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.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
We heard yesterday that the Dodgers have been in touch with the Red Sox about a deal for left-hander Jon Lester, but they figure to have plenty of competition leading up to Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
An impending free agent, Justin Masterson owns a disappointing 5.51 ERA over 18 starts this season and is currently on the disabled list with right knee inflammation.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT
Looks like he picked the wrong week to not stop doing amphetamines.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
A’s outfielder Craig Gentry began the season on the disabled list with a back injury and now, after hitting just .264 with zero homers and a .625 OPS in 80 games, he’s going on the shelf again with a broken hand.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
Do the right thing and good things happen. Not always, but here, yes.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Two weeks ago the Yankees acquired Jeff Francis from the A’s as a roster reinforcement, but now they’ve designated the journeyman left-hander for assignment.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
After a couple months worth of reports that Cole Hamels is not on the market . . . maybe he’s on the market.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Bedard was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen three weeks ago, but has barely pitched since then and at age 35 could be nearing the end of the line.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
At this point I’m almost convinced that the ground balls are purposely doing strange things just to test the limits of what Simmons is capable of.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
Life begins at 37.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Last week the Cubs designated infielder Darwin Barney for assignment and now Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that they’re close to trading him to the Dodgers.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia was unhappy about striking out yesterday against the White Sox, so he snapped his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson-style.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
The NFL weighed in on domestic violence and concluded “eh, no big deal.” MLB has tended to avoid the matter altogether.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward left this afternoon’s game what the team is calling lower back soreness.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
Gwynn had a brief run as a regular for the Padres and Dodgers, but he profiles strictly as a backup outfielder at this point and at age 31 will likely have to prove himself at Triple-A for a while after hitting just .163 in 67 games for the Phillies.
“If The Boss Was Still Alive” Watch: George Steinbrenner was absent from Joe Torre’s Hall of Fame speech
Jul 28, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Soon we’ll be praying to Steinbrenner before every meal and thanking him for all that He has bestowed upon us.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
During his 13-year MLB career Dmitri Young was one of the largest players in baseball, often struggling with his weight while being listed at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT
Because of course he did.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Ubaldo Jimenez was scratched from his scheduled minor-league rehab start last week, but now the Orioles right-hander is slated to start Tuesday at Triple-A as he comes back from an ankle injury.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:08 AM EDT
Sportswriting’s biggest star around reduces one of the most interesting and well-drawn female characters in all of sports movies to “a tramp.”
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- Astros players upset over Mark Appel’s promotion to Double-A, bullpen session in Houston 43
- Four theories about the Hall of Fame voting changes 24
- Troy Tulowitzki is visiting a sports hernia surgeon 10
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 29
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- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (165)
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