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Rick Morrissey just did the unthinkable, jumping from the Tribune to the Sun-Times because the opposition felt to him like a more exciting place to be. That used to happen in the late 60s and early 70s, when both papers prospered but the Sun-Times was the young, hard-charging one. But since Rupert Murdoch took over the Sun-Times in 1984 the traffic's been almost all the other way — the Tribune was the more respectable paper, the more prosperous and secure paper, and lately, when the Sun-Times and Tribune both found themselves in bankruptcy, the paper more likely to go under last because the water would take longer to reach the rail.
But financier Jim Tyree and his friends just took over the Sun-Times Media Group and brought the company out of bankruptcy. Morrissey's the first sign of Tyree putting money where his mouth was.
The Tribune's senior sports columnist tells me that Sun-Times editor Don Hayner called him about two and a half weeks ago. "We want to get you over to the Sun-Times," he said. Morrissey says he replied, "Why would I do that?" And, he continues, "It kind of went from there."
Hayner brought something old-fashioned to the table — actual enthusiasm about the future. Morrissey met with Tyree, who had it too. Tyree pointed out that the Sun-Times was out from under a huge tax bill. Thanks to the investors, there was money in the bank. He said it was a new company.
"I kind of got more excited about it," says Morrissey. "They pursued me hard. I'd been at the Tribune 12 years. I always wanted to work at the Tribune. It's been gut-wrenching for me. Nobody could tell me the future. Nobody could tell me at either paper what the world would look like in five years and who'd be around. So I went with my gut feeling."
That gut feeling was supplemented by the generous and guaranteed contract the Sun-Times offered him that the Tribune wouldn't match. Morrissey has a daughter in college and two other kids approaching it, so stability matters. "They tried pretty hard to keep me," he says, "but they reached a point where they weren't willing to go where the Sun-Times was going. I was perfectly OK with that. All things being equal, I probably would have gone anyway.
"I was really impressed with Jim Tyree and Don Hayner. They're really excited about making this work. There's some vision here. I wanted to be a part of it. Maybe it has something to do with being 49 years old."
This is a big loss for the Tribune. Morrissey wasn't the most heralded Tribune sports columnist but he's been the most consistent, turning in solid steady work while more ballyhooed writers such as Bernie Lincicome, Skip Bayless, and Mike Downey had their hour and disappeared.
Morrissey signed his new contract Friday night. He expects his first Sun-Times column to appear sometime next week.