Here?s your hat

Posted: Nov 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Lately, some kind readers have encouraged me to give up column writing. Well, okay. Allow me to announce my resignation, effective Dec. 31 ? 2042.

After all, long goodbyes seem to be all the rage these days. For example, we recently learned that Dan Rather is hanging it up. No, not next week, or even next month. Try next March.

 Sadly, Rather?s not breaking any new ground by delaying his retirement. His NBC colleague Tom Brokaw finally stopped broadcasting this week, more than two years after announcing that he?d step aside. Brian Williams will take over the anchor desk there.

 Jay Leno is also planning to retire -- in 2009. Maybe he?s worried he won?t have President Bush to push around. The 43rd president already knows he?s heading back to the Texas ranch on Jan. 20, 2009.

 Elsewhere, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey announced his resignation back in August. ?My truth is that I?m a gay American,? McGreevey declared.

 Seasoned political observers were puzzled. Homosexuality is no bar to high office. It might even help in some places. After all, gay-rights groups cheered McGreevey?s declaration. For example, an organization named Garden State Equality called McGreevey?s coming-out speech ?poignant.?

 But the most surprising thing about McGreevey?s departure is how long it took. He claimed he needed to stay in office until mid-November to allow a smooth transition. In fact, he delayed his departure so he could name his own successor, Democratic State Senate President Richard Codey, instead of leaving the matter open to voters.

Sadly, even though the governor hung around for three controversial months, no journalists bothered to investigate the real reason McGreevey needed to depart: Corruption.

His extramarital affair provides a perfect example. The upsetting thing wasn?t that he had a homosexual lover -- it?s that he named his homosexual lover to an important state-government post for which he was unqualified. McGreevey made his lover, an Israeli poet, New Jersey?s anti-terrorism czar. The governor was also dogged by fund-raising scandals.

Still, The New York Times was too busy breaking stories about supposed missing explosives in Iraq to bother sending a metro reporter across the Hudson to investigate the governor. And now, with McGreevey finally gone, the details of his corruption hardly seem to matter and will probably never be unearthed.

 Like so many other trends, the ?long goodbye? probably started in the world of sports.

 Back in the late 1989, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announced his retirement. But instead of immediately hanging up his sneakers, he played a final season, which allowed every NBA city to give him a glorious send-off.

 Years later, Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken took a similar ?farewell tour? around the league. He announced his retirement in June 2001, then spent the next three months collecting gifts -- paintings, baseball cards and even soil from Chicago?s original Comiskey Park.

Of course, the big farewell tour doesn?t always work out so well. ?It?s a hell of a way to end a career. This whole year has been a nightmare,? baseball great Nolan Ryan announced in September 1993, when an injured right elbow ended his months-long retirement tour ahead of schedule.

This same thing might happen to Dan Rather. Even though he?s already announced his plans to step down, there?s still plenty of controversy around him.

Back in September, Rather broadcast transparently false documents that seemed to claim President Bush had shirked his National Guard duty in the 1970s. It took less than two hours for bloggers to debunk the documents, but it took Rather almost two weeks to announce that he?d been fleeced.

In the next few weeks or months, an independent panel headed up by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Former AP Chief Executive Officer Louis Boccardi will finish investigating that story. If the results of that investigation are embarrassing enough, CBS might decide to end the Rather-era a few months early.

 There?s nothing wrong with two weeks notice. Dan Rather should do himself and others a favor and just leave now. Oh, and Dan, as some readers have said to me: Don?t let the door hit you on the way out.