If Marlins' Olsen has seen the light, he won't tell you
MIAMI -- Scott Olsen is a cigarette-smoking, unapologetic 24-year-old whose penchant for trouble seems to cast a pall over his potential as a pitcher, and he doesn't care what you think about him.
If Olsen could pick a future for himself, it'd be as a ruthless game-show host, who in his spare time travels the globe in search of a new party. Wising people up and making sure he isn't missing out on the fun is part of Olsen's future.Right now, though, he's a pitcher for the Florida Marlins, and one who heads into Saturday night's game against the Reds with a 4-2 mark and a 3.72 ERA. That's a far cry from last season, when he went 10-15 and his 5.81 ERA was among the worst for National League starters.
Don't expect Olsen to say much about his reform; he's amused that his statistical improvement this year is cause for myriad "Scott Olsen reform" stories. You think the Olsen of old -- the fist-flying, temper-tantrum-throwing left-handed pitcher -- is any different?
"I find it funny that everybody is writing stories about the fact that I've changed," says Olsen, who has a 6.49 ERA since throwing a season-high 8 2/3 shutout innings against Milwaukee on May 6. "I haven't changed. Now because you haven't heard anything going on when I'm at home, all of the sudden I'm totally different?
"I still have fun; I'm just smarter about it."
"A lot of times I thought to myself last year, 'What is he thinking?'" says Justin Miller, one of Olsen's closest friends on the team. "Why would he say something like that, or why would his actions be like that? I don't know, but the important thing is that I'm not asking myself that question any more.
"He's made changes, and if he doesn't want to say it, I'll say it for him. Because I definitely think he has."
If there's one thing Miller should know, it's that Olsen will not conform, and he certainly won't do it because people are telling him to.
The meetings would often take place behind second base, where manager Fredi Gonzalez would approach Olsen during batting practice and try and coach him on how to be a better player and teammate. Olsen's stomping around the mound, ceaseless time between pitches, beating of water coolers and physical confrontations with teammates needed to end. So, too, did the flipping off of fans (he walked off in a huff at Miller Park last year and made an obscene gesture).
Gonzalez and others reached out to Olsen as they watched his 2007 season start to spiral out of control, culminating with an embarrassing July arrest for drunken driving. Shortly after Olsen's arrest (in which police Tasered him) team president David Samson called him out in the media, questioning whether a player like Olsen should remain in the organization. The two have since repaired their relationship, but at the time, it fed into Olsen's reputation as being a problem child, or as Olsen acknowledges, a "head case."
"He had  starts last year," Gonzalez says. "I bet after 18 of them he'd spend the next day in my office, for something."
The counsel largely fell upon deaf ears.
"Anybody can tell you stuff, but if you don't want to listen, it's not going to make a difference," Olsen says. "You can preach that all day, but until you decide to do something for yourself, it's not going to have any effect whatsoever what other people say."
In time, people's opinions might change. I ain't concerned about it, I don't care what people think. ... I care about a lot of things, just not that.
The bad behavior was affecting his teammates. On the field, Olsen was gaining a reputation as a cocky guy who thought he scared opponents, when in actuality all he did was motivate them more to beat him. He once called out Phillies second baseman Chase Utley in a game, invoking the wrath of Utley and his teammates.
"I know the Phillies hate him," catcher Matt Treanor says. "I think some teams think he's superpimp. You know how some guys act on the field? He has this way of turning off people."
That has slowly started to change. Treanor says one of the misconceptions of Olsen is that he is selfish. Teammates say he'd be the first one in his car at four in the morning if you needed help. Olsen, whose favorite game show was "The Price is Right," until Bob Barker retired, is a straight shooter: You know where you stand with him. His teammates say his work ethic this season is far better -- he has a workout routine every day -- and he finally is showing dedication to his profession. In the past, his inability to keep his temper under control is what usually started the unraveling process -- on and off the mound.
Olsen says he has learned to focus on one spot in the ballpark if a call doesn't go his way or the defense makes a bad play. That happened last year when Miguel Cabrera misplayed a ball, and cameras caught the two scuffling in the dugout. Olsen also fought with teammate Sergio Mitre in the tunnel after Olsen threw his jersey at teammates in the dugout, attributing his irritation to a button gone askew. Mitre thought it was Olsen copping an attitude, and Olsen didn't back down.
Interestingly, Randy Messenger, who had the most egregious flare-up with Olsen -- a fight after a night of drinking, in which Messenger punched Olsen in the face and gave him a black eye -- considers Olsen a friend. Messenger declined several requests for an interview, but in a story last year in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, he surmised that part of Olsen's anger derives from his upbringing: Olsen was an only child and raised by his mother, Connie, in a single-parent home.
"He never really had to share with anybody throughout his childhood," Messenger told the newspaper. "It makes a difference, whether you think it does or not. We've always told him he was selfish. He'd say, 'I'm not selfish.' You're selfish. I think that's a big part of it, not having another sibling to be there with him."
Olsen says he had a happy childhood, and he has nothing else to compare it to. He adds that he's very close with his mother, with whom he speaks on a daily basis. Olsen says he hasn't received any counseling, just an awakening of sorts that he needed to grow up.
"I'm just trying to keep a level head," Olsen says, "and be smart about things. In time, people's opinions might change. I ain't concerned about it, I don't care what people think. It's really irrelevant to me. I care about a lot of things, just not that."Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.