Michael Miner must be joking if he believes Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti somehow warrants “a little sympathy” [Hot Type, May 24]. Mariotti and his unrelentingly caustic tone have never made him a particularly sympathetic figure in this town, but his latest snafu–badly misinterpreting comments that Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood made (even though Mariotti never heard the remarks firsthand) and then insisting in two subsequent columns that he was right all along in an effort to justify his poor analysis of those remarks–reveals Mariotti to be an irresponsible, self-righteous hypocrite who often seems more concerned with making the Tribune Co. look badly than with producing insightful analysis.

Mariotti is upset because Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey called him on the carpet for not being there in person to hear Wood’s comments. Does anybody who reads Mariotti with any regularity really believe that if the shoe were on the other foot–if, say, a Tribune columnist had, in absentia, leapt to a similar interpretation of a player’s remarks that the player himself later dismissed as inaccurate (and that other sportswriters didn’t exactly support)–that Mariotti wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to malign that columnist’s credibility? Over the years, Mariotti has used his pen to criticize other writers for a variety of things (see Mariotti’s column in June 2000 about then-Tribune columnist Skip Bayless knowing how to “stay in corporate favor” by writing an anti-Sammy Sosa column while the slugger was undergoing contract negotiations; see Mariotti’s column that same month about the Tribune commissioning “its newspaper hacks to criticize the critics” so the writers can “get attaboys from their bosses,” etc). And Mariotti avoids the central issue when his strongest objections to Morrissey’s criticisms are that Morrissey labeled Mariotti a “jackal” and implied that Mariotti surfs the Internet for secondhand information for his columns. The fact is this: Mariotti never heard Wood’s comments firsthand, and yet went on to draw a nuance out of Wood’s tirade that was thinly supported at best by the other journalists who did hear those remarks.

For Mariotti to cry foul about Morrissey’s latest column (the Tribune is “escalating” things and “is starting to get dirty now,” he told Miner) is sheer chutzpah. Not only did Mariotti show himself to be a less-than-stellar journalist in his secondhand interpretation of Wood’s comments, but he himself long ago “escalated” animosity between the Sun-Times and the Tribune, and he has long fought every bit as “dirty” as Morrissey. Miner correctly noted that Mariotti mocked one of Morrissey’s Olympic columns in February, but the issue of escalation and of fighting dirty goes far deeper than that. The venom that Mariotti regularly directs in his columns toward the Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs, seems to inhibit his objectivity toward the Cubs. Yes, the Cubs have been poorly run for most of the last several decades, and of course, Don Baylor has been an uninspiring manager. But Mariotti’s incessant focus on the name of the publicly traded company that owns the Cubs (he has used the tiresome “Tribsters” moniker to describe Cubs ownership in an astounding 67 separate columns since 1994, according to Lexis-Nexis) seriously undermines his own credibility and continually suggests that he is projecting animosity toward a hated journalistic foe onto the corporate honchos who oversee an entirely separate business unit in the Cubs. Miner only casually gave mention to this aspect in last week’s Hot Type, noting at the end of the column that Mariotti doesn’t “let you forget for a second” that the Tribune Company owns the Cubs.

No, Mariotti deserves no sympathy. The bottom line here is that for Mariotti–who himself recognizes that he is a “big enemy” at the Tribune–to dish out liberal doses of criticism toward the Chicago Tribune and toward the Tribune Co. the way he does, he needs to be able to take reciprocal criticism in stride, instead of whining to Miner about quibbles and about perceived unfair treatment. And his protestations notwithstanding, it doesn’t really matter why Mariotti wasn’t in the Cubs’ locker room. For Mariotti’s vaunted “powers of textual analysis,” as Miner calls them, to have any credibility at all in the future, he needs to actually be present when sports figures hold court.

Mark Kessler

W. Madison