UPDATE: The Philadelphia Inquirer confirms our story.
Inquirer sports columnist Stephen A. Smith has been stripped of his column and has been offered a job as a general assignment reporter in the Inquirer’s sports department, according to sources inside both the Inquirer and the Daily News. Things reportedly came to a head during a meeting last Friday, when Smith was told of his re-assignment. Smith reportedly told his bosses he would give them an answer when he gets back from vacation in two weeks.
In the wake of painful lay-offs and general belt-tightening, Inquirer Editor-in-Chief Bill Marimow has been taking a hard look at columnists. Gail Shister’s TV News column was the first casualty of this re-think. (FYI, Shister has a fine front page piece in today’s paper that has nothing to do with television news and not a single quote from a network anchorman.)
Sources believe Smith’s column has been in the cross-hairs for some time. “There was a time when the powers that be were just happy to have somebody that’s on ESPN on the masthead,” says a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But I think the new leadership has been asking itself for a while now whether or not the columns [he] was turning in were justifying his [reportedly generous] salary. And I think they decided he wasn’t bringing his A-game.”
As per his commitments to ESPN, Smith spends two hours a day in a New York studio doing a live call-in show for ESPN Radio, and he is concurrently on-assignment for ESPN TV which often requires him to be in the sports network’s Connecticut studios.
As a result, he rarely has boots on the ground in Philadelphia and some say that leads to embarrassing gaffes like an April 4 2007 column accusing Phils General Manager Pat Gillick of trying to run the Phils from his home in Toronto, even though Gillick — who used to GM the Toronto Bluejays — had long since sold off his Toronto digs.
“It’s the kind of thing where if you actually spent some time around the Phillies you would know,” says another source. “Besides, Smith is the last guy that should be accusing somebody of phoning it in from outside Philly.” That column resulted in a mea culpa follow-up, and it wouldn’t be the only one. There was the Sunday August 12th column that had the Phillies losing to Atlanta 5-4 the previous Friday when in fact the Phils beat Atlanta 5-4. This is what happens when you do all your reporting via Blackberry, say naysayers.
Just last week Smith took commissioner Bud Selig to task for not being present when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record,* which prompted a wishy-washy Bud’s OK If You Like That Kinda Thing follow-up column. In describing Bonds’ detractors, Smith unintentionally echoed what his detractors often say about him:
People will label him an acerbic superstar allergic to humility, more interested in personal agendas than success for his team and the game itself.
All calls to the Inquirer sports desk about the matter are being referred to Inquirer Editor-in-Chief Bill Marimow. When reached by Phawker moments ago, Marimow declined to comment. Asked to confirm or deny that Smith had been stripped of his column, Marimow simply said, “I have nothing to say about that.” The Newspaper Guild’s Bill Ross said he would have no comment on the matter at the present time. An email to Smith requesting comment had not been returned by press time.
RELATED: Stephen A. Smith Must…Retire
*Ironically, the commissioner missed the record-breaking game because he was meeting with George Mitchell back east to discuss the former senator’s lengthy investigation into steroid abuse in pro baseball.