At The Cincinnati Post, It Was Always About Winning the Story

The last year ended in reflection, personal and otherwise. The Cincinnati Post, my last daily newspaper, put out its final edition on the morning of Dec. 31, three days short of reaching 127 year

Jerry Dowling

The last year ended in reflection, personal and otherwise. The Cincinnati Post, my last daily newspaper, put out its final edition on the morning of Dec. 31, three days short of reaching 127 years old.

All but pre-ordained by a joint operating agreement (JOA) signed with the cross-town Cincinnati Enquirer 30 years ago, The Post's demise still struck me unexpectedly. I now understand better what journalists always mourn when they lose newspapers from their past. (For more on the closing, see Lew Moore's "Post-Post" here.)

A newsroom — a city newsroom of experienced, competent journalists practicing the craft, shunning conflicts of interest and taking on every other newsroom in town — has a peculiar vibe. The vibe of every newsroom you've lived in walks with you wherever you go, even if you only know it's back there somewhere, vibing like always. When you know that vibe is gone, a part of you goes with it.

It's nice to be remembered in a time like this, even if a recently published account about a certain interview with Pete Rose missed almost every detail. In broad outline, the anecdote in the morning paper on Dec. 30 got it right, which says something about The Post. But in the interest of getting a good story entirely straight, I shall now recount that remarkable evening.

It's a Thursday, Aug. 24, 1989, when the commissioner of baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti, announces an agreement by which Pete Rose accepts a lifetime suspension from the game, with a provision that the Hit King could apply for reinstatement after a year. As the next few days wander by, Rose lays low.

Three days later, on a Sunday, the morning paper runs a full-color photograph on its front page of Rose and his family, posed for a portrait. A story of little consequence accompanies the photo, but it's enough to spark an edgy situation in the Post newsroom.

Your correspondent reports to work at The Post that day knowing the heat is on to procure an interview with Rose, which stands to be next to an impossible task. There's no order to drive to Rose's house in Indian Hill, but it's understood that such an adventure might be worth a try.

I don't relish the idea of driving out to Rose's house. I like Pete Rose, and I have no desire to bother him. But I have a job to do.

So I work the phones, trying all the reasonable channels to find Rose. I try getting in touch with Jeff Ruby, his good friend in those days. I put in a call for Rose's attorney and advisor, Reuven Katz. I dial up every number that might take me a little closer. Nothing works.

I'm sick of the telephone. I look in the newsroom at a stack of papers from a court proceeding and find Rose's address. Next I consult the big map of the metropolitan area on the city room wall and plot a drive to his house. At worst, I'll escape the office and take a long drive.

The Post requires reporters to use its company cars. The fleet consists of four or five Chrysler K-Cars — small light blue, road-weary economy cars. I check one out and start for Indian Hill from 125 E. Court St. some time approaching 8 p.m.

Recalling the night, I don't remember exactly Rose's address. Let's call it 5712 Mulberry Lane. I find Mulberry Lane, a little into dusk, going northwest. It's a nicely paved country lane with mail boxes marking driveways about 150 feet apart.

I can read the numbers on the mail boxes as I drive by. There's 5672. There's 5686. There's 5698. There's 5706. There's a driveway with no mailbox. There's 5724.

What happened to 5712? I turn left into the nearest driveway, wheel back around and return to the unmarked driveway. About six very nice cars huddle around the garage. Naturally, I figure it might be Rose's house, but I'm not absolutely sure.

Maybe this house is 5716, for all I know. I really don't want to knock on that door.

So I don't. I pull back out and start down the road, going northwest again, wondering if I might find some other clue. But as I reach the bottom of a decline in the road I see a park on my left and decide against driving further, so I turn into the park parking lot and reverse my course. Now I'm heading southeast on Mulberry Lane, hoping to find Rose's house on the other side of the road.

Another series of mailbox numbers greets me on this new side of the road. Odd numbers, naturally. There's 5737. There's 5725. There's 5711. Well, Pete's address can't possibly lie on this side of the road, so I turn into 5711, which happens to be the first driveway I used as a turnaround on my way to the unmarked driveway earlier.

This time, the turnaround isn't so routine. A pack of dobermans surrounds my K-Car. About five of them. They're barking and looking at me with bad intend. They could eat this car.

The night is dark. I wheel around and drive out briskly but carefully. If I hit one of these dogs, I've got more grief than I want. I won't be trying that driveway again.

I'm driving northwest again, visibility isn't the best and I have no idea what I'll do next. Again, I reach the park on my left and turn into the parking lot, wondering if I'll actually return to the unmarked driveway and take a crack at the door. I'm lost and alien in this neighborhood, kind of how I feel in a housing project, except these people could shoot me down and the law would be on their side.

