This morning, Sports By Brooks confirmed what most sports blog types have suspected for a while now: Jay Mariotti, former Sun-Times columnist, would be returning to the Tribune beginning on September 1.
It's a move that move makes sense for both sides, but it might not happen. Mariotti and the paper are both denying Sports By Brooks's report.
Mariotti told the Daily Herald that he and the Tribune have "had discussions about various projects," but "have not finalized it." He also called it a "silly blog report." (Of course he did: Mariotti's fond of calling out blogs, conveniently forgetting that his AOL paychecks come from what is essentially a blog. But reality has never restrained Jay before.)
Anyway, Mariotti's denial isn't exactly convincing, and like we said, the move makes sense.
Mariotti's had a non-compete clause with the Sun-Times -- which effectively forced Mariotti to move to AOL's FanHouse.com (full disclosure: this writer used to write for FanHouse, and has written not-so-nice things about Mariotti elsewhere), instead of to another local paper. That deal ends in late August.
The Tribune has long pined for Mariotti's ability to "move the dial," his unique and morally reprehensible ability to get people to read him less his sportwriting chops and more for his priggishness and petulance.
The columnist, who was once frequently at the center of the Chicago sports scene, has been chruning out columns for FanHouse for a year now. Despite his high profile and appearances on ESPN's "Around The Horn" every afternoon, Mariotti has failed to gain much traction at FanHouse.
Rather, he's adrift. His sniveling, take-shots-at-everybody style has been mostly lost at FanHouse, which spends most of its editorial efforts focusing on quantity. That constant wave of content, and in an unfocused national forum rather than the hyperintense local Chicago market, Mariotti has become less important, which, if you've ever seen, heard or read the man must feel like cold death.
If true, Tribune employees will be upset. Other Tribune sports columnists will freak out. Readers will balk. Mariotti will write hateful, intellectually dishonest things about Ozzie Guillen and Vinny Del Negro. Readers will freak out. And all will be as it once was in Chicago sports, a whole town of fans both hating Mariotti and reading him every day. It's not a business decision we would make, but we understand why it's being made.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.