A Sad Day ...
I was a sports columnist at The Cincinnati Post from 1994-1996, and those are three of the proudest and best years of my life. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, it was my first job in a Major League sports town. For another, I had such great characters to write about, from Pete Rose to Bob Huggins, Marge Schott to Jim Bowden, Cris Collinsworth to the entire cast of the sad sack CIncinnati Bengals. For another, I loved the Cincinnati food. Right now, I'm craving a Skyline Chili three-way. Or at least a Blue Ash Chili double-decker.
For yet another, I worked at the Post at a time when we had an amazing staff. It's easy now, looking back more than 10 years, to see just how unique that staff was: We had Todd Archer (now Cowboys writer for the Dallas Morning News), Todd Jones (outstanding columnist/feature writer in Columbus), Jeff Horrigan (Red Sox writer for the Boston Herald), John Donovan (national baseball columnist for SI.com), Bill Koch (University of Cincinnati writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer) and Terry Boehmker (king of Northern Kentucky high schools still for the Post) among many other lesser-known lights (Bear, Tippy, Gambo, Skinny, etc). The sports editor was Mark Tomasik, who is one of the best newspapermen I've ever known and one of the great influences in my life.
Also NIck Clooney, George's father, wrote a lifestyle column for the paper. Nick was very kind to me -- he wrote me and called on occasion -- though in retrospect he never did set me up to write a script for George. So obviously, I will never forgive him.
That really was an amazing collection of talent. We were just a little afternoon paper by then -- circulation even by the mid 1990s had dwindled to about half of what it had been in the glory years -- but honestly, without arrogance, I would say pound-for-pound we had as good a sports staff as any paper in America.
But the biggest reason I cherish (and romanticize) those Cincinnati years is because, well, we were the underdog. And it's fun to be the underdog. Every single day we would take on the bigger, stronger, richer Cincinnati Enquirer. There aren't many old-fashioned, The Front Page newspaper wars left in America (and technically, even the Post-Enquirer competition wasn't really war -- the two papers worked under a Joint Operating Agreement, which meant they were sort of in business together. But, as you undoubtedly know, journalists don't understand business, and so we treated it like war).
The Enquirer had all the advantages, including the better time slot (they were the morning paper, we came out in the afternoon). And we tried like hell to beat them. We did pretty often, too. It was a rush. We tried to get stories first. We tried to deliver the money quotes. We tried to draw the more entertaining Bob Huggins insults. We tried to win the exclusive interviews. I remember when I lucked into a Pete Rose interview five years after he was suspended from baseball -- as we say in the business, I got him and I got him alone. And what I remember as much as anything was that amazing feeling of seeing that story in the paper and knowing that I just thrashed the Enquirer. It was my first victory over the Enqy. Every time I would see a fellow Post employee the next few days, I would get a big high-five. We were all in it together.
(Of course, in the end the Enquirer was a lot bigger and more far reaching. So the next two days, the Enquirer columnists -- both friends of mine -- each wrote Pete Rose columns using my quotes. They received much more acclaim around town than I did. That's how it was; we were pretty invisible. We had to take personal pride in a job well done. We drank also).
All of this comes up because Tuesday it was announced that at the end of this year (after 100 years of publishing), The Cincinnati Post will close its doors and stop the presses. None of this is a surprise as the word is commonly understood -- we all knew 10 years ago that the Post would die on Dec. 31, 2007, just after the Joint Operating Agreement ended. The last few years, for many complicated business reasons, the Post's circulation dwindled to a level that would make us Post alumni gasp. It was all chilling, clear-cut and inevitable.
But none of this, for some reason, makes it less surprising today. When you worked at the Post, you just sort of figured the paper would somehow be around forever. Today is such a sad day. It's an especially sad day for those talented people who work at the Post now -- in sports, that includes Trent Rosencrans, Lonnie Wheeler, Josh Katzowitz. Every time I would go to Cincinnati I would pick up the Post and feel so proud of the way they maintained the paper's tradition even in those awful, shrinking year. It was still damned good. The Post always did find talented journalists.
And for me, well, I guess I feel like a little bit of my youth is gone. I have lived in Kansas City for almost 11 years. I got married here, had two kids here, bought a house here, I mow my lawn here, this is home. But part of me will always be a Posty.
I have so many Post memories. I want to share two.
In 1996, I was at the Olympics in Atlanta. It was the day after the bomb went off, and more than 100 reporters surrounded a Cincinnati diver named Becky Ruehl. She was -- against all odds -- leading the competition after the first day, and she was just such a delightful and beautiful soul that all the reporters sort of fell in love with her. But the reason they all surrounded her on this day was to ask hard questions about terrorism and fear and shattered peace and so on. Becky could not have been more than 20 then, and she tried to hang in there, but after a while you could see she was pretty overwhelmed.
Finally, the diving press coordinator (yes, at the Olympics, there is a diving press coordinator) broke things up. Becky was a little shaken, and she started to walk away and then she saw me, and her eyes lit up.
"The Cincinnati Post!" she shouted and she rushed over. "It's so good to see a little bit of home."
The second thing I remember happened right at the beginning, on my interview with Mark Tomasik. We had a good dinner (of course -- it's tough to have a bad dinner in Cincinnati, unless you want pizza), and he was driving me back to the hotel. By then, I was pretty sure that he was going to offer me the job, he was pretty sure I was going to take it. He pulled up to the hotel door, I got out and then he rolled down the window and said, "There's something hard to explain about working for the Post. It's kind of magical. You'll see."
He was right. I did see. Cincinnati will never be the same.