A good e-mail came in this morning, and brings up some points I’ve been meaning to address for a while:
Dear Andrew and 35th Street Writers,
You’ve been rather gleeful about the departure of Jay Mariotti from the pages of the Sun-Times, and just let me say I wholeheartedly agree with you and share in what looks like universal celebration over the end of “the Hiney Bird”‘s time in the Chicago sports pages.
But what I wonder is, really, was Jay doing anything really that much worse than what Deadspin.com, Sports by Brooks, With Leather and the like are doing? I’m not picking on bloggers (my boss would fire me if he knew how much I read them at work) but it just seems like a lot of the giddiness outside of the Sun-Times offices isn’t totally justified. Even your site, which I’ve been reading since it was still Southside Baseball, has been a lot of Hawk sucks, Contreras sucks, the bullpen sucks, and Lord knows you’ve been brutal to Nick Swisher even though he’s come around in a big way at least the last month (maybe longer).
So which is it? Was the problem in Jay personally, or was it in what he said? It seems like negativity towards sports figures was not his exclusive domain, but I’m scratching my head to figure out why Jay was viewed as a villain and not as a kind of prototype like Bill Simmons was.
– John, Downtown
The thing with Mariotti, and the difference between he and the Simmonses of the world, is not that he wasn’t a good journalist per se (even though he wasn’t), but that he had everything available to him to be the best. He had a seven-figure salary, access to any sporting event in the world, and a front-row view to a side of the sports world most of us could never dream of witnessing.
The thing about sites like this one, or the ones you mention, or even any of the fine institutions linked to on your right, is that sports bloggers actually want all those things Mariotti threw away. Yes, I will badmouth Hawk’s broadcasting but I don’t have access to him to get his side of things. Second-guess Kenny Williams? Sure thing. Question the value of a trade or signing? Absolutely. And if Kenny wants to do a Q&A, that’d be great – I’ve been trying to get an interview with people inside the White Sox organization since the dawn of South Side Baseball. The thing is, after all is said and done, sites like this one need sport figures more than sports figures need sites like this.
To put it another way, and to paraphrase a great non-sports article, the person doing something is always more significant and infinitely more important than the person merely talking about the person doing something. Nick Swisher striking out constantly is way more important than me throwing fits about it. Kenny Williams making moves means a whole lot more than what some jerk with a website thinks of those moves.
That said, we small-timers (with rare exception) don’t get to hold court with the people we take the time to keep tabs on. There is no golden 35th Street Review Press Pass I can hand to a stringer to get them into the Sox clubhouse after the game, no seat reserved for “A. Reilly” in the press box, no 15 minutes set aside during batting practice for me to ask Orlando Cabrera what he thinks of the new Slayer record. And I accept this, and I think (or at least hope) most people who read anything know how to put it in its proper context. This is not a publication of record, nor does it claim to be.
Publications like the Chicago Sun-Times, however, do make that claim, and as such there’s an unspoken rule that to keep that title, you have to use whatever access earned it but also whatever authority comes with it. Investigative reporters track down and protect anonymous sources; business reporters separate themselves from their parent company’s interests; sports columnists face the people they’re going to cut down. This is what’s expected, but it’s not really expecting that much because they are all in a position to do those things! Part of working any beat for any major paper is familiarity with the people you’re covering, and for someone like Jay Mariotti to have ducked that responsibility makes him no better than, well, than me.
Now, you can argue (and some have) that Simmons hasn’t been the same since he became famous and I won’t disagree. But Simmons at least used his position to the benefit of his readers, rather than to the detriment. And until the day Paul Konerko, Ryan Bukvich and the gang start accepting invitations to my holiday barbecues, you’ll just have to take my word that we’re doing the best we can with what we have. Scout’s honor.
Questions and comments can be sent to the 35th Street Post Office at email@example.com.