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End of an era

December 12, 2012 - John Mehno
The Sporting News will soon cease publication after 126 years.

The TSN brand name will remain as a website, and the company will publish annual preview magazines for the major sports. But the actual printed publication will disappear around the same time that Newsweek makes the transition from paper to online.

I first started following baseball in 1963, and a neighbor offered to pass along his issues of The Sporting News. TSN correspondents used to file by mail in those days, so the information was already about a week old when it hit print. I was getting the copies a week after that. It didn't matter. For a kid fascinated by baseball, it was still a goldmine of information. It may be hard to believe now, but there was no ESPN in those days, so exotic teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins pretty much existed only via The Sporting News and baseball cards.

TSN had the nickname "The Bible of Baseball," which stuck long after it was relevant. By the '60s, TSN was covering the NFL pretty well. There were columns on the NHL, NBA and ABA by the early 1970s, plus content on college sports. The baseball coverage wasn't nearly as obsessive. I have a few old issues where there are three stories about the Pirates -- in January.

One of my personal highlights came in 1989 when I got a chance to succeed Bob Hertzel as the Pittsburgh baseball correspondent. From that point, I was in every issue for about 12 years, until budget cuts eliminated the baseball correspondents. The checks were great, but it was also a kick for me to have a byline in a publication that had been a part of my life.

I lost track of TSN after that. The complimentary subscription ended when the job did, and I didn't see any issues. TSN didn't lose its way as much as it lost its purpose. One of its selling points was it provided information on every team every week. So if you were a Pirates fan in Idaho, you could subscribe to TSN and get Pirates information. When the Internet came along, that didn't matter. The fan in Idaho could log on and read all the local papers. He could listen to or watch the game broadcasts. He could listen to (and participate in) talk shows from stations that streamed online. There were websites and discussion boards. Geography was no longer an obstacle to getting information.

TSN went through several ownership changes. At one point, Paul (Microsoft) Allen's company owned it. But even his people couldn't figure out how to make it relevant and profitable in a new era. I was discussing the end of TSN publication with a friend yesterday, and he said he didn't even realize a printed Sporting News still existed. I know what he meant.

So times change and, let's face it, things are better for fans now. There's a lot of information out there, as well as a lot of opportunity for discussion. You don't need that Thursday delivery of a TSN issue folded lengthwise and enclosed in a brown mailing wrapper. So here's a salute to The Sporting News and best wishes in the effort to translate the brand into an online presence. It was an honor to be a small part of a great sports tradition.

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