The Beats Go On

By Chris Rewers on Monday, March 7, 2011

I had WGN (720-AM) on in the car recently while the Cubs beat writer Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune was being interviewed by a host.

Sullivan bragged that this was his 12th year on the Cubs beat. Sully's tenure seems longer than that. And he isn't the only scribe on the Cubs beat with some serious longevity. Bruce Miles (14th year) of the Daily Herald and Carrie Muskat (25th year) of MLB.com have been around forever, and Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times has been on the beat for at least five years.

The situation is similar on the South Side with Sox fans who were treated to the prose of Joe Cowley for almost 15 years. Mark Gonzales and Scot Gregor (18th year) have also had long runs on the Sox beat.

Are Chicago's baseball fans well served by the coverage from the usual suspects?
I remember that when I was a kid, that the practice of the downtown papers was to swap the Cubs and Sox beats at the All-Star break. A typical All-Star break feature included letters written by each reporter, briefing his counterpart on what to expect on his new assignment.

I guess the sports editors of that era wished to give the fans a different perspective from time to time. There is something to be said, I suppose, for allowing a reporter ample time to build sources and gain comfort. But isn't it reasonable to suspect that at times comfort on a beat can translate to laziness, pomposity, and complacency? It also promotes homerism. Cowley's constant nonsensical cheerleading for the White Sox has reached embarrassing proportions and is unprofessional.

The All-Star break swap was a breath of fresh air to this reader.

I wonder when and why the practice of mixing up the beats died out. I recall that as recently as the early 1990s, the Trib would swap Joey Reaves and Alan Solomon on the baseball beats.

Wouldn't it be nice to get a break from Sullivan's prejudices and read Gonzales' perspective of the Cubs for a few months? How could it hurt? Such a move might not be popular with the reporters who would be affected, but shouldn't the needs of the readers trump the sensitivities of the reporters for whom they are supposed to serve?

Would you be surprised to know that many sportswriters are as full of themselves as the athletes they cover? Believe it. It's amazing that the Wrigley Field press box can contain all of those oversized egos. The inflated opinions of themselves are quite the contrast from their readership numbers, which continue to plummet.

A colleague at the Daily Southtown used to say, when referring to arrogant colleagues, that "nobody who works at this place should have an ego."

He may as well have been speaking about an entire industry.

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