Cooperstown Confidential: Olbermann is off base

Olbermann equals errors

I don’t ordinarily spend a lot of time in this space nitpicking about the work of other writers and authors; there is much more important subject matter, both contemporary and historical, worth discussing. Unfortunately, some people are so hollow in their words and actions that they need to be called out for their transgressions. No one is guiltier of this in the baseball world than Keith Olbermann, who began writing his “Baseball Nerd” blog for this past spring.

Is there anyone connected to the game who is more annoying than Olbermann? Perhaps, but that person would have to go a long way to outdo Olbermann. As both a broadcaster and writer, Olbermann has made a cottage industry of pointing out the mistakes, supposed and otherwise, committed by others in the media. Years ago, he reveled in compiling a master list of all the errors that he found in Ken Burns’ miniseries, Baseball. And then earlier this year, Olbermann railed against fellow MLBlogger Curt Smith, the author of a new biography on longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, for misquoting one word of a transcript of one of Scully’s most famous broadcast calls.

Olbermann shouldn’t be criticizing anyone who writes about baseball, if only because of his own poor record of getting his facts right. Perhaps he should point that highly introspective microscope at himself one of these days.

Olbermann’s blog routinely contains errors, both factual and interpretive. He has referred to Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Ross Ohlendorf as Russ Ohlendorf, misidentified team names in game recaps, written Jerry Manuel’s name as Erry Manuel, mischaracterized Eric Bruntlett’s role in “saving” a game after he had actually committed an error, and referred to All-Star Jayson Werth as Dennis Werth, the former Yankee who is actually Jayson’s stepfather. Those are just some of the errors Olbermann has made since starting the blog in March.

Last week, Olbermann reached the boiling point in a shoddy piece about the managers, owners and umpires being considered by the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. By my count, Olbermann made at least three factual errors, two that were relatively minor and one that was monumental:

(1) In arguing for Billy Martin’s election to the Hall of Fame, Olbermann claimed that in eight of nine full seasons as a manager, “Billy the Kid” had led his teams to first or second-place finishes. Olbermann counted wrong. Martin spent 10 full seasons as a manager, recording first or second-place finishes eight times. All in all, a minor error, and one that is understandable.

2) In running down the candidates on the two Vets Committee ballots, Olbermann supplied a defense for Danny Murtaugh as a Hall of Fame manager. Although I agree with Olbermann on his assessment of Murtaugh—a highly underrated manager if there ever was one—he made a mistake in reviewing the manager’s career. Olbermann provided an inaccurate count of the number of division titles Murtaugh won as the skipper of the Pirates. Olbermann credited Murtaugh with five National League East titles, perhaps failing to realize that “The Whistling Irishman” actually missed out one of those titles (1972) because of poor physical health. Murtaugh won only four division titles with the Pirates. Again, a relatively minor error, but now the second error in Olbermann’s post.

3) In arguing against Bob Howsam for the Hall of Fame, Olbermann blamed the former Cincinnati Reds general manager for making the ill-fated trade that sent Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. “The Frank Robinson trade gets you into Cooperstown?” Olbermann wrote in casting a no-vote for Howsam. After all, how could the man responsible for that disaster possibly be considered a Hall of Fame general manager? There is one fundamental flaw in Olbermann’s argument. Howsam did not become the Reds general manager until 1967, two full years after the Reds sent F. Robby to the O’s for Pappas and two journeymen. Howsam wasn’t even working for the Reds organization at the time; he was still employed as the primary decision maker for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Blaming Howsam for the Robinson trade is like blaming George Steinbrenner for mistakes made by CBS as the owners of the New York Yankees. Unlike the two previous instances involving Martin and Murtaugh, this was an egregious error by Olbermann. The whole basis for his argument against Howsam was the Robinson trade, but Howsman had nothing to do with it!

I was tempted not to include the first two mistakes in Olbermann’s entry because of their relative inconsequence. Neither error refutes Olbermann’s arguments in favor of Martin and Murtaugh as worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. But Olbermann does not deserve to be spared criticism of those errors because of the petty, malicious way that he goes after the inconsequential mistakes of others; he merits the same treatment that he dishes out, whether it’s about Curt Smith, Bob Raissman, or yes, even Bill O’Reilly. Furthermore, Olbermann compounded his lazily written piece by making a huge error about Howsam, one that should be embarrassing to anyone considering himself a baseball historian.

To his credit, Olbermann admitted to his mistake about Murtaugh, but said nothing about the errors relating to Howsam and Martin. Perhaps Olbermann was too embarrassed about the Howsam remark. Or perhaps he was just hoping that nobody noticed. Or perhaps he was praying that we would all forget.

With errors like these, which have happened all too regularly since beginning his blog earlier this year, Olbermann badly lacks credibility. He continually fails to uphold the high standards of accuracy that he places on others. Frankly, he needs to stop spending so much time ripping other writers for their mistakes, and spend more time fact-checking his own.


