I listen to this podcast every day - not necessarily because it’s a fantastic podcast (it’s fine!) but because I get the broad outline of what’s happening in baseball and it goes down easy.
Buster Olney is an ok host. Farmhand past aside, he’s a corporate guy and a baseball insider and he takes positions you’d expect such a person to take: i.e., he’ll advocate for changes to the game that’ll make his job better, or easier, or to make the game more uniform. Things that preserve historical integrity, or keep the game quirky, are treated as worthless anachronisms that have to be cast aside to cater to the whims and attention spans of his teenage son’s generation.
Much (too much) of the podcast is taken up with Buster’s weekly hobbyhorse, which he’ll then ask every single guest about over the course of days. Usually taken from the topic of his latest column or something that happened on Baseball Tonight. Standard question format: “Here’s what I think, what do you think?” This could be interesting, but everyone more or less agree with Buster’s opinion, so it adds up to so much flogging of a dead horse. Recurrent themes are returned to at least once a year: intentionally throwing at batters, the vicissitudes of replay, the nearness of robot-umps, how come the All-Star managers treat the exhibition game as an exhibition game, etc. One’s mileage varies. For some reason Buster treats the Home Run Derby as the preeminent show-stopping set piece of the sport and will start talking up candidates in April.
Those are a lot of criticisms, but they’re mild. He’s still an affable guy, and an enthusiastic lover of the sport who’s forgotten more about it than I know. And many of the recurring guests are excellent, and very knowledgeable. Favorites include Boog Sciambi, Sarah Langs (even if her “Gee whiz! Baseball!” schtick gets a little old — though I’m sure it’s genuine), and Paul Hembekides. I learn something from them every time. Paul Radom’s weekly segment is a constant delight. Some guests aren’t quite as good, but everyone’s having a good time talking baseball, which is all I need to keep me happy.
All in all, this is about what you’d expect from a daily podcast brought to you by ESPN. Entertaining, frustrating, mildly informative, slick, and very insider-y. There are smarter baseball podcasts, and more entertaining baseball podcasts, but this one does a good job of splitting the difference.
PS As to the politics beginning to encroach on the podcast. I have some leniency towards such things. I DO wish it were exclusively a baseball podcast but I have a hard time saying, “Shut up and stick to sports.” And to some degree I get it, Buster and the rest of the ESPN crew work for an elite organization, and come from elite schools, and rub elbows with elite and wealthy participants in elite and wealthy industries so they express The Consensus of Polite Society in 2021. Is it frustrating when, say, Buster takes a facile swipe at Georgia’s voting law, and then doesn’t follow up with any mention of Colorado’s voting laws when the All-Star Game is moved there? Sure. He becomes just another person in the media spouting The Narrative. You can tell he means well, and he doesn’t go overboard, but if you’re someone like me who loves baseball and is also center-right, expect to be mildly annoyed every so often.