Rozner: Not easy to say goodbye

  • Barry Rozner with Cubs legend Ernie Banks in the dugout at Wrigley Field.

    Barry Rozner with Cubs legend Ernie Banks in the dugout at Wrigley Field. Courtesy of Barry Rozner

 
 
Updated 5/14/2021 1:37 PM

Over 37 years, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 bylines and 10 million words, I have never had trouble figuring out what to write -- until now.

So, with hopes of getting through this, let's begin with the obvious.

 

I'm walking away from the newspaper business after a dream career with the Daily Herald, a career I could have never envisioned and had no right to think was possible.

There were times when I was young that I didn't think much past surviving the day, let alone what I might do for a living.

And yet, here I am.

They say you can't retire before 60. I don't know exactly who "they" are, but I know I need some quiet after 24 years writing columns and another decade before that covering baseball.

So maybe I'm not retiring. Maybe it's just some time to think about what else I might want to do. It's possible there will be another chapter -- if you will -- and more books are likely at some point.

For now, my wife and girls deserve my time after so many years of putting breaking news before everything else. I need to turn off the phone and laptop. I need to get off the treadmill.

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There have been long periods when I had four or five jobs, supporting three generations of my family. It was nuts, but sometimes the harder you grind, the less connected you become with the absurdity of it all. You don't realize how tight you're gripping the wheel until you emerge from the storm, see the sunlight and feel your scapulae burning.

Just for yucks, I looked back at a month from 2013 when I wrote 29 of 30 days, hosted 19 radio shows, five TV shows, did three live shots, nine radio hits, wrote a couple freelance stories, handled two speaking engagements and helped a friend with a Hall of Fame speech.

Yeah, I've written several of those -- in my spare time.

I hosted one radio show after a triple-overtime, Stanley Cup Final game at the UC. Wrote five or six versions of a column that night, filed the last one at 3 a.m., and went straight to the radio station for a 5 a.m. show.

Worried about being bored? No, I think I might like being bored.

I sincerely appreciate those who tried to talk me out of this decision, especially Daily Herald publisher Doug Ray, who made a lengthy and compelling case. Ultimately, he was understanding and quite comforting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's nice to be wanted after 37 years in one place.

But I would be doing the newspaper -- and you -- a disservice if a year or two or 10 from now I was mailing it in, waiting to have the sweater ripped off my back, going through the motions because out of habit I just couldn't stop going to the rink -- as it were.

Barry Rozner with Cubs announcer Harry Caray.
Barry Rozner with Cubs announcer Harry Caray. - Courtesy of Barry Rozner

Instead, I'll take a deep breath and find out what people do, people who don't spend every minute of every day monitoring each ounce of news and writing another column in their heads.

Let's be clear that the burden here was self-inflicted, that I always had the support of management folks like John Lampinen and Bob Frisk.

But whether I was playing hockey, vending, covering the Cubs or writing columns, I only knew how to play at one speed, and there's a cost to that. It's injury and burnout. I have plenty of both, so for the first time ever, I'm slamming on the brakes.

I feel a bit like George Bailey, hearing the train whistles and never getting on the train. I've always had ideas, crazy ideas.

But my wife has made it clear I'm not climbing Everest, which is a little unfair, and my girls say a trip to the Moon is out of the question, which is really unfair. No need to pretend I have a say in such things.

My travels will stay closer to the ground, and I hope to see some of the many places I've wanted to go and just never had the chance. There was always a problem with money, time or work.

On the list are St. Andrews and Augusta, Jerusalem and Kiev, Rome and Normandy, and eventually Deadwood. I'm no better with maps than I am with math, but I'm relatively certain that seven destinations remain one more than six.

We haven't had a family vacation since the girls were little, and even then -- my youngest reminded me last week -- there was a day they left the hotel for the Magic Kingdom while I stayed in the room and wrote.

Ouch.

But she didn't serve it up as criticism. Instead, she offered it as support of this decision, that I've earned this. That's good enough for me.

Morning or mourning, holiday or hangover, on a run or on the run, I was always working. This, by the way, is not a complaint -- no part of this should be read as complaint -- merely an attempt to explain how I arrived at this moment.

Know what? We are what we are. Can't change it. Besides, as the great philosopher Hyman Roth so famously uttered, "This ... is the business ... we've chosen."

It's why no one is more surprised by this decision than me, and it was not easy to reach. A year ago, I would have guessed 10 more years for sure, but I've realized I need to stop and breathe, and probably deal with my past. I've been running from it for too long, and there's half a chance it plays a part in this overwhelming fatigue.

It was just about 37 years ago that I walked into my parents' bedroom in the middle of the night to tell them their only daughter, my sister, was dead.

That's just the tip of the PTS iceberg.

This is where you channel James Earl Jones in "Field of Dreams" and say, "You're seeing a whole team of psychiatrists, aren't you?"

Not yet, but it's probably a good place to start. Some of what I've seen or endured would curl your hair, but my answer was to play harder, work harder, live harder. I became a workaholic, while others in my family suffered far more deadly addictions.

As Tony Soprano -- in mocking tone -- said to Dr. Melfi, "Oh, poor me."

Exactly how I always handled it. Get up. Straighten the helmet. Clean up the yard sale. Yell at the ref for missing the call. Get ready for the next shift.

I always thought hockey was the greatest therapy, but that's not going to happen. Too many parts are no longer in working order, but I will play golf until my hands bleed.

So there's that.

Barry Rozner with former Bears coach Mike Ditka.
Barry Rozner with former Bears coach Mike Ditka. - Courtesy of Barry Rozner

In the meantime, and on the way out the door, I can't possibly pay proper tribute to all the colleagues, competitors, athletes and people I've met, the friends I've made, to all the things I've experienced, and to all that I have seen.

It would take a book. Maybe two.

Six visits to the White House, conversations with presidents, sit-downs with Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Wilt Chamberlain, Walter Payton ...

Where do you start? Where do you stop?

Probably start with Walter and end with Fergie spilling coffee on me at the Super Bowl. She was apologetic. I was, well, ya know, me.

Yeah, it's probably a couple books.

So let me exit by wishing the best to the McCaskeys and the Bears, knowing reciprocation in this regard is unlikely. Do you blame them? I certainly don't. Honestly, I hope they figure it out and give Virginia and Bears fans another Super Bowl. This city is a better place, a happier place when the Bears are winning.

The White Sox are on the right track and the future is bright, while the Cubs rebuild again, but at least both sides of town got their World Series title.

The Bulls have a new direction, though we will never again be treated to a dynasty. The greatest of all time only comes along once. How lucky were we to have lived through that?

And the Blackhawks are also starting over, to a large degree, but who would have guessed 15 years ago that they would provide a decade of excellence and three Stanley Cups? It is perhaps the most unlikely and remarkable turnaround of a franchise in sports history.

I realize the great fortune I've had to have witnessed so many championships, to have covered so many extraordinary events, and to have occupied this space for so very long.

And now, how fortunate I am to go out on my terms.

My wish for you is always the same, that there is love in your life and family surrounding you, that you find joy in each day and peace every night.

And, well, if that's not enough, here's hoping there are more Chicago championships in your future.

So, that's it.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing this incredible ride with me, for always being there for me, and allowing me, humbly, to be there with you.

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