I sit in the parking lot for about a minute, collecting my thoughts. I take a breath and head on my way back out of the parking lot. But now it looks like I'm not going to make it. An Indian Hill Ranger drives into the parking lot and wheels sideways across the exit, for no other reason than to keep me from leaving. Of course, I stop. The Indian Hill Ranger approaches my K-Car and I roll down the window.

"What are you doing here?" he asks.

Fair question. It's the middle of a Sunday night, I have bad teeth and hair down to my butt, and I'm probing driveways in a battered K-Car that's smaller than most of the television sets on this street in the richest town in Ohio. I might dream up a clever answer, but the truth is funny enough already.

The moment completely relaxes me. I tell the Ranger that I'm a reporter with The Post and I'm trying to find Pete Rose. I show him my Post ID with that photo of a kid starting his first job out of college. The picture still looks vaguely like me. The Ranger is mildly amused.

The ensuing conversation goes about like this:

"I'm not even sure at this point that I'm on the right street," I say. "I have this address, 5712 Mulberry Lane, and I can't find the house number anywhere."

"OK," the Ranger says, almost without a pause, "I can't really tell you where he lives. But where you are now, in this parking lot: You're cold."

"Really," I say.

The Ranger isn't finished. "Now, you know the driveway you were in where the dogs came out to your car?"

"How'd you know about that? Did they call you or something?"

"The people who live there said someone entered their driveway."

"Well," I say, "I do remember the driveway."

"When you were in that driveway," the Ranger says, "you were warm."

"Yeah, I'd thought so, but that's not the house number," I say.

"Go back in the direction of that house," the Ranger says. "Go past the house. When you get to the top of the hill, on your left, you will be very, very warm."

I am dumbstruck. I'd thought the Rangers might be alright when I heard that if you live in Indian Hill and a Ranger catches you driving drunk he just takes you home. This is law enforcement at its finest.

But I had no idea that if some freak wandered into Indian Hill to harass one of its most prominent citizens, a Ranger would offer directions to the house. Sitting here recounting the night nearly 20 years later, I just now realize that the Ranger must have thought Pete was expecting me.

"Have a good night," the Ranger says. "Don't drive randomly into people's driveways around here."

"Thanks," I say.

The Ranger enters his car and leaves the parking lot, driving in the direction opposite of how he directed me. I drive in the direction the Ranger suggests, reach the top of the hill, look left and spot the driveway with six fancy cars around the garage. My K-Car joins them and I approach the door, happy just to stretch my legs.

I ring the bell and Rose's little boy, Tyler, answers the door. I look straight ahead into a very deep house and there's Pete, stretched out with a blanket on a couch.

"Hey, Sarge," Pete says. "C'mon in."

Rose introduces me to his guests, and we talk for at least two hours about his suspension from baseball. I return to the paper and write the story, which causes quite a stir. To shorten a very long account, I write a fairly warm story, the paper wants more sizzle and the paper wins. I'm disappointed with the result, though I'm a hero in the newsroom.

Of course, the story is too hot to end like that. About a week later, Giamatti dies. Now that the paper thinks I'm the guy who can just wheel out to Pete's house for an interview whenever I want it, I'm dispatched back to Indian Hill.

I arrive at Rose's house and Pete's not around, but his wife Carol is home. We talk for a few minutes and Pete arrives with two bags of Gold Star Chili. He's not happy to see me.

"Don't come back to this house," he says.

In the ensuing years, Rose and I got along fine. I still like the guy for the same reasons as always. He could be any fellow on my mother's side of the family — fun loving, mischievious, earthy, a bit rough around the edges. I just can't dislike him.

I've gone a long way to give him the benefit of the doubt. No regrets there, though I can't claim my finest moments as a reporter during the run-up to Rose's suspension.

Rose understood a lot about newspapering that many athletes don't. As a sportswriter at The Post for 12-plus years, I often laughed at jocks who thought newspaper people couldn't relate to competition.

Newspapering is in a multi-paper town is competition through and through. Football is child's play. Newspapering is the real deal.

Whatever its flaws — and they were many — The Post always competed hard. Strictly in that sense of reporter-for-reporter competitive intensity, The Post could play with anybody.

The Post was the No. 2 paper in Cincinnati, it was the afternoon paper bleeding circulation, it worked under a death sentence and, for all that, it still was the best daily in town by multiples. It was all about winning the story, getting it first and most completely, because there was absolutely no other incentive for doing it.

To understate as graciously as possible, The Post was not always the most constructive environment. A certain morbidity infused the