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Is Michael Cooke insane?
Just months after signing Jay Mariotti to another humongous contract, the editor of the Sun-Times is now marketing the controversial sportswriter's resignation from the paper as the greatest thing since the Mirage.
Just look at the top of today's front page:
But that's not all.
Turn the paper over to the sports front and you'll see "NO MORE MARIOTTI: Reaction Is Swift - and Harsh."
Whereby the paper runs 14 anonymous comments from readers ripping Mariotti to shreds.
Which begs the question: If Mariotti was such a plague upon the Sun-Times and its readers, why did Cooke continue to pay him so much money for all these years? And why did the paper put his face on buses and advertisements and other promotional materials?
The paper used Mariotti to sell the paper right up to the time he left; now the paper is running a notice today offering free home delivery of the "Jay-Free Sun-Times."
But that's not all!
Sun-Times sportswriter Chris De Luca writes a wholly inappropriate column today also ripping Mariotti to shreds. What is this, grade school?
De Luca turns a chunk of his column over to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a frequent Mariotti target - quite often deservedly so. And when Guillen says "I'm not going to say I will get the last laugh because I will get fired from this job," De Luca doesn't correct the record that Mariotti was not fired; he resigned.
And yet, there's De Luca a few paragraphs later saying "Once again, Mariotti was playing fast and loose with the facts."
Which begs another question: Does that mean Mariotti played fast and loose with the facts for all these years and neither Cooke nor his colleagues did anything to stop him? How is that for a contract with your readers?
It's a laugh when De Luca writes that "Mariotti spent the better part of his first day divorced from the Sun-Times acting like a scorned lover."
Mariotti spent the better part of his first day as a free man talking about the woes of the newspaper industry and the rise of the Internet; De Luca wants to pretend instead that all is not only okay in printland, but that the Sun-Times is putting out a terrific product. Riiiight.
But that's not all!
De Luca also wheels in Ken Harrelson, the pathetic and putrid homerest of homer baseball announcers to say that "[Mariotti] wouldn't have signed that extension if the things he's saying about the Sun-Times now were true. So he's spinning again."
Um, the Sun-Times certainly wasn't saying the things they are saying about Mariotti now when they signed him to that extension, so you've got it backwards, Hawk.
Finally, De Luca says that "those of us who work at newspapers have one edge over the blogging world. We have access to the players, coaches, managers and front-office executives. We can talk to key figures on and off the record to get insight unavailable to others."
Then why are sports blogs so much better than newspaper sports sections? What insight exactly are you delivering? Hanging out with your heroes isn't the same thing as reporting. Take this recent "mailbag" session with the Tribune's Paul Sullivan, for example.
Paul, Have you ever read your White Sox counterpart's mailbag? He actually posts good questions and has well-thought-out responses to them. I know you think you are very witty, which would be okay if you would actually put a little effort into this and provide a little insight for once. -- Ray Kluesner, Madison, Wis.
Mark does a great job and I read his mailbag all the time. I consider us the Tribune's version of Goofus and Gallant. (You can figure out which one is which.) If you're looking for more insight on the Cubs, I would suggest going to one of the many fine blogs that service Cubs fans. They have more time to run through the stats and look things up for you. I don't believe this is a matter of life and death, so let's not pretend it's anything other than entertainment.
Sullivan doesn't have time to run through the stats! He's too busy having access!
The fact is that Mariotti is right: the Internet is where the action is for any serious sports fan. And the Sun-Times website - including its sports blogs (Last post for "Inside the Cubs" was nine days ago!) - blows chunks. And why is that? Daily newspapers have all that access, all those resources, all that insight, and yet they by-and-large produce not only inferior blogs but inferior coverage altogether.
In an interview with The Score, "Jay Mariotti blasted his former paper's internet ineptness, going as far to say that it had a 'rickety' website and his USA-Spain gold medal basketball game column 'sat in a bin for three and a half hours' because nobody was at the paper to read it," The Big Lead reports.
The Tribune reports that "Just back from Beijing, where he covered the Olympics, Mariotti said in a phone interview that he decided to quit after it became clear while in China that sports journalism had become 'entirely a Web site business. There were not many newspapers there. He added that most of the journalists covering the Games were 'there writing for Web sites'."
On the other hand, Deadspin reports that Mariotti quit because he wasn't allowed to write about Barack Obama's criticism of Cubs fans, which isn't any more in the favor of the paper - it's ludicrous, of course, but it follows a stupid old newspaper dictum; see, Rick Telander already had dibs on the topic.
Cooke tells Michael Miner that "we're not hearing from grief-stricken fans. The truth is quite the opposite. Quite the opposite. We've gotten hundreds of e-mails, including ones that say 'Now we'll buy the paper.' By all indications our circulation will go up."
So you made a really bad decision a few months ago when you brought Mariotti back with a new contract rumored to hover around half a mil? Again, how do you keep your job, Mr. Cooke?
I can only hope that when Cooke is finally dispatched, a memo as classy as this one is distributed.
None of this is to defend Mariotti as a columnist. Despite a gift for knowing exactly what Chicago sports fans were thinking about and feeling in their hearts at any given moment (and for being absolutely terrific on TV and radio), Mariotti was a terrible writer who relied on awful, forced nicknames and provocation for the sake of provocation. Many are undoubtedly glad to see him go. But the Sun-Times is perpetuating a charade upon its readers by reacting like the bunch of children they apparently are.