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 16, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
And though he calls MLB a “social institution,” he’s content to punt to the courts when it suits his interests.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
Sep 16, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
That should guarantee him around $15-16 million for 105 should he accept it.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Strasburg’s lack of lineup and bullpen support have kept his win-loss record from properly reflecting how well he’s pitched during the past two seasons with a 3.18 ERA and 421 strikeouts in 385 innings.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Which makes absolutely no friggin’ sense at all.
Sep 16, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Greg Morhardt served as a national cross-checker for the Angels and “pegged Trout as a future star while most teams shied away.”
Sep 16, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Five days after a fastball to the face sent him to the hospital with multiple facial fractures and dental damage Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton posted a before-and-after picture to show how much he’s improved.
Sep 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
But will they make some noise in October?
Sep 16, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
And a pretty great home run call by always underrated Cubs announcer Len Kasper (as long as you’re not a Reds fan).
Sep 16, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Carlos Beltran won last year. Who gets it this year?
Sep 16, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Levine has been the Rangers’ assistant GM since October of 2005, serving as general manager Jon Daniels’ right-hand man during the most successful period in team history.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
The Angels starter pitched well last night, but felt some discomfort at the end of his stint.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
He has some time on his hands. At least he’s putting it to good use.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
Man, Waffle House. You really missed the boat here. And now we all have to suffer with this boring, corporate name.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
One of the few dudes who has been hitting for the Yankees is now on the shelf for the year.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
Big Papi took some time yesterday to remind his detractors that, yes, he did deserve that contract extension.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:40 AM EDT
Less than two weeks of this left, you guys.
Must-click Link: the challenges Major League Baseball faces in implementing a domestic violence policy
Sep 16, 2014, 10:10 AM EDT
Ken Rosenthal shows us that the task, however necessary, will not be easy.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
To baseball and baseball writers, A-Rod is still Whitey Bulger or Public Enemy Number One. To the cops, he’s just a kid who bought a bag of something.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
MLB acts swiftly when someone grabs their crotch. Let’s see how swiftly it acts when a guy goes headhunting.
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 34
- MLB suspends Jonathan Papelbon seven games for incident during Sunday’s game 42
- VIDEO: Jacob deGrom begins game with eight straight strikeouts to tie MLB record 11
- Bud Selig says MLB and players union will meet this week about domestic abuse policy 8
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 67
- Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas to command $100 million? 30
- Bruce and Brett Bochy make MLB history 33
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 17
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)