BY DWIGHT PERRY
The year 1999 was a memorable one for me at The Seattle Times.
I was hired as a desk editor in April of that year, and eight months later I wrote the first of what has become more than 3,000 Sideline Chatter columns. But on Aug. 21, came the most polarizing four words I’ve ever written here, in roughly 60-point type:
The infamous “Bad Whiff of Colon” headline.
Genius? Idiocy? Either way, the headline has taken on a life of its own, thanks largely to the internet, the unfailing memory of co-workers past and present, and a Dave Barry “Ask Mr. Language” column that went worldwide in February 2000 that included this blurb:
“Gary Tucker sent in a sports story from the Aug. 21, 1999, issue of The Seattle Times concerning a Mariners-Indians game featuring a strong performance by Cleveland pitcher Bartolo Colon, with the following headline, which we swear we are not making up: ‘Bad Whiff of Colon.’ ”
As for the night in question, the thinking was that the burly right-hander’s surname is pronounced “cologne” and he struck out a few Mariners in shutting them down – thus the word play in the headline. Justice B. Hill, the assistant sports editor in charge of the copy desk at the time, gave it an emphatic thumbs-up, and off to the presses it went.
And off the presses came the Saturday-morning Seattle Times, along with some unexpected reader backlash. Many saw the word “Colon,” associated it with the lower intestinal tract, assumed it was meant to be potty humor, and let their feelings be known. Let’s just say it was nice to have Justice B. Hill in my corner right about then.
The battle lines were quickly drawn. It was either viewed as a great headline – or one of the worst ever. There was no middle ground. “You’re the guy who wrote that?” has been asked by more than one new Times employee upon meeting me for the first time.
I’ve thought about those four words many times over the years and wondered if adding a simple punctuation mark – a Spanish acute – over the second “o” in Colon would have made it more clear. But I doubt it.
Versions of the headline pop up every now and then on ESPN and the like, giving me some small sense of vindication. So now, nearly 15 years later, I’ve learned to quietly claim it as my own, accept the gentle barbs of my teammates and let it lie there in peace.
That is, until the ageless Colon comes back to town and does it all over again – this time with the New York Mets – throwing a perfect game for 6 2/3 innings, as he did Wednesday at Safeco Field. Then memories of the “Bad Whiff of Colon” headline and the good-natured ribbing come flooding back all over again.
But you can’t say I haven’t learned my lesson. This time, I resisted the temptation and wisely left the “Colon again, naturally” headline for the print edition sitting on the cutting-room floor.
Dwight Perry is a desk editor in sports for The Seattle Times, where he has worked for 15 years. He writes Sideline Chatter three times per week and also specializes in crafting clever headlines, most of which work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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