Remembering Ron Klimkowski

Former Yankees and A’s reliever Ron Klimkowski died last Friday from heart failure. He was 65. A junkballing right hander, Klimkowski enjoyed some success as a middle reliever from 1969 to 1972, but then saw his career end abruptly because of knee trouble. He also missed out on the A’s’ 1972 world championship because of Oakland’s decision to release him in mid-May, a move that led to an immediate but brief reunion with the Yankees.

I have no special insight on Klimkowski’s pitching career, but I’ve always been intrigued by his 1972 Topps card with Oakland. Wearing the old-style green and gold combination that Charlie Finley loved so much, Klimkowski is sporting one of the widest grins I’ve ever seen on a baseball card. He looks absolutely thrilled to be photographed by the Topps cameraman.

Based on my memories of this card, I’ve always imagined that Klimkowski was one of the most fun-loving, outgoing players of his era. In reading about him in the obituaries reporting his death, that seems to be exactly the kind of guy Klimkowski was. In an interview with Newsday, longtime friend Tom Reilly Jr. described him as “a charming and very gregarious individual. If you met Ron, you’d never forget him. He had a pretty overwhelming personality.”

Sometimes a baseball card can give you a pretty good idea of what a guy is really like.

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  1. Geraldy said...

    The points made by the author in this article seem too trivial for The Hardball Times. A very rare misfire on this site.

  2. KC @ Bos said...

    Olbermann deserves all the scrutiny he gets.  His blog is a useless addition to mlb.  Kudos to Hardball Times for calling him out.  He promotes himself as such an authority….on anything and everything.  Personally I’d check his spelling and punctuation!

  3. Jim C said...

    I agree with the article about Olbermann, and think it does have a place here. More annoying? Tim McCarver, by a country mile, and Joe Buck is not far behind, as is relentless Yankee suckass Bob Costas.

  4. ZakAttack said...

    If I find Olbermann olverbearing, I can always go to another web page. If I wanted to watch the World Series this year, I couldn’t escape Tim McCarver. Yes, he knows a lot about the game, but that’s not the problem; what makes him so annoying is that he will not shut up about it. He’s the Chatty Cathy of color commentators, whose endless over-analysis actually makes you grateful for Joe Buck’s blandishments (accent on the first syllable).

  5. johonny said...

    I like KO, but find oddly his baseball knowledge rather low compared to others in his field.  It seems odd for a person that should be better with his material.  Perhaps he should just stick to his political show and forget trying to pretend to still be a “sports” guy.  Frankly doesn’t he have a staff to fact check these things before hitting send.

  6. chris said...

    I was very pleased when this smug, sniggering idiot left ESPN and after he had a couple very public meltdowns I really thought we’d seen the last of him.  But, now he’s back on a national soapbox every night and more annoying than ever. Granted, the criticism in this article is a bit of a stretch but then again Olbermann is pretty cavalier too about who he nominates as the “worst person in the world”.

  7. Michael said...

    I can only hope that one day conservatives will be as willing to admit that Hannity and Limbaugh are pompous, frequently off-base blowhards the same way liberals (including myself) can admit Olbermann is.

    I stopped watching the guy when he was still with ESPN.

    That said, you’re being kind of nitpicky why – to mimic how insufferable his Ken Burns nitpicking was…?

    Break the chain, Bruce. Break the chain.

  8. Nato said...

    Regardless of how one feels about KO, or “nit-picky-ness,” (sic!), he should hold himself to the same standards that he holds others, and if Bruce’s article is correct, he isn’t doing so. 

    And I totally agree with what Michael said about Limbaugh/Hannity/etc. and Olbermann being two sides of the same coin.  Although it must be said, Limbaugh was FAR worse at sports commentary than KO is!

  9. Jim C said...

    Speaking of Limbaugh, he actually worked for the KC Royals PR department in the 80’s, and was the butt of many pranks, according to his own discussion of those times. It would be interesting to see if any of the players of that era have any memories of him.

  10. Sabertooth said...

    I was at a Yankees game several years ago, at which Chuck Knoblauch loosed one of his many errant throws to first base.  The ball sailed high and into the stands, where it plunked Keith Olbermann’s mother right in the nugget.

    My thought at the time…that should have happened the day she conceived KO.

  11. Bruce Markusen said...

    Interesting reactions, both positive and negative.

    The mistakes about Martin and Murtaugh are trivial—and I point that out in the article. But the mistake that Olbermann made about Howsam is not trivial. He’s basing his entire no-Hall of Fame vote for Howsam based on the supposition that Howsam made the disastrous Frank Robinson trade. But Howsam didn’t make that trade. Howsam, however, did pull off the heist that made Joe Morgan a Red—one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history. It was one of many great moves made by Howsam in Cincinnati.

    Nato’s comment above hits the nail on the head.

  12. pinball1973 said...

    “Is there anyone connected to the game who is more annoying than Olbermann?” <—How many years do you have?  Feck!  I’ll just say the words “Joe Morgan” and leave it at that.
      What a friggin’ useless, exaggerated, STUPID article!  Unbunch those panties before they leave a permanent chafe.

  13. wc moreland said...

    costas is the class of broadcasters,NBC”S world series and game of the wek broadcasts were far more superior than fox ever was

  14. Jim C said...

    @wc moreland-Costas is a complete Yankee jock sniffer. If the Yanks are involved in anything he is broadcasting, his prejudices come through loud and clear. If given a choice, I’d take Vin Scully for play-by-play, and Jerry Remy for color any time.

