August 18, 2006


A Long Road to ESPN (Tony Lane, 8/18/06, Valley News)

Studio lighting doesn't illuminate like X-rays, so ESPN audiences had no clue about the four-alarm fire pounding inside the chest of Robert Stanbury “Buster” Olney III when he first appeared on Baseball Tonight in the summer of 2003.

No one told the Randolph Center native how to condense a 900-word game story into a glib, 2-minute spiel. No one told him how to talk over a highlight, how to avoid diarrhea of the mouth, how to sneak in a valid point over a two-second spit of video.

It was trial, error, fumbling, bumbling -- and then improving, easing, delivering, flowing. Just as Olney the newspaper writer totally blew his first deadline story, but later played chicken with the clock -- i.e., starting a Yankees gamer for The New York Times in the sixth inning -- Olney the television personality is now finding his rhythm under the klieg lights.

“I want to get better in television,” Olney professed yesterday in a phone interview. “I want to get my heart rate down from about 250 when I first did it. Now it's around 90; I want to get it down around 60.”

Olney, 42, has become a ubiquitous observer in the world of Major League Baseball, which only befits an ex-beat writer for the Padres, Orioles, Mets and Yankees. He has written a bestseller, Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty, and has another tome about Yankees owner George Steinbrenner bubbling forth from his laptop.

Olney could have easily wrapped himself in the print medium for the rest of his career, especially after six years at the Times. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the winds were shifting at the august paper. Howell Raines assumed the executive editorship and nudged sports editor Neil Amdur over to staffing and national recruiting. Greater emphasis for college sports -- particularly college football -- took hold. By 2003, Olney decided to vote with his feet.

“It got to the point where … I either needed to shut my mouth and stop complaining about it or I could find something else to do,” he said. “It couldn't have been more than 48 hours after I made that up in my mind that I got a call from ESPN.

He's pretty bad on tv and radio--and the story he shared last Friday made men drive off the road--but his book is terrific and should really be read as part of a trilogy with Moneyball and Feeding the Monster, in which Gene Michael innovates a way of building a team that can compete for years, the A's follow suit, and then just as Steinbrenner blows up the Michael method the Sox are adopting it.

Of course, yesterday the wretched Royals signed Mark Grudzielanek to a contract extension, suggesting that they've never read any of the three books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2006 10:57 AM

While you gave us the Amazon link in the sidebar, I truly think you should've given "Moneyball" a link in the post, as you did the, in your words "rebuilding for '08", Red Sox book "Feeding the Monster".

Posted by: Mike Daley at August 18, 2006 10:25 PM