Buster Olney Is Wrong About Rays, Bagels


The Tampa Bay Rays had a chance to clinch a playoff berth yesterday against the Orioles, and only 12,000 fans showed up at the stadium.  Evan Longoria, the best player on the team, spoke to reporters about how disappointing it was that more fans were not out to support them.

On his ESPN blog, Buster Olney wrote that such complaining “makes no sense whatsoever.”  By way of explanation, he used the analogy that a bagel shop proprietor should not complain about a lack of customers despite his good bagels, and neither should the Rays complain about their lack of fans.  It’s an Insider article, so here is the quote:

Saying this stuff out loud makes no sense whatsoever, in the same way it makes no sense for a farmer or a hardware-store owner or a computer-outlet owner to complain about the customers. Can you imagine if the owner of a bagel store — and I worked as a baker in bagel stores in West Lebanon, N.H., and in Nashville during my college years — in St. Petersburg were to talk like Longoria?

[here I cut out a not-particularly-funny riff Olney goes on with Longoria’s quote altered to talk about bagels]

A bagel-store owner who says something like that would be laughed out of town. Folks who run a business — any business — put a product up for sale, and would-be patrons have the right to decide whether they want to buy the product. Nobody is obligated to buy the product, just as the Rays are not obligated to commit to staying in St. Petersburg forever.

This is wrong.  The difference between a bagel shop and a baseball team is that society does not pretend that bagel shops are transcedental community organizations, the support of which follows rules and logic different than that of simple commerce.  The entire institution of Major League Baseball, its billions of dollars of revenue, and the trickle down economy that includes the paycheck Buster Olney cashes for writing his ESPN blog, depends upon baseball being viewed as something other than a simple commercial enterprise.

I’m guessing Olney is still sore that nobody liked his bagels back in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Incidentally, if that bagel shop was a cherished local business whose owner had been an important member of the community for 50 years, then yes, community support would be something greater than simply customers exercising their right to not purchase a product.

Don’t write columns that undermine your own existence as a writer.  Unless that’s your point.  Which it isn’t.

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