The New York Times has quietly cut bait on its experiment with sports columnist Allen Barra, who was brought in just this March to write a weekly column called "Against the Grain," in the hope of giving the Sunday Sports section an anchor column similar to culture czar Frank Rich's in Arts and Leisure.
It was a seemingly harmless hire°™and yet, during former executive editor Howell Raines' months in office, perhaps no appointment roused the ire of an entire department more than the hiring of the former Wall Street Journal and Observer sports columnist. A Birmingham, Ala., native who described Mr. Raines as "so cool" in a March interview with Off the Record, Mr. Barra, according to several sources, became a lightning rod for a group still smarting over the decision by the Raines regime to kill off two columns disagreeing with the paper's editorial-board stance on the Augusta National Golf Club in December 2002.Further, sources said, Mr. Barra's statistically driven pieces were not appreciated by a department still without writers on three major beats°™New York Giants football, the Olympics and the N.B.A.°™or the non-Strat-O-Matic-playing public.
The decision, sources said, was based on the editors' satisfaction with Mr. Barra's work. But some wondered: Had Mr. Raines not left The Times newsroom June 5, would Mr. Barra still be crunching O.B.P. and VORP on Sundays?"If Howell was still here, maybe Barra would be," one Times source said. "Without him, there was one less roadblock."
Mr. Barra and Times sports editor Tom Jolly did not return calls seeking comment, and a Times spokesperson declined to comment. In the meantime, Mr. Barra has resumed writing for The Journal in an occasional column called "In the Fray."
And I thought The Times was finally getting its act together. Here is Barra's latest piece for The Journal.