As I watch ESPN’s promos for the tireless work of baseball reporter Buster Olney — constantly taking phone calls, talking in Japanese to Ichiro, passing himself as he walks out of a building — I sometimes pause to consider how improbable this would have seemed in the ’90s.
I worked with Buster when he covered the Orioles for The Sun in 1995 and 1996. In fact, it was a running joke with one of my former bosses that Buster was “my hire.” In actuality, I was one of the sports department managers who was involved in reviewing candidates and I kind of favored another writer over Buster — yet another example of my poor judgment.
Of course, Buster turned out to be a terrific baseball beat guy — smart, plugged-in, insightful. He wrote great game stories that focused on the pivotal moments and key decisions. And no one outworked him as a reporter. He was hypercompetitive. In fact, his relationship with one of his Sun baseball colleagues was strained by the fact that this reporter was very friendly with The Washington Post‘s Orioles writer, back when The Sun and Post competed on the beat.
The thing is, I never would have pegged Buster as a future TV personality. I used to wonder whether he ever even smiled. That same guy who was always so serious every time we spoke now can sit in and crack wise on Mike & Mike in the Morning?
Then again, maybe Buster always was funny, but I wasn’t sharp enough to realize it.