Spector (again)

Robin Brownlee
September 14 2008 01:13PM

I've long admired Mark Spector's work as a sportswriter and a columnist, but we've never enjoyed the best of timing, him and I—at least from my point of view. More on that later.

With training camp for the Edmonton Oilers just days away, fans are wondering who'll fit where between next Saturday and the start of the season. As always, there'll be some new faces in new places when the puck drops.

That holds true on media row as well, with the most noteworthy change among the unwashed with press passes being that Spector will be plying his trade with Sportsnet as a website writer and on-air personality when the 2008–09 NHL season begins after more than 20 years in the CanWest newspaper chain, formerly known as Southam.

MOVING ON

After 15 years writing at The Journal and six years with the National Post, including the last handful as the lead general sports columnist, Spec is leaving for Sportsnet. He's given his notice and his new gig begins during camp.

With the hard-copy end of the newspaper business shrinking and the impact of the internet expanding by the day, Spector is making the move to help fill the void created when Pierre LeBrun, who is as connected as anyone, bolted for ESPN.

Spector will be based in Edmonton, so the move will involve little more than a change to his pay cheque—I can only assume in amount as well as who endorses it—and some added TV work.

A newspaper guy by trade going back to his days at the Gateway at the U of A, Spec's already done some post-game guest spots on Sportsnet broadcasts of Oilers games. That'll continue.

It's a great gig that'll include covering the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and the Western Conference in general, as well as other events as time allows.

THANKS FOR COMING

As for the timing reference, let's just say Spector beat out a remarkably qualified field of candidates, a group of hopefuls that included yours truly.

Now, I don't know if I finished second or 22nd in the running, but it seems I hung in long enough to get a call a week or so ago from Patrick Grier, who was overseeing the hiring process.

It went something like, "Robin, we really liked your interview, but we've decided to go with someone else..."

Being a trained journalist, my response was what you'd expect. "Who?" I asked.

"Uhh, Mark Spector," Grier answered.

"Arrrrrrgggggggghhhhhh."

I had no idea until then Spec had thrown his name in—for the record, I think it's BS that he got the job solely because he's got better teeth and hair than I do and the camera doesn't add 100 pounds to his appearance like it does with me—but I laughed out loud.

I called Spec and we had a good guffaw, even if it was him doing most of the chortling.

YOU AGAIN?

It was like déjà-vu all over again. When I arrived at The Journal 20 years ago, Spec was the junior guy in the sports department. It didn't take long until I was backing up Jim Matheson on the Oiler beat on a temporary basis—home games only, no travel.

Anyway, I obviously didn't do enough to blow the socks off sports editor Peter Collum because when a full-time back-up to Matheson was picked the following season, Spec got the job.

Five years or so later, after Cam Cole left for the National Post, the decision was made to split his column two ways. Spector got a piece of that and, eventually, The Journal had the good sense to hire Dan Barnes from The Sun. I finished second in the running to Barnes. Again, hair and teeth—and the fact Junior is a better writer than I—were the difference. I got the Oilers beat.

Years later, in 2000, I made the absolutely brilliant career decision to leave The Journal for The Sun. Bad hair. Bad teeth. Bad call. But that's a whole other story—one that isn't over yet.

Anyway, congratulations, Spec. Bugger.

MORE MATTY

I'm hearing Matheson will be doing a bigger share of the Oilers beat this season, something approaching 50 per cent in terms of travel and coverage. The only question I have about that is: "What took so long?"

Matty, who, as everybody knows, is in the writer's wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has been relegated to back-up status in terms of the Oilers at The Journal for the last decade.

He's been concentrating instead on covering the NHL at large and he's done a lot of excellent work—most notably his must-read Hockey World, which runs on weekends during the season.

Still, it made no sense to me why somebody with Matty's contacts and experience wasn't used more on the Oiler beat, and that includes when I took over from him.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

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A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 OilDude
September 14 2008, 02:37PM
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I agree with you Robin, that Spector guy has always been a little underhanded.All kidding aside good for him, bad for you. On a good note though you have my four favorite writers in your blog Matty,Barnes,Spec and yourself. Thanks for the interesting stories.

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#2 dstaples
September 14 2008, 05:41PM
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Good luck to Spec. He's a great guy. And he's done well for a man with false teeth and a wig ;).

