Feb 10, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
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.
Dec 17, 2014, 7:02 PM EST
From CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman comes word that the Royals have agreed to terms on a two-year, $20 million free agent contract with Edinson Volquez.
Dec 17, 2014, 6:16 PM EST
A three-team, 11-player trade has been agreed upon between the Rays, Padres, and Nationals. It centers around outfielder Wil Myers.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EST
He is expected to be able to resume baseball activities before Spring Training begins.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:16 PM EST
One-time Red Sox prospect trying to snag a bench gig.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
If you don’t love Pedro Martinez there is no helping you.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:51 PM EST
Sticking together after seven seasons.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:31 PM EST
The pitcher denies there were issues. But now he’s off to Boston, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:01 PM EST
Wil Myers’ replacement in Tampa Bay?
Dec 17, 2014, 12:53 PM EST
And if it blows up, it could impact the Jimmy Rollins trade too.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
The Sox are getting themselves a handy reliever.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:12 PM EST
Seattle is looking for right-handed bats.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:53 AM EST
Right team, even if he picked the wrong position.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:15 AM EST
They’re getting lots of calls on him, though.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
It appears as though it’ll only be a two-team trade, with Myers heading to San Diego.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:03 AM EST
Which could have some baseball implications
Dec 17, 2014, 9:46 AM EST
But he could start the home opener
No, it’s not crazy to pay a free agent for what you think he’ll do in the future. That’s the bleedin’ point.
Dec 17, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
A columnist takes a strange approach to criticizing the Brandon McCarthy contract. And his reasoning for doing so is pretty clear.
Dec 17, 2014, 8:40 AM EST
Seems like a bad idea. And that’s even if the field would even fit. Which it may not.
Dec 17, 2014, 6:56 AM EST
Tim Raines and Alan Trammell improved in the past year, apparently, returning to their 2012 quality. But some guys “just don’t look right.”
Dec 16, 2014, 11:30 PM EST
The Dodgers dumped Brian Wilson on Tuesday afternoon, choosing to eat the remaining $9.5 million on his contract. And the new front office is not done unloading expensive mistakes from the old regime.
- Royals sign Edinson Volquez for two years, $20 million 0
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade 31
- Sergio Romo re-signs with the Giants for $15 million 12
- So, apparently we’re sweating the Matt Kemp physical now 43
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba 133
- Marlins complete Michael Morse deal: two years, $16 million 18
- Padres, Rays, Mariners discussing trade involving Wil Myers 36
- It is perfectly clear that A-Rod is the Yankees’ DH. At best. So there will be no drama, right? 37
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (136)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (110)
- Done Deal: Yoenis Cespedes and two players traded to Detroit for Rick Porcello and a minor leaguer (105)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)