Jay Mariotti writes in response to my post that suggested he was close to being hired by the Tribune. As I said late Tuesday night, the deal fell through.
“I feel sorry for these people you quote. They need to get a grip, do their work, break some stories and concentrate on writing good sports columns. Who cares about me? I could spot Rick Telander 890 words of Rick Reilly, and he still wouldn’t write a relevant 900-word column. He’s a bitter old man stuck in 1973.
“I did not quit the paper in a huff. I resigned in writing based on a clause in my contract — I had the right to terminate the deal at any time — and whether they accepted or not was inconsequential. It was my call, based on a Sun-Times Internet site that runs like a Ford Edsel and my conclusion that the paper isn’t far from folding. The night the U.S. basketball team won the gold medal, I had to wake the web editor out of bed at a wedding in California because hours had passed without our stories being posted on the web site. That was pretty much the final straw. I left about $1 million in guaranteed money on the table — remember, I signed a contract extension in the summer — because I don’t want to deal with the death of another paper; I worked for the National Sports Daily when it died. I told that to the publisher, Cyrus Friedheim, when we had lunch last year. I told him I didn’t want to see another paper fold. It’s a horrible feeling. That’s what drove my resignation.
“The Tribune contacted me the night I resigned. We had several productive discussions, in person and on the phone, over 2 1/2 weeks. I was very impressed with their editorial direction — this isn’t Col. McCormick’s Trib — and we chatted about an Internet page, a television show and, eventually, a column. In the middle of it all, I received a threatening e-mail in what looked like 64-point type from the Sun-Times lawyer, Jim McDonough, who warned of legal action against me if I signed with the Tribune. The Tribune also received a threatening letter from the Sun-Times. Yes, I had a non-compete clause in the Sun-Times deal that prohibits me from writing for the Tribune for a year. Thus, we had to twist and turn to figure out a way to do things, and for now, I’m just thrilled to continue our daily, stress-free, highly successful ESPN show — six years, almost 1,300 airings — and consider several options in radio and TV and on the Internet. Maybe someday, the Tribune thing will happen, but if it causes mass resignations on the staff, gee, I don’t want to disrupt home lives or anything. All I know is, these aren’t the Tribsters I lampooned for years. This is the multimedia group that will survive in Chicago and thrive in the future. They have a plan.
It’s amusing that Michael Cooke said wonderful things about me when they announced my extension at a shareholders’ meeting in June, ripped me apart as an editorial detriment when I exercised my contractual right to leave, then balked when the other paper showed interest. He’s not a stable man. His buddy, Steinberg, rips my character when he has domestic-abuse and alcohol issues. Yikes!
“It’s still very possible I’ll keep working in this city. I have local and national opportunities. Contrary to pictures painted by the media, we have loads of friends in this city, and my kids have had a great educational experience. Their schoolmates don’t even know what the Sun-Times is; they just know I’m the guy on the ESPN show. When I’ve been in restaurants and bars the last few weeks, or walking down the street, people have been great and wondered why the Sun-Times went smear-job on me after I left. I usually had the most web hits on the Sun-Times site, and if I wasn’t a well-read and successful columnist, I don’t think the Sun-Times would have signed me to numerous extensions and the Tribune would have shown such interest. The frenzy about me is off-center, disproportionate to reality. And it’s all media-driven by people such as the ones you’ve quoted. Shoot me if I’m in my 60s and ripping a guy in his 40s.
“I wrote more than 300 columns a year for 17 years. I ignored the bullshit, did my job and made enormous impact without dipping into backstabbing and smear-campaigning. I wish others would try the same formula. It works.”