Hard to believe that sportswriting hasn't always been dominated by the gaggle of hacks, cons, and melodramatic hand- wringers whose low-grade pap now clogs our daily papers. It's a shame.Traditionally, sports reporting has been viewed, by writers and readers alike, as a field of uncommon creativity and passion within the more general profession of journalism. It offers the greatest latitude of style and form, accommodating a writer's personal flair and intensely idiosyncratic interests in a way one does not find, say, in the arena of news reporting, where a more stringent orthodoxy reigns. Innovation and inspiration, then, have always been at the heart of good sportswriting; so it is also with good literature. And the lineage of fine American authors who first cut their teeth on sports journalism is indeed as long as it is distinguished: Ring Lardner, John McPhee, Hunter S. Thompson, to name but a few. Sports often seems to elicit as much excellence in its documenters as it does in its participants.

You'll have guessed by now that I have a big ax to grind. I just can't take it any more.

In following the Sonics this season (and in keeping up with the NBA in general), I've had occasion to monitor the reporting in our local sports pages--mostly in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where one can't swing a stick without hitting a cliché. P-I columnist Art Thiel, in particular, appears to be gravely unaware of his occupation's noble heritage of strong, supple writing. Rather than tapping the potential for poetry that is inherent to his genre, he seems to founder in hackneyed humor, easy sentimentality, and self-importance. His analogies are worn and waterlogged. His sentences droop.

I offer Exhibit A, a typical sample of Thiel's grievous fluffery from a February 28 column on the Sonics game at New York City's Madison Square Garden:

"Ewing may be nearly the same age as King Tut. He's not nearly as dead."

"In hindsight, the Sonics' biggest failure was in not reaching President Clinton before he left office, so he could have granted them a pardon from the draft lottery."

"Not reaching the post-season... is a tad embarrassing, sort of like finding one's shirt wet after attempting to spit into the Grand Canyon."

"But to suggest that the Ewing trade was a failure... would be a judgment error worse than investing in myeyeinfection.com."

But enough. You see what I mean. Apparently, Thiel, in his stodgy conservatism, has succumbed to the mistaken idea that all sports fans are possessed of sub-par intelligence--callow, easily amused, and wildly indiscriminate. Which is why I've decided to apply for his job. In my reckoning, it should be a sportswriter's love of the game that motivates him or her to write, much as it's a politician's love of justice that should compel him or her to seek election to office. Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but without such driving passion, writing about sports becomes just another dreary day job to which one applies only as much energy as is necessary. Sports appreciation and strong writing are not mutually exclusive. Rather than approaching the game with the syrupy disposition of a bored careerist, one should engage it with the excitement of a true fan. Anything less is a disservice to readers.

So, my thinking is that the P-I could replace Thiel's column with a syndicated version of Courtside for, say, 45 grand or so. It's a bargain, and I said as much in the application I mailed off last Friday. If anyone out there would like to help me out on this one, you can send a letter of recommendation to editpage@seattle-pi.com. Thanks.