Sports media column vanishes after unsettling the Score

June 8, 2010

Every few years the Chicago Sun-Times gets a new sports editor, and every few years the new sports editor lets Jim O'Donnell write a weekly column on sports media.

O'Donnell, who joined the Sun-Times sports staff in 1997 after working for the Daily Herald, is a distinctive writer who has a particular knack for channeling the vitriolic spirit of former Chicago TV critic Gary Deeb. In fact, I'd say he's better at it than anyone in the world (which is saying a lot, considering that I worked as Deeb's legman at the Sun-Times for three years).

Invariably, O'Donnell uses his sports media column to attack his perceived enemies and settle old scores -- much as Deeb did in his heyday --  until the sports editor gets tired of catching all the flak and yanks O'Donnell's column away.

Believe it or not, it just happened again: Chris De Luca, who was promoted to sports editor last November, is the latest to have given O'Donnell a sports media column and then suddenly taken it away.

"Our space has been limited because of the Blackhawks coverage, and Jim has been moved to the Bulls beat to beef up our coverage during their coaching search and free agency," De Luca told me after I inquired about the column's unexplained absence for the last three weeks. Will it ever return? "We decided to revisit the idea once the dust settles this summer on the Bulls," De Luca said.

Although I'd bet my bouquets and brickbats that it's not a coincidence, the disappearance of O'Donnell's column also followed a series of increasingly nasty personal (and often incomprehensible) attacks on several hosts at CBS Radio sports/talk WSCR-AM (670). Here are a few highlights: 

  • "On-going rumblings about backstage politicking at WSCR-AM (670) for a revamped daytime lineup. This much is certain: Dan Bernstein desperately needs a partner who's not carbon-dated and anytime career toadstool Dan McNeil is around a cough button, bad things happen." (Feb. 4)
  • "WSCR-AM (670) listeners heard the implosiveness continue to tick one recent midday when a whiffy McHost referred to Northern Illinois football as 'meaningless.' " (Feb. 25)
  • "Excruciatingly painful sports-flush radio recently when WSCR-AM (670) flatliners Terry 'Wheezie' Boers and second-banana Danny 'Boo Boo' Bernstein tried to dissect the Bulls' organizational changes and newest direction. It was like baby baboons vs. the first wheel. . . . Biggest losers in the whole mess --  especially if Reinsdorf, Paxson or Rainbow/PUSH request audio of Tuesday's rambling wreck -- could be CBS Radio and Schnore program director Mitch Rosen. He clearly has lost control of his drooling afternoon franchise and apparently lacks the decisiveness or vision to do anything about it." (May 6)
  • "The addled afternoon swill-io on WSCR-AM (670) --  still featuring post-'caca' Terry 'Wheezie' Boers and withering bellhop Danny 'Boo Boo' Bernstein -- continues. . . . Actually, with 'Wheezie' and 'Boo Boo,' it's probably a 'special' demo of adult males who listen who are most likely to shoplift, own the complete Seka Betamax collection and don't have driver's licenses." (May 13)

If Sun-Times editors finally got fed up with complaints from folks at the Score and other targets of O'Donnell's wrath, at least one of his former bosses couldn't have been a bit surprised.

On the day O'Donnell resumed writing the column, Bill Adee, a former Sun-Times sports editor who now works as vice president of digital development and operations for Chicago Tribune Media Group, posted this sarcastically wistful memory on Twitter:

"Seeing Jim O'Donnell's sports media [column] return in the S-T today got me misty eyed for the Friday morning phone calls from angry media people."

Some things never change.

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