When ESPN issued a press release to announce the signing of Simon Barnes, they accompanied it with a picture of their new star columnist in his bird-watching mode, as you can see, right.
In seeking some logical explanation for The Times to allow one of its most prized journalistic assets to leave the paper, some had suggested that chief sports writer Barnes, when indulging his other interest in his weekly twitcher columns, had managed to displease some of the land-owners who read The Thunderer through his complaints and criticism of the deliberate poisoning of hen harriers in or near some of northern England's shooting estates.
This attempted explanation for the otherwise inexplicable was described to me by one Times sports desker as "utter bollocks".
Nearer the truth was the version that Barnes himself put out there: the paper's creaking budgets could not afford him any longer. One of his former sports editors, Tom Clarke, described the decision as "a stunning mistake".
Barnes's re-emergence with ESPN.co.uk is surely another sign of the direction of travel of our business. The web presence of the US-based cable sports channel has specialist cricket (through Cricinfo), rugby (scrum.com) and F1 sites, as well as football sites which have resources at their disposal which the sports editors of our struggling national titles can only dream about.
When his signing was announced, Barnes said, “You can watch sport through the narrow window of patriotism but you miss the half the sport and all the point. I’m delighted to have the chance to write on a global platform about sport that belongs to the world.”
Whatever, Barnes's departure from The Times might turn out to be one of the best moves of his lengthy career. For Barnes, 62, has this week also landed himself an undoubtedly lucrative gig, writing on nature matters for the Daily Mail.
Maybe Tom Clarke was right.