When Keith Olbermann returned to ESPN last year, he pledged that his days as a liberal firebrand were behind him. His new show would only touch on politics, he said, if the story also intersected with sports.
“If the House is considering a bill to make (performance-enhancing drug) use a capital offense, we’ll cover it,” he told USA Today.
Under that rubric, a famous political pundit storming off a sports talk radio show would probably qualify. And if that pundit also happens to be the former MSNBC host’s erstwhile nemesis, then it’s probably a safe bet that it will make it to air.
So after Bill O’Reilly brought his ESPN Radio interview this week to an abrupt end, Christmas came early for Olbermann.
“Ohhhh! He’s back!” Olbermann said Wednesday as he introduced O’Reilly as the latest “Worst Person In The Sports World,” a familiar, but slightly amended label Olbermann has used before.
“This is fun,” Olbermann said. “This brings back memories.”
Olbermann devoted most of the segment to fact-checking O’Reilly’s accounts of his amateur athletic career. During the awkward radio interview, host Dan Le Batard brought up Olbermann’s revelation in 2005 that O’Reilly only played club football at Marist College. As Olbermann pointed out, Marist didn’t even institute a varsity football program until well after O’Reilly attended the school. O’Reilly dismissed the question, telling Le Batard that it “was varsity football in the sense” that Marist competed against other schools.
Olbermann couldn’t hide his glee.
“I still own your head, Bill,” he said.
But it was another one of O’Reilly’s sporting anecdotes that Olbermann picked apart this time.
Detailing his baseball career, O’Reilly told Le Batard about the time the New York Mets brought him in for a tryout. While at the now-leveled Shea Stadium, O’Reilly recalled brushing shoulders with another pitcher who was about 5-foot-10 and “threw twice as hard as me.” The pitcher turned out to be Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
Olbermann, a baseball maven, took an axe to O’Reilly story, noting that he got the 6-foot-1 Seaver’s height wrong. But the more egregious error, according to Olbermann, came with O’Reilly’s timeline of the events.
Seaver’s rookie year was 1967, when Bill O’Reilly had just turned 18. In his biography, O’Reilly put the alleged Met tryout in his senior year of college, 1970 or ’71, by which point the Mets had already won the World Series, and Seaver had won the Cy Young Award. The only part of this story he hasn’t changed was that he — ‘lifelong Met fan’ — did not recognize Tom Seaver.
O’Reilly eventually hung up on Le Batard after swatting away a series of questions about a “controversy” that may have “embarrassed” him and caused “turbulence.”
Olbermann interpreted those questions as references to the 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit against O’Reilly, but Le Batard said he wasn’t even aware of that episode until after the interview.
“I was not getting at anything,” Le Batard told TPM earlier this week. “I was curious.”