Olson is striving not to be bitter after turning fans' boos to cheers

June 15, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- Relief pitcher Gregg Olson is trying hard not to look back in anger, but it isn't easy. The boos still echo in his mind, though he has given Orioles fans nothing to complain about since April.

Olson struggled through the first few weeks of the season and was forced into a brief leave of absence from the closer role, but he has come back to re-establish himself as one of the game's most effective relievers.

He recorded six saves in six save opportunities during the club's 10-game winning streak, and saved last night's game to raise his success ratio this season (85 percent) above his career average (83 percent). The fans, of course, have forgiven his early season transgressions. Now Olson is trying to forgive them.

"To be honest, I still remember what they did," he said, but he is trying not to take it too personally.

They booed him when he took the mound. They called for his head on all the local talk shows. Olson admits that he deserved some of it, but he couldn't help but wonder how quickly they had forgotten what he had done over the previous four years. He is, after all, the club's all-time save leader and was the youngest pitcher in baseball history to reach 100 saves.

"The way it was handled. The way the fans were reacting. The way I was pitching. It was all frustrating," he said. "I tried to distance myself as much as I could to lessen the bitterness."

He apparently has succeeded to some extent. Renewed success has brought renewed self-esteem, which has allowed Olson to go back outdoors -- in a figurative sense. But when he was struggling, he went underground for a while to try to shelter himself from the negative environment.

"I did everything I could to shut myself off and try to right myself," Olson said. "I was trying to get away from everything. I wasn't in hiding or anything -- I was signing autographs if the opportunity arose -- but I wasn't going through my normal routine. I was trying to stay out of sight. I was trying to avoid the negativity and I wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation."

It was a difficult time. Olson didn't take it very well when manager Johnny Oates called him into his office on April 23 and told him that he wouldn't be working in save situations for a while. The demotion, if that's what it was, only lasted a few days, but it definitely shook Olson.

He was so discouraged that he began to wonder if his career was at a major crossroads. He even wondered if he would be better off continuing his career somewhere else.

"The grass is always greener," he said. "When everything was going wrong, I felt like I was going to get released anyway, so it didn't matter."

The Orioles, of course, never considered that possibility. Olson has been too good for too long. Oates just wanted to give him a chance to work out his problems in some less-pressurized situations.

In retrospect, it may have been the best thing that could have happened. He worked out some mechanical problems and turned his season around in a hurry. He has been successful in 13 of his 14 save opportunities since then.

Olson feels the difference is entirely mechanical. He found a flaw in his delivery and apparently has corrected it. He has given up just two runs in his past 21 appearances (19 1/3 innings) and allowed just two hits in the six appearances during the winning streak.

His ability to rebound from one of the most discouraging periods in his career should make it easier for Olson to deal with failure in the future, but he isn't assuming anything.

"By nature, I am a confident person, but like everybody else, doubts creep in," he said. "In the past, I've let those doubts go too far. . . . and I probably will again, too."

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