  15. Nick Steiner said...

    I just think Olbermann is retarded for saying the Damon steal was the smartest world series play OF ALL TIME!

  16. Jim C said...

    Clearly the two smartest WS plays of all time took place in game 7 of the 1924 World Series. First, in the 8th inning, slipping the pebble in front of Giants 3B Fred Lindstrom to allow the Senators to tie the game, and another pebble in the 12th so the Senators could win.

  17. John H said...

    Excellent article.  I guess Olbermann’s inaccuracy and carelessness spills over from his “Countdown” show to his baseball blog.  In his blog, he also stated that game one of the World Series “might have been over when CC Sabathia yawned while completing his warm-ups before facing the Phillies in the bottom of the first.”  The great baseball historian apparently didn’t know that the Yankees were the home team and CC faced the Phillies in the TOP of the first!

  18. websoulsurfer said...

    I don’t know what you call a “full season”, but I wouldn’t call anything less than 152 a full season.

    Billy Martin had 9 seasons of of 152 or more games as the manager.

    In only 7 of those did his team come in 1st or 2nd.

    You are BOTH wrong. Martin had 9 full seasons as a manager and his teams finished 1st or 2nd 7 times.

    In 1981 the LEAGUE didn’t play anything close to a full season of games so its semantics you are arguing over.

    If you include 1981 he had 8 seasons with his team 1st or 2nd.

    Murtagh never managed less than 155 games in the 5 seasons the Pirates won the division with him at the helm.

    1960, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975. That IS 5 isn’t it?

    The statement about Howsam was a mistake but hardly the only reason he doesn’t deserve HOF consideration.

    So you made TWO mistakes in your critique of Olberman and Olberman made two mistakes.

    Hardly a reason for your polemic.

    Guess I know who I should read in the future.

  19. Bruce Markusen said...

    Nice try, websoulsurfer, but I was (and am) including the 1981 strike season, because that amounted to a full season. Martin managed the entire season, shortened as it was because of the strike, so yes, that amounts to a full season, just like it did for all of the managers who lasted the entire season in 1981.

    Also, nice attempt on Murtaugh, but in 1960, there was no eastern “division” in the National League; the division setup would not begin until 1969. In 1960, it was one “league” consisting of eight teams, and so that amounts to a National League pennant, which I’m certainly giving Murtaugh credit for. A league pennant carries more value than a division title; they are not the same thing. Murtaugh won four division titles (1970, 1971, 1974 and 1975). So saying that Murtaugh won four division titles is both proper and accurate. He also won two pennants (1960 and 1971) and two World Series (also 1960 and 1971).

    So, the final correct tally is four division titles, two pennants, and two World Series. Even Olbermann agrees with me on that. 

    In regards to Olbermann’s assessment of Howsam, the only reason he gave was the Robinson trade. What are the other reasons for not voting for Howsam? I’m still waiting for Olbermann to explain those factors.

  20. Radiohead said...

    Anyone more annoying than Olberman?…Not many, but here are a few:
    Deion Sanders
    Joe Morgan
    Chris Berman
    Joe Buck
    Tim McCarver
    The Red’s announcer who has been there since the 70’s and his son…Can’t think of their names.

  21. jim vankoski said...

    Bruce, I am glad you brought to light the relationship of Jayson Werth and Dennis Werth. I have been trying to figure that out since I found a game used Dennis Werth bat among the artifacts left in the Mickey Vernon estate. Why Mickey saved this particular bat of Dennis Werth when he was employed by the Yankees we will never know.

  22. jim vankoski said...

    Bruce, I am glad you brought to light the relationship of Jayson Werth and Dennis Werth. I have been trying to figure that out since I found a game used Dennis Werth bat among the artifacts left in the Mickey Vernon estate. Why Mickey saved this particular bat of Dennis Werth when he was employed by the Yankees we will never know.

  23. said...

    Bruce, Thats for informing me as to the relationship between Jayson and Dennis Werth. When Mickey Vernon passed away Sept 2008 he had a game used Dennis Werth bat in a storage bin. I guess it was there since he worked for the Yankees in the 80’s. Why he kept that bat we will never know. jim vankoski

  24. Jim C said...

    Re that Dennis Werth bat-Check the model number, see if it begins with a V. If so, it might be Mickey’s template. That would be a reason for him to keep it.

  25. Jim C said...

    What it means is that the bat was originally made for a player whose last name begins with H, and was the 233rd player with the last name H to have a bat made for him by Louisville Slugger. If it had been Mickey Vernon’s bat design, it would have started with a V. For whatever it’s worth, the most popular current bat template is the C271, originally made for Jose Cardenal. If you want more info about it, the people at Hillerich and Bradsby could tell you who the H was, and how popular his bat has been over the years.

  26. Bruce Markusen said...

    LDK, actually I am not a fan of either Beck or Hannity. I don’t think I’ve seen Beck’s show since he moved to FOX, and have never watched an entire episode of Hannity.

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