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.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Joe Nathan could be activated from the disabled list as soon as Wednesday.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
If you’re in the mood for a laugh, you’ll want to read this story involving Indians manager Terry Francona and his dad Tito.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
Kris Bryant, one of baseball’s top prospects, earned his first major league hit and RBI on Saturday afternoon against the Padres.
Apr 18, 2015, 8:16 PM EDT
More drama involving the Athletics and Royals.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Did Brett Lawrie apologize to Alcides Escobar for his hard slide in Friday’s game between the Athletics and Royals? We’re not sure.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Ryan Braun will lead off for the first time in his career in Saturday’s game against the Pirates.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Jake Peavy is dealing with lower back issues.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Hamilton suffered the injury beating out an infield single in the eighth inning.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Justin Verlander’s return to the Tigers doesn’t appear imminent.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Hamilton filed for divorce in late February, which is right around the time when word leaked about his offseason drug relapse.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:19 PM EDT
You’ll be seeing MLB’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose in FOX’s coverage of baseball this season.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:12 PM EDT
The home run traveled at a distance of 461 feet. My goodness.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Scary moment in today’s Phillies-Nationals game, as home plate umpire Brian Knight was forced to exit after he was hit in the facemask by a pitch in the top of the ninth inning.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Greg Holland has been one of the game’s best relievers dating back to 2011, but the Royals will have to make due without him for a little while.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:56 PM EDT
The Cardinals are calling Holliday’s exit “precautionary,” so it’s probably safe to consider him day-to-day.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:27 PM EDT
Tracy, 26, was designated for assignment by the Yankees last Sunday.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
The Nats’ infield depth is being tested in the early part of the season.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT
Schoop was off to a nice start so far this season, batting .259 (7-for-27) with three home runs and a .940 OPS over nine games.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Reds right-hander Homer Bailey landed on the disabled list at the end of spring training while he completed his rehab from surgery to repair a tear of the flexor tendon in his elbow, but he has been activated to make his season debut this afternoon against the Cardinals.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
The Marlins are off to a disappointing 3-8 start this season and slugger Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t like what he has seen.
- Yordano Ventura ejected for hitting Brett Lawrie with a pitch 15
- Pete Rose joins FOX as a baseball analyst 18
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 55
- Josh Hamilton’s teammates say he’s in great shape and ready to play 28
- Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club 26
- Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career 48
- Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run 49
- Let’s all just stare at Kris Bryant’s numbers for a while 28
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract (153)
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)