Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Winton Place
Re: Wheeler's last post
I found the article cached on Google, so here it is - it's long:
At the time of its first edition, which was 1881, the newspaper didn't need sports, obviously. In Ohio's largest city, there weren't any to speak of.
Basketball was 10 years shy of being invented. The local schools hadn't yet connected education to football. And for the first (and still only) time since the National League was founded in1876, Cincinnati was bereft of professional baseball.
The latter had of course been started here a dozen years earlier; but upon its organization, there developed a formal separation between the game and alcoholic beverage. The league declared that the two could not occupy the same premises. In the Germanic tradition that colored the city's cheeks, Cincinnati declared otherwise.
As a result of their defiant beer-selling, the Red Stockings were booted from the loop, and sat out the year in which the Wellman brothers first peddled their Penny Paper, which became the Penny Post, which became what you're reading for the last time. The maiden issue, on January 3, mentioned nothing of athletics but did advise its readers that Thomas Edison was feeling a bit "discouraged in the electric business."
By summer, the paper was including a few paragraphs of scores and racing results, under the heading of "Sporting Sparks." By the next summer, the subject demanded a good deal more.
A couple gentlemen named Justus Thorner and O.P. Caylor - a baseball writer for one of the other dozen local dailies in town (including five in German) - had arranged a meeting at the Gibson Hotel, and the meeting had led to the formation of a major league known as the American Association. Its first season was 1882, and the Reds, as they were now called, made a shambles of it.
It was a striking team, not only in ballplaying but sartorially, as well. The schtick was that every player sported a uniform of a different color. Will White won 40 games in glasses and blue. Second baseman Bid McPhee began his Hall of Fame career - 18 seasons, all with Cincinnati, 14 without a glove - wearing orange and black. The next year, the Reds were the first team to place numbers on their shirts, but the players, while also noting the resemblance to inmates, complained of being dehumanized.
The association with the Association lasted throughout the decade, the Reds being joined briefly by a maverick club in yet another confederation. It was owing to the proliferation of rival leagues that the National finally relented on its beer policy and, in 1890, allowed Cincinnati to hops back in. Even then, there was one more renegade Association outfit in 1891, a band of desperados led by the famous King Kelly and known as Kelly's Killers, the only local team that has ever set up on the city's east side.
Meanwhile, back in the old NL, the Cincinnatis settled into a distinctive manner of mediocrity. The dapper pitcher, Tony Mullane, "Apollo of the Box," inspired a Ladies Day tradition. Dummy Hoy, the deaf-mute outfielder, inspired the use of hand signals from umpires. Long John Reilly, the smashing first baseman and a commercial artist intent upon protecting his natural tools, inspired ridicule from the fans for wielding a glove on his fielding hand. Reilly, however, failed to inspire McPhee to do the same, even after it became the fashion.
Around that time, the glove rage was spilling over to boxing, as well, and in 1885 to Cincinnati. In late August of that year, the great bare-knuckle champion John L. Sullivan deigned to don padding for his fists and, at Chester Park, for a substantial cash prize, take on Dominic McCaffrey by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Sullivan prevailed, and afterwards enjoyed himself in the city's famous custom. According to the Evening Post and a Vine Street bartender, "He was pretty well loaded last night."
By the beginning of the 20th century, the coverage afforded baseball and boxing was extended to bowling, horse racing, basketball and football. In 1905, the sports page became plural. In 1907, during baseball season, the paper added a soft-colored 6 p.m. edition, "The Pink Post."
At the Post, baseball writing was then the province of the esteemed Ren Mulford, so devoted to the job that he traveled with the team, so respected that he chaired and picked the committee that in 1911 bestowed the first Chalmers Award, the precursor to the MVP. A devout Presbyterian who campaigned to keep the game clean, Mulford must have been deeply disturbed by what occurred in 1919, when the Reds won their first World Series through the unsavory methods of the Chicago White Sox. At the time, Mulford didn't recognize the fix. His take was that the Reds pulled off the upset because, in addition to Hod Eller's shine ball and Edd Roush's general talents, their manager, Pat Moran, was a praying man.
