I spent a few hours this morning messing around with the archives on ESPN.com, and now so I can justify it as "research" I'm going to write a few words about my favorite sportswriters.
Bill Simmons. ESPN's Sports Guy makes me laugh out loud while I'm reading him more often than any time since I first read Dave Barry Slept Here when I was probably 11. The web format really suits Simmons as he's able to ramble about his non-sports obsessions -- trash TV, '80s cinema, TiVo -- and be completely partial when it comes to his teams (all Boston squads and, endearingly, the L.A. Clippers). It's great that we live in an era when a sportswriter can be most strongly influenced by a TV show. Simmons wears his "Seinfeld" fixation proudly and shares its overly detailed, almost scientific obsession with everyday minutiae. He's also a pretty canny analyst and extremely stat-friendly for a humorist.
Jay Mariotti. He comes off as sort of a mook when he appears on "Around the Horn" or guest-hosts "Pardon the Interruption" but Mariotti's paranoia is perfectly suited for the city he works in. Unlike, say, Philadelphians, Chicagoans secretly want their teams to fail. We're not sure what to do, really, when they win. Remember all the people tipping over taxis after the first Bulls championship? Or the '85 Bears "dynasty" folding like a tent after one Super Bowl more memorable for its spinoff music video than any of the action on the field? If you get all your Chicago sports news from Jay, you won't necessarily believe that the Bears will finish 1-15, the White Sox will take their best-in-the-AL record and end up out of the playoffs, and Kerry Wood, Eddy Curry, and Rex Grossman will never play healthy again, but you won't be surprised if they do. Mariotti also leads the campaign to keep Chicago's numerous crooked owners (Wirtz, Reinsdorf, the nefarious Tribune Company) honest, although the Cubs still scalp their own tickets and the Blackhawks' home games still aren't on TV, so who knows what good it's doing.
Peter King and Paul Zimmerman. SI.com is inferior in nearly every other respect to the mighty ESPN.com, but their football coverage lords it over the competitors because of this dynamic duo. They're opposites in lots of ways -- King is agreeable, Dr. Z acerbic. Peter loves coffee and Paul loves wine. King fills column inches with his daughters' field hockey exploits, Z writes often about his formidable wife (The Flaming Redhead). They each view football in a completely different way, and you couldn't get a full picture of how the NFL works from reading only one or the other. King is a total insider, with every coach and coordinator on speed dial. Dr. Z is a clinician who watches tape of every single game and has a Baseball Prospectus-like knack for identifying and ridiculing the overrated, the inefficient, and the just plain stupid. King's Monday Morning QB column and Z's weekly picks in the print magazine are must-reads. I particularly anticipate Zimmerman's end-of-the-year ratings of all the TV announcers. It's nice to know I'm not the only viewer out there who despairs when the analysts completely ignore substitutions, fail to credit tacklers, and waste hours of airtime with "storylines" they worked out before the game and have little to do with the events on-field.
Rob Neyer. Sadly, you need a subscription to ESPN's Insider service to read most of his stuff, but Neyer is one of the few guys (actually, the only guy) good enough to convince me to pay money for Internet content. This flannel-wearing Pacific Northwest denizen isn't the most brilliant statistic manipulator on the Web (that distinction could belong to any one of a number of BP employees), but he has a way of making sabermetrics accessible that few share, and he can write a straight-up "color" column when his editors demand it. Neyer doesn't suffer fools gladly, and some of his best work comes from his bristling responses to fools who insist Derek Jeter is a great defensive shortstop or Andruw Jones is a slam-dunk NL MVP candidate. No other writer provides me with more things to be self-righteously angry about. Well, I guess that's not entirely true, as Joe Morgan has on more than one occasion driven me into an incoherent rage. But in Neyer's case we're usually on the same side.
There's probably people I'm forgetting but that seems like enough for now. I will note that my omission of all Denver's local writers is not an accident. Come back, Woody Paige.