned Yost didn’t “out-manage” Bruce Bochy. His players played better 69
- At least Hunter Strickland entertained us last night 35
- Royals even up World Series with 7-2 Game 2 victory 38
- Craig Kimbrel wins Trevor Hoffman Award; Greg Holland gets Mariano Rivera Award 9
- World Series, Game 2: Giants vs. Royals lineups 10
- HBT Daily: Are the Royals doomed, doomed, doomed? 11
- So, if you’re not a fan of the Royals or Giants, who ya got? (129)
- Erroneous Narrative Alert: no, the Giants are not a “gritty,” anti-stats organization (122)
- Pedro Martinez has some opinions about who the new “face of baseball” is (112)
- PANTY RAID! Homeland Security agents confiscate unlicensed Kansas City Royals underwear (109)
- The Royals asked a fan in Marlins gear to change his shirt last night. He refused. (86)