Mulford was succeeded on his prestigious beat by Tom Swope, who in 1920 reported the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the game's first commissioner, the Millville, Ohio, native effectively supplanting popular Reds owner Garry Herrmann, who had long served as chairman of the ruling three-man commission. In 1923, Swope chronicled Dolf Luque's remarkable 27 victories. In 1935, at Crosley Field, he covered baseball's first night game. In 1938, he told the story of Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters. In 1939, at the World Series, he authored his version of Ernie Lombardi's so-called snooze. In 1940, by the graces of Paul Derringer, Bucky Walters and league MVP Frank McCormick, Swope held forth on the Reds' first untainted world title. In 1944, he watched Joe Nuxhall make his historic, unflattering debut at the age of 15. In 1956, he wrote about the fans' election of five Reds (Johnny Temple, Gus Bell, Ed Bailey, Roy McMillan and rookie Frank Robinson) to the starting lineup of the National League all-star team.
Were it not for the Big Red Machine a couple decades later, the '50s would stand unrivaled as Cincinnati's greatest decade for sports. They might, anyway. Cincinnati Gardens was in full swing by then, having opened in 1949 and welcomed home heavyweight boxer Ezzard Charles, who outpointed Joey Maxim in 15 rounds. The next year, after spoiling Joe Louis' undefeated legacy, the gentleman fighter defended his crown with a hometown knockout of Nick Barone.
The Gardens was Cincinnati's general store for sports. It opened with an exhibition hockey game featuring the Montreal Canadiens. The next night, the University of Cincinnati basketball team held off Butler for the Mid-American Conference championship. The next, a full house watched Xavier fall to top-ranked Kentucky. There were occasions when both local universities would play at the Gardens on the same evening. The minor-league Cincinnati Mohawks were a steady tenant for hockey. There was rodeo and Roller Derby. Local lightweight Bud Smith successfully defended his world title at the Gardens after the official ordered his opponent, Jimmie Carter, to wipe off the grease that Carter's trainer had applied to his face.
In later years, Riverfront Coliseum, by whatever name, would attempt to serve the same sort of purpose. It has housed various hockey teams, including one - the Stingers of the World Hockey Association - of major-league standing. Minor franchises have flocked there also for basketball, soccer and indoor football. Aaron Pryor won the WBA junior welterweight title at the Coliseum in 1980, knocking out defending champion Antonio Cervantes. Ultimately, after twice beating the magnificent Alexis Arguello - once controversially, involving a mysterious black bottle handed to him by his trainer - the swarming Cincinnatian would be named as the greatest junior welterweight in boxing history.
But even while producing major events now and then, the arena by the river has never captured the metropolitan magic that attended the one uptown. The Gardens had a gift for tapping into the local scene and making it accessible on a grand scale. In 1952, it would fill to see the remarkable Robin Freeman of Hughes High School fire up his newfangled jump shot. In 1958, the attraction was the great Jerry Lucas and Middletown, regarded as one of the best high school teams of all time. The same year marked Oscar Robertson's first appearance in the building, as a UC sophomore.
Robertson, of course, would ultimately grace the Gardens in two different uniforms. The Cincinnati Royals had joined the NBA in 1957, with a formidable front line of Clyde Lovellette, former UC standout Jack Twyman and youthful all-star Maurice Stokes. But on an airplane following an away game late in the season, Stokes suffered a stroke that caused him to live the last 12 years of his life in Cincinnati hospitals. To ensure his care, Twyman legally adopted him.
The Royals didn't recover until Robertson came along three years later. The Big O was every bit as brilliant as a pro as he'd been as a Bearcat, when he led the nation in scoring for three consecutive seasons while bringing down more than 15 rebounds a game. In his second year with the Royals - which, curiously, coincided with UC's second straight NCAA championship - Robertson averaged an astonishing triple-double. Over his 10 Cincinnati seasons as a pro, the peerless point guard, whom some still consider to be the greatest all-around player the game has seen, never averaged fewer than 24 points or eight assists. His move to Milwaukee in 1970 was a sign of the organization's dysfunction. Two years later, the Royals, too, were gone.
Their clumsy departure, however, didn't leave the city lacking for good basketball. Xavier's program had firmly established itself in 1958, when, after losing seven of its last eight games of the regular season - a tailspin occasioned by an injury to top rebounder Cornelius Freeman and featuring two hangings-in-effigy of coach Jim McCafferty - the Musketeers refused the NIT's request to drop out of its high-profile tournament. Seeded last among the 12 teams, they proceeded to beat the best of them, including Dayton in the finals. Hank Stein was the tournament MVP, and Xavier was the first team in Ohio to win a national title.
