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:
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.