Did Jim Rome’s hiring at ESPN2 back in the day nearly cause executive editor John Walsh to quit?

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Illustration by Mike Browne at Celebrity Cartooning Blog (linked here).

Our favorite excerpt so far from “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN” by Jim Miller and Tom Shales ($27, Little, Brown & Co., 784 pages), on the hiring of Jim Rome to help the launch of ESPN2 in 1993:

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== John Lack (a former vice president):

“In looking for elements for ESPN2, I wanted a good sports talk show aimed at a younger audience. . . . (ESPN) had Roy Firestone, who did interviews, but it was kind of bland stuff. So we looked around for a talk-show guy and the best ones are on the radio. On the West Coast, there was a guy named Jim Rome who had a hot sports talk show from San Diego that was just about to be syndicated on radio. . . I liked him a lot. He was brash and young and his dream was to be on some place like ESPN. He wasn’t a great TV personality at the time – he was kind of awkward – but he had a great voice, a great mind and he had the respect early of the trash-talking black and Hispanic audience. I thought he was good-looking enough to be an eventual star on television. So I told (executive editor John) Walsh . . . (and) he looked at tapes and went gaga; he thought this was going to be Waterloo, and he was going to fight this one because he thought it flew in the face of the journalistic ethics of ESPN. I kept saying, ‘It’s not about journalism, it’s about young people.’ He didn’t buy any of that psychological (bleep). All he cared about was, ‘This guy is too controversial and I don’t think that he’s smart enough.’
“(After another meeting, Walsh) says, ‘You’re going to ruin the journalistic integrity of this network, which we’ve built up all these years. We’re finally getting to a point where we are the real deal in sports journalism and this guy’s going to blow it all in a week on the air.’ . . . (Walsh eventually proclaims): ‘If Rome comes here, and Lack has the right to do that, then I’m quitting.”

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== John Walsh:

“I never threatened to quit on the basis of any one decision. Throughout my career, I have always tried to make sure that I agreed with the vision, spirit and collegiality of whatever enterprise I was involved with, and if I didn’t, that became my breaking point. I doubted Lack’s vision, style and experience. I, along with many of my colleagues at the time, knew he wasn’t right for the company in so many ways, even though from time to time he would have a good thought or recommend a winning person.”

== David Zucker, VP of programming:

“Was there contentiousness between Walsh and Lack? Of course. There was contentiousness between Lack and everybody. Lack is a brilliant, smart, creative guy, but just a loose cannon — a bull in a china shop. I don’t know that he ever understood ESPN the way the old guard did.”

Looking back on all that: Lack was executive VP of marketing and programming at ESPN for just three years – 1992-’95.

Rome hosted “Talk2″ on ESPN2 from 1993-’98, went to Fox, came back to ESPN in 2003, and since ’05 has been on ESPN with a five-days-a-week “Jim Rome Is Burning” show.

Walsh remains as ESPN’s Executive Vice President and Executive Editor since joining the network in 1998.

And the book now sits in the No. 1 top seller spot on Amazon.com.

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