Meanwhile, Robertson, in spite of being pelted with hotdogs in Houston, among other racially bent indignities, was raising UC's program to unaccustomed heights. In his initial varsity season, the Bearcats received their first-ever invitation to the NCAA tournament. The next year, they made it to the Final Four and lost to California. His senior season, George Smith's last as head coach, they made it again to the semifinals, and again were beaten by Cal.
Robertson would never win a national championship at UC, but he made it possible for those who immediately followed. Not that the Bearcats were expected to do much in 1961. That year, the tournament was presumed to be the playground of Ohio State, which boasted of Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Bobby Knight. For Cincinnati, Paul Hogue and Carl Bouldin were the only returning starters, a circumstance that prompted Ed Jucker, the Bearcats' new coach, to undertake a thorough change in style. It was a slow-down, and the fans detested it. Nor did it appear to work particularly well - at least, until the Bearcats got the hang of it in midseason. With local products Tom Thacker, Tony Yates and Bob Wiesenhahn joining the two holdovers in the starting lineup, UC toughed its way into the championship game against mighty, undefeated OSU. The game went into overtime. It went to the Bearcats.
The following year, Ohio State was still regarded as the top team in the country. To reach the NCAA finals, Thacker nailed a long jump shot with three seconds remaining and UC ended John Wooden's first trip to the tournament with UCLA. Then came the Buckeyes. And there went the Buckeyes.
After consecutive championships, and in the glow of a 37-game winning streak, the Bearcats finally managed a No. 1 ranking in 1962-63, when they again made it to the NCAA finals, and again played to overtime. This time, however, in spite of a 15-point Cincinnati lead in the second half, the spoils went to Loyola.
That regrettable game closed out a golden period for Cincinnati sports. In 1961, carried by Frank Robinson, the Reds had won their first National League pennant in 21 years, falling to the Yankees in the World Series. In 1955, Walnut Hills and UC grad Tony Trabert - "the most American-looking individual that one could imagine," wrote an Italian author in The Ultimate Tennis Book - had won Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open. In 1951, the football teams of Xavier and Cincinnati had both been undefeated when they met in the next-to-last game of the season.
In spite of the similar records, Xavier was informally recognized as a "minor" program compared to UC. After the Muskies had triumphed, 26-0, an observer standing by the Xavier bus afterwards asked XU hero Jack Hahn what the difference was between a major team and a minor team. "Twenty-six points," Hahn replied quickly.
The Bearcats' standard had been set in 1946, under coach Ray Nolting, when they upset powerhouse Indiana to start the season and finished up by beating Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. When mastermind Sid Gillman took over in 1949, MAC championships ensued. While known for his offensive chutzpah, in 1953 Gillman oversaw five consecutive shutouts to stretch UC's record to 9-1, a victory shy of the school's best-ever showing, 10-1, two years earlier.
College football fell right into the wheelhouse of Post columnist and sports editor Pat Harmon, who joined the paper in 1951. After his retirement 35 years later, Harmon became the historian for the College Football Hall of Fame, at least a few of whose members - Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler - he had come to know as coaches at Miami University. Harmon was also on hand in the mid 1970s when Miami vanquished Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in consecutive Tangerine Bowls.
A former Miami quarterback also became a close acquaintance of the redheaded sportswriter when the two of them were separately engaged in bringing an American Football League team to Cincinnati. By then, Paul Brown was already a Hall of Famer, and he already had an NFL team named after him. The only thing better than coaching a football team in Ohio, he decided, was coaching and owning one at the same time. Brown's abbreviated retirement had given other pro coaches a chance to incorporate the many innovations for which PB had been responsible, and it was a new game that he returned to in 1968. He would never find his way back to the very top of it, but made a couple spirited runs in that direction.
By his third year, the Bengals had merged into the NFL. By his sixth, blessed with a premium complement of skill players - receiver Isaac Curtis, running backs Booby Clark and Essex Johnson, tight end Bob Trumpy and quarterback Ken Anderson - they had slipped into the playoffs. By the time Brown returned to the postseason, in 1975, he'd had enough of the field work.
