Since he resigned from the Sun-Times, controversial sports columnist Jay Mariotti has been the target of many critics, even at his former newspaper, who railed at his negative writings and his personality flaws.
Now it's my turn.
I don't know Jay Mariotti. In all of the 17 years he was at the Sun-Times, we never sat down for a chat, never broke bread. I think I talked to him on the telephone only once or twice, very briefly.
But I read him all the time. I am a voracious reader and I can't say that about any other columnist in this town or any other. To me, Mariotti was like Mike Royko, the greatest newspaper columnist of all. No, I wouldn't put Mariotti in the same league as Royko. But whether you liked or disliked Royko, whether you agreed with him or not, you always read him. Mariotti was the same way.
He was prolific. He wrote many more columns that he was contracted annually to produce. While in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, he still found time to offer comments about the Cubs and White Sox and Bears.
He always had a point of view. Some columnists don't. You might not have agreed with him when he harangued against Mike Ditka or Joey Meyer or Jerry Reinsdorf or Ozzie Guillen or the Tribsters who own the Cubs (for the time being). But he wasn't paid to agree with you. He was paid to have an opinion and stir up controversy and sell newspapers. He did his job.
He will be missed. When walking out the door, he argued that he was the only meat-and-potatoes sports columnist in Chicago, maybe the whole country, who wasn't a pawn of a college or pro sports management. He might have been right.
I recall when Royko was writing for the Sun-Times, even the Tribune. He was the first person I wanted to read every day. Who is Royko going after? What does he have to say today? In many ways, Mariotti commanded that kind of respect. You might have hated the guy but you wanted to know what he had to say every day, who he was going after.
Give him credit. He wasn't just throwing darts at a wall. He wasn't just shouting and screaming and tossing wild accusations. He did his homework. His columns were filled with background information and detail. So what if he didn't go into a locker room. He didn't have to. Until rivals informed you that he never met Hawk Harrelson eye-to-eye, did you know it? Did you care? Were his columns missing something? I don't think so.
In today's media atmosphere, where most beat writers and columnists seem to be always looking over their shoulder to be sure they aren't going to be criticized by their sources and rarely take a razor edge on issues and personalities for fear they will have to answer in somebody's locker room, Mariotti was very unpopular. He didn't kiss anybody's behind. He didn't wave a college flag. He didn't cheer in the press box. He wasn't in the press box. He didn't drink beers with colleagues at the Pink Pony or Billy Goat's. He did it his way.
And I, for one, will miss his work in Chicago.