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 23, 2014, 1:23 PM EDT
As expected Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been placed on the disabled list after injuring his hamstring during last night’s game.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
David Price? Cliff Lee? And to where?
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Tom Glavine crafted his Hall of Fame career with plenty of skill and wit.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
So when are Javier Baez and Kris Bryant getting here?
Jul 23, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
After back-to-back terrible seasons Jeff Francoeur’s chances of returning to the majors looked so bleak that last month he decided to take up pitching at Triple-A for the Padres’ affiliate, but now San Diego is actually calling him up and presumably he’ll mostly serve as an outfielder.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Remembering when the Avengers played baseball in the Astrodome
Jul 23, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
The Giants’ 9-6 victory over the Phillies lasted 14 innings, involved 16 pitchers throwing 507 times to the plate, took five hours and 46 minutes, included more cramping than a track meet for septuagenarians and it finally ended 7 minutes before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning at Citizens Bank Park when Tim Lincecum really and truly recorded his first career save.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
The converted shortstop is on a roll.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Oakland’s move to acquire Johnson and his $10 million salary from Baltimore never made a ton of sense this offseason and it’s worked out much worse than expected, as he almost immediately lost the closer gig and has a 6.25 ERA with 23 walks in 40 innings.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Jeez, Mrs. Hoes. You should’ve asked sooner!
Jul 23, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
While we wait to see if the Phillies will end up trading aces Cole Hamels and/or Cliff Lee, it sounds likely that reliever Antonio Bastardo will be moved before July 31.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:28 AM EDT
One of baseball’s top analysts advocates for one of the dumber ideas you’ll hear in a long while.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
Zimmerman has missed 44 games this year. He’s about to miss more.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
Off the plane a half hour before game time, the hero by midnight.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
A seven nation army couldn’t cheer him up.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:17 AM EDT
Jonathan Lucory hit two homers last night, including the walkoff.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made a little more history on Tuesday night against the Rangers …
Jul 22, 2014, 9:37 PM EDT
Casey McGehee entered play on Tuesday evening with a batting average (.322) that is 54 points above his career mean (.268) and an RBI total (56) that ranks ninth in the National League. The 31-year-old third baseman fits the mold of a sell-high candidate. But it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be moved.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
Watch as Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin leaps above the right-center field wall at Yankee Stadium to rob Brian McCann of a home run in the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night …
Jul 22, 2014, 7:53 PM EDT
Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will be called back up from Triple-A Tacoma to start Wednesday night against the Mets at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
- The dizzying intellect of Tom Glavine 4
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts 113
- Chase Headley plays the hero in his first game in pinstripes 20
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 25
- Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list 18
- Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement 29
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres 108
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 39