At that point, the great man repaired to the front office. With Forrest Gregg in charge and Anderson passing magnificently to Dan Ross and Cris Collinsworth, the Bengals capped the 1981 season with their first Super Bowl appearance. It resulted in a narrow loss to the San Francisco 49ers. So did the Super Bowl that followed the 1988 season, which was coached by Sam Wyche and quarterbacked by Boomer Esiason. The common ground between the two AFC champion teams - aside from the pain inflicted by the 49ers - was that held by Anthony Munoz, the Hall of Fame left tackle.
The rest of Bengals history is better left unmentioned, save for the playoff season of 2005 behind coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer. Sadly, the same applies to the Reds of recent vintage.
The Reds, however, have had their day. It's an unfortunate commentary on Cincinnati sports that their championship teams of the 1970s remain so ready and oft-referenced in the city's daily conversation.
The Post's perspective on the Big Red Machine was put forth by Harmon, of course, and also the unflinching Earl Lawson, successor to the Times-Star's legendary Frank Grayson. When the Post absorbed the Times-Star in 1958, it inherited a young and bold baseball writer headed for the Hall of Fame. The first of the 16 Reds managers Lawson covered was Rogers Hornsby, who once barred him from the clubhouse. The last was Pete Rose, whom the commissioner barred from the clubhouse.
Lawson documented Frank Robinson, fought with Vada Pinson and mourned for Fred Hutchinson when the intrepid skipper's cancer stole him away from the unforgettable 1964 season, which came down to the last day. After Hutch, four managers followed over six years. The last of those, in 1970, was a nobody named Sparky Anderson.
That was the year Crosley Field, in its 59th summer, shut down; but not before home runs by Lee May and Johnny Bench had brought Cincinnati from behind to beat the Giants on the final night at Findlay and Western; not before Sparky Who had steered his auspicious club into first place.
Rose, appropriately, was the last man to hit safely at Crosley and the first to do so at Riverfront Stadium. He was also the headline maker at the 1970 all-star game held there, eschewing his famous head-first slide and crashing into American League catcher Ray Fosse with such force that Fosse never fully recovered. Charlie Hustle led the league in hits that year, for the third of seven occasions. And for the first time in his indelible career, the Reds led the league in victories, with young Johnny Bench as MVP (148 runs batted in) and Tony Perez driving home 129. They beat the Pirates in the playoffs, but not the Orioles in the World Series, thanks to Brooks Robinson.
Bob Howsam, the Reds' visionary general manager, was assembling his team with Riverfront's synthetic playing surface in mind, which brought Joe Morgan to his attention. In 1972, his first season in Cincinnati, the little second baseman scored 122 runs. Bench, the cutting-edge and greatest-ever catcher, drove in 125 and won his second MVP award. The gifted Oklahoman took care of the playoffs, as well, tying the fifth game with a ninth-inning home run at his mother's request. The Reds took it from there. But the Oakland A's took them in the World Series, thanks to Gene Tenace.
The move that completed the Big Red Machine occurred early in 1975, when Anderson asked Rose if he would move to third base from left field, opening a spot for George Foster and his battering black bat. The Reds, sitting well behind the Los Angeles at the time, set a blistering pace thereafter, outdistancing the Dodgers by 20 games in the NL West. Morgan was MVP, and the Red Sox awaited. Some still consider the ensuing World Series to be baseball's finest, punctuated by the coaxing arms of Carlton Fisk as his dramatic game-six drive flirted with the foul pole. In spite of the Boston catcher's heroics, there was still a seventh game, which Morgan won with a two-out single in the ninth.
It was a bit easier the next year, as the Machine churned through the playoffs and World Series - Phillies and Yankees - without a defeat. Morgan was again the league's best player, and the Reds, to this day, are widely regarded as its best team ever.
It was all too good to last. After the 1976 season, Perez, the estimable run producer and team guy, was traded to Montreal. Two years later, following a pair of second-place finishes, Anderson, whom Rose had said he'd walk through hell for in a gasoline suit, was fired by general manager Dick Wagner. On that unhappy day, the Post sold an extra 7,000 papers.
