Buster Olney = Sports Talk Radio Caller?

JoeSportsFanSenior Analyst IMarch 16, 2010

With every sports radio station comes crazy sports radio callers.  They are the first cousin to message board posters – anonymous voices who bring wild overreactions to every story, utterly ridiculous trade propositions and all around lunacy. 

But at least we know what we’re getting when they are put on the air.  Listeners aren’t left speculating whether or not this might be legit because we know they have no credibility. 

It’s when someone who supposedly has credibility starts throwing around the same wild rumors meant to attract attention that we start to question whether certain entities, in this case ESPN, have the ability not only to report the news, but also to create it. 

PujolsHowardWhen the “Worldwide Leader” wants something to be a story, it normally becomes a story.   Obviously there are limitations to their dictating of public interest otherwise we would all be watching Arena Football which they had an ownership interest in a few years back.  

But as was demonstrated by MLB writer Buster Olney this week, they do have the ability to make a story out of absolutely nothing if they so choose. ###MORE###

Olney made significant strides in blurring the lines between professional journalist and crazed radio talk show caller, when he cited the ever-so-versatile “sources” and reported that the Philadelphia Phillies have had internal conversations about the possibility of a Ryan Howard-for-Albert Pujols trade. He made sure it was clear – they haven’t proposed a trade.  There isn’t a trade in the works and the Phillies GM adamantly denied even having the most basic of conversations around the topic.  There doesn’t even seem to be anyone out there who legitimately thinks it’s a viable proposition, yet none of that was enough of a deterrent for this “trained journalist” to throw it out there, with full knowledge that it would cause a stir.

When questioned on his own network as to whether he felt their was any chances of the proposed deal coming to fruition (the deal that he brought to everyone’s attention, mind you), Olney simply threw out every caveat he could think of,  so he didn’t sound like an idiot when nothing happened:

“Absolutely not. What this is, to this point, that I know of, according to sources is internal conversations the Phillies had about whether or not they could possibly pursue a deal of Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols and pry what is basically the player considered the best player in the game away from the St. Louis Cardinals.  But to this point, I don’t even know if they’ve approached the Cardinals.  It’s an internal idea for the Phillies.”

Translation: Some people inside the Phillies organization think it would be cool to have Albert Pujols. That’s pretty much it.

This “internal conversation” appears to be the equivalent of putting together a wild trade proposal in your fantasy baseball league when you’re hammered at 3:00 am and not even being able to bring yourself to hit the “send offer” button. 

Instead of letting it slide quietly away, ESPN took it to another level, one that makes one wonder whether the whole thing was some elaborate experiment to test their ability to create sports news.  Soon the “story” was being discussed on SportsCenter, it was on the front page of ESPN.com, Olney was being interviewed on ESPN News and in a few short hours, the Worldwide Leader had created a second story – this one about the reaction the original story generated.

In their follow-up piece that featured denials and outright scoffing by every single entity that was interviewed, ESPN.com’s news service had a line that brought a little more clarity into how a situation like this goes from nothing to “how about we print this on the front page?”  It read:

“The mere mention of a Pujols-for-Howard trade quickly became the talk of baseball, where fans thirst for big trades.”

If you can’t find anything to report during spring training that gets people talking, why not just make a story out of nothing?  Worked like a charm this time. 

Are we sure that it’s the sports bloggers that everyone needs to be worried about?

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