Cooperstown Confidential: Olbermann is off baseby Bruce Markusen
November 20, 2009
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 MLB.com 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.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.