Of course, Spec went through his own hard times in his career (just like we all do at some point).

I remember he was on the cop beat for a few months not so long ago, and did that after having been a sports columnist for years, not such an easy transition. But he never bitched, just threw himself into it, got the job done.

Then the guy bounced back big time with the Post gig.

Anyway, it will be odd seeing a print guy on TV, but I'm sure he'll be both lively in his conversation and solid in his facts.

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#3 Tyler
September 14 2008, 06:29PM
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I can't remember if it was Barnes or Spector - pretty sure it was Spector - who wrote a story like 5-10 years ago about ringette. Part of the deal with his story was that ringette players were attractive, while female hockey players weren't. I was pretty unimpressed.

Spector doesn't do much for me in print, to be perfectly honest. He was in the owner's pocket in the lockout and every time I read a story where he writes about the business of hockey, I want to cut my eyes out, because it seems that he's never got beyond "There are 50,000 Canadian men who would play in the NHL for $50,000 annually; who in the hell are these guys to want more." That attitude grates on me.

Interesting to see that Sportsnet is hiring writers. I wonder if it's that he was really interested in Sportsnet or if there's something to the whispers that the Post is gonna evaporate.

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#4 Wanye Gretz
September 14 2008, 07:08PM
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Quite honestly I don't like Spector. I remember when he covered the Oil during the dark years, say 1993 to 1996. These were the glory years for a young Wanye Gretz when I used to listen to John Short religiously before I shut er down at the end of a long day of Pee Wee Hockey and Junior High Schooling.

Spector used to rip the Oilers all the time in those days. No one was good enough, no one had any upside. Every loss was testament to how crappy the Oilers were in his mind. These were also the days when the Oil were seemingly on the move and I remember thinking "Geez, you would think that the Oil fans have enough problems without one of their main writers ragging on them all the time."

Did a young Bob Beers have the fortitude to withstand assaults? Did Boris Mironov flourish?

You tell me. Damn you to hell Spector.

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#5 Brian Fellows
September 15 2008, 12:26AM
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The Journal The Sun The Post

Who cares? If I have to read about the Oilers I come here now. Get highlight footage!!

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#6 pDan
September 15 2008, 09:34AM
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Agreed. We're not confined to a select few news mediums anymore.

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#7 Rimpig
September 15 2008, 06:55PM
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Rats fleeing a sinking ship. The newspaper business is dying a slow, miserable death. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The talent is leaving and management is left wondering why people no longer read newsprint. Spector was always one of the more fun reads.

Matty? Newspaper hall of fame but not the Sports Copy Editors Hall of Fame nominee. If I had a penny for every rewrite of his words, I could've bought the Oilers. LOL

Robin, it's not a surprise you didn't get the tv job. Really, most hockey games are on while the kids are still awake. You and Stauffer HAVE to stay on radio. Collum? Well, many years later he is limping slowly around the newsroom doing Advertorial features. Great stuff! Well, no but now the bottom line is more important than readability while we watch the paper die.

The day I see you on TV Robin, is the day I stop watching sports on tv and get all my news from RSS feeds. LOL

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#8 RobinB
September 15 2008, 10:16PM
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Rimpig: Thanks for the vote of confidence. Like I need you to tell me something my bathroom mirror doesn't?

The Sportsnet gig is 90 per cent writing for the website, which is why I was interested in the first place. The TV? Not so much.

With a good lighting technician, a big dollop of Principe's make-up -- TV guys carry a cute little compact around with them at all times -- and the right camera angle, I could pull off a few quick hits without sending Timmy and Suzy to bed screaming, but I'm not delusional. I've done TV in the past, but I'm marginal at best.

I'll take substance over style, but that's not how the business is going.

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#9 MattL
September 17 2008, 03:58PM
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Robin,

I wonder if Spector was ever deemed expendable by the journal because he chose to watch the games he was covering on a tv (so he could smoke) instead of live in the coliseum? Looks ain't everything, even on tv.

Personally, I never thought Spec ever had Matty's hockey mind, or Cole's written skills, but he's definitely passable in both respects, and usually brings something interesting to the table, instead of re-hashing tired and obvious opinions.

He was comfortable and entertaining on the radio, and I'm sure he'll be very good on tv too, even if he gets face-mangling plastic surgery from a drunken Mike Ricci during an earthquake in the dark.

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