Rose, too, was excused after the '78 season, which for him had been monumental. It was the year of his 3,000th hit, and the year of his 44-game hitting streak. Nevertheless, the Reds dropped him on the front porch of free agency. The indomitable switch-hitter, Cincinnati's beloved own, took his famous act to Philadelphia.
It was Marge Schott, the news-making owner, who brought him back in late 1984, at the age of 43, as player-manager. The move was sentimentally inspired and financially shrewd. Rose was bearing down on Ty Cobb's all-time hits record, and he'd be chasing history in his home town, in front of fans who'd happily do for him what he said he'd do for Sparky. They'll never forget September 11, 1985.
The night was Wednesday, the opponent San Diego, the pitcher Eric Show, the inning the first, the 4,192nd hit a looping single to left field. On first base, Rose hugged Pete Jr., gazed up to the sky for his dad - whom Harmon has called the most remarkable athlete he's ever met - and, like everybody else, cried.
Four years later, while managing his sixth Cincinnati team, Rose's association with baseball was officially ended by commissioner Bart Giamatti, who banned him from the game for betting on it. The Hit King's permanent suspension, and his ineligibility for the Hall of Fame - by virtue of a policy adopted expressly for him - remain a source of chronic indignation for much of Cincinnati.
The Reds softened the blow, temporarily, by sweeping Oakland in the 1990 World Series with a team featuring Eric Davis and Barry Larkin, the hometown shortstop. In 1995, with an MVP season from Larkin, they won their division. The cheering stopped right there, pretty much. It didn't even help when they brought in Ken Griffey Jr. after the falsely encouraging 1999 season, when he was the game's preeminent player, and a Cincinnatian at that. The last seven years have come up negative.
As the Reds and Bengals have tumbled through their seemingly endless spins, the city's saving grace has consistently been its college basketball. The statures of the UC and Xavier programs - not to mention the intensity of their annual Crosstown Shootout - have created in Cincinnati a college basketball environment that, according to at least one highly subjective ranking, is unmatched by any other town.
In the Bearcats' case, the man largely responsible was tough-guy coach Bob Huggins, whose ugly-winning teams dominated the Great Midwest and Conference USA. They also participated in 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments, the first of which, in 1992, found them overachieving their way to the Final Four with a roster heavy in junior-college transfers. Cincinnati's 2000 team was ranked No. 1 in the country and favored to win everything until center Kenyon Martin, the national Player of the Year, broke his leg in the conference tournament. Ultimately, Huggins' style and indiscretions occasioned an irreparable rift between him and university president Nancy Zimpher, and the local icon was gone before UC played its first game as an affiliate of the Big East.
Xavier's success has been of a distinctly different sort, carried down from coach to coach, Bob Staak to Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller. It, too, in David West, has produced a recent Player of the Year, as well as a succession of stars that includes local products Byron Larkin, Tyrone Hill and Brian Grant. By winning conference titles, executing upsets and scaring the daylights out of teams headed to the NCAA finals - Duke and Ohio State most recently - the Muskies have established a model program that the nation no longer takes lightly.
They have managed that, all the while, in the Catholic tradition, appropriately representing their city in that respect. On the grassroots level, Cincinnati's parochial and private high schools - specifically, those in the Greater Catholic League - have attained a consistent and spectacular standard that not only dominates Ohio but stands up to any competition the country can offer. In football, where the seeds were scattered by the likes of Roger Bacon coach Bron Bacevich and Purcell star Roger Staubach, the cavalcade of state champions began with Moeller, where the nationally prominent program was built by Gerry Faust, and has been perpetuated by Elder and St. Xavier, the current kingpin. In basketball, and in the athletic endeavors of the Catholic sister schools, the considerable spoils are shared more generously among the league members.
Cincinnati high schools, on the whole, have become a major source of collegiate talent for volleyball, swimming, soccer, basketball and especially football.
The University of Cincinnati's new football coach, Brian Kelly, has prioritized not only the recruitment of local players but, even more fundamentally, the marriage of program and community.
The result, in 2007, was three Nippert Stadium sellouts and a 10-win, top-20 team.
Along the way, Kelly went so far as to scold the local press for not attending the Big East media-day event.
From the Post's perspective, there was some gallows irony in that.
At this melancholy time, especially, we're mocked by the concept of being missed.
As the final edition is cobbled together, it's painfully obvious that sports no longer need the newspaper.