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The Ramble: Buster Olney Should Just Shut Up

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With regards to the steroids in baseball scandal, Buster Olney is as much a part of the problem as Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, Gene Orza, or any other player – major or minor – in baseball’s hierarchy.

On Thursday, March 30, Olney – on his personal blog linked to ESPN.com – took aim at Bud Selig’s decision to have Major League Baseball investigate the steroid problem. Here’s how Olney led off his diatribe:

Rather than stand up and take responsibility for how he and others within the institution of baseball failed to lead on the steroid issue, Bud Selig is going to order an investigation of steroid use of Barry Bonds and others.

At face value this statement is ridiculous. By ordering this investigation and by clearly stating that former Senator George Mitchell has carte blanche to do what ever he needs to do in order to uncover the truth, Bud Selig has done exactly what Olney accuses him of not doing. Selig has clearly stated that nothing and no one is off limits in this investigation and that Mitchell has full discretion to do whatever he sees fit in order to get to the bottom of this.

Now I’m no Selig apologist, far from it. But launching this investigation is a ballsy thing to do, and if done right, will go a long way towards rehabilitating Selig’s image. And after all of the grief that Selig has taken at the expense of Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, I’m sure he won’t mind if these fellows come out of this investigation looking even worse than they already do, and certainly worse that the commissioner himself.

If the investigation turns out to be a whitewash then Selig, Mitchell, and all of the other responsible players can be criticized accordingly. If Selig doesn’t take responsibility for what ultimately went on under his watch after the investigation is completed, then we’ll all kill him for it. But only when – and if – this happens.

Buster Olney – on the other hand – shouldn’t be allowed to get off this easily.

Here are some questions for Buster Olney.

Hey Buster, why didn’t you write a book like Game of Shadows?

Buster you’ve been a baseball writer since 1989 and have spent plenty of time in major league locker rooms, why didn’t you ever do more than pay lip service to the issue of steroids – and amphetamines – in baseball? Writing articles that attribute steroid use to nameless players via a few anecdotes supplied by team personnel is nothing more than a gossip column.

Mr. Olney, you covered baseball for the New York Times during the years that Jason Giambi was juiced to the gills, during this period why didn’t you write a column talking about this? Or didn’t you see any of the obvious signs that so many of us saw?

Why didn’t you use the considerable amount of clout that you had as a result of working for the New York Times to try and blow the lid off of this issue? To paraphrase Winston Zeddmore from Ghostbusters, “You had the tools, you had the talent.”

Why is it in your blog diatribe against this investigation you do not once mention Mr. Gene Orza, who in at least two of your New York Times articles, you say referred to amphetamine testing as a “dark corner” that should avoid being looked into?

Why no mention of Donald Fehr?

Why do you express indignation that a book — a book! — could move the commissioner of baseball to launch an investigation? Is baseball so sacrosanct that a mere book could have this effect? Haven’t you ever heard of Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle?

The list goes on forever, but you should get the idea by now. But in over 500 Olney articles on the New York Times web site from October 2004 back through September of 2001, there are only a handful of items that deal with steroids in baseball. None of these scant few articles offer anything that could remotely be considered investigative.

The bottom line here is that Olney – and any other journalists – who heard whispers or yells of steroid use and didn’t write about it in the way that Mr. Fainaru-Wada and Mr. Williams have in Game of Shadows, are just as much to blame as Selig, Fehr, Orza and the players.

Just imagine if Woodward and Bernstein had ignored what they heard about and saw with regards to the Watergate scandal, and then turned around and were critical of the government’s efforts to investigate.

During this whole era of steroids in baseball Olney and many others sports writers didn’t have the guts to do what Woodward and Bernstein and Fainaru-Wada and Williams did when they had the opportunity to blow the lid off of a scandal.

So rather than admit that he blew it, Olney has decided to criticize from his position as a sports media darling, a member of the elite. He was there. He saw and heard it all, and yet we got nothing of substance from him. But now he’s out there yelling about all the screw-ups by “baseball.” In this instance Olney is “baseball” just as much as anyone. He’s just too much of an insider to see it.

Olney ignored his responsibility as a journalist to get to the bottom of this story years ago and report it to us, the fans.

Olney and a lot of other media types are afraid of this investigation because it will uncover that baseball players were obviously using steroids, and this will reveal just how much sports journalists ignored over the years.

The sports writers had their shot to uncover this scandal, and except for Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, and a few trailblazers at the San Jose Mercury Sun like Elliot Almond, they blew it.

We wouldn’t be at this point with this scandal if high profile sports guys like Olney had stepped up to the plate and worked this story out. Thankfully, Fainaru-Wada and Williams had the stones to do the job.

Aside from these two guys the only tact that is left for guys like Olney is to admit responsibility for letting us down and to promise that it won’t happen again.

Olney can’t pretend that he wasn’t a part of the problem.

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About Sal Marinello

  • http://wisinsider.blogspot.com Adam Hoff

    Interesting. Pretty hard on old Buster, but I see your point. So far, only Kornheiser on PTI has repeatedly admitted the media’s “complicty” in the steroid problem. Everyone else is “pointing the crooked finger” as they say.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    From what I gathered from the talking heads on BBTN, I think they don’t believe this investigation, no matter how unlimited the jurisdiction, will find enough to “clean up baseball,” and that they preferred he apologize for not taking care of this sooner.

  • sal m

    selig definitely deserves blame for letting things get out of hand…he should have gone public with the issue of how the union refused to allow their members to be seriously tested for steroids..

    my point is that olney and other high profile national sportswriters had the obligation to dig into this story which they clearly did not. they were afraid of going after the players union and players…and the sports writers didn’t know – didn’t want to know – enough about the subject to go after it.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I am in favor of any article that tells Buster Olney to just shup up in the title.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I know what you mean. I just think baseball beat writers don’t have an investigative iota in their body. Weren’t you the one who said it? Baseball writers are more fan than reporter? Probably true.

    But when the story broke, even if a guy like Olney or Tim Kurkjian “permitted” the story to go untold, when Selig announced the investigation I think the guys have a right to critique it, even if they too are at fault.

    And they were likely afraid of the player’s union. Let’s face it, it’s a powerful one. Probably the most powerful union in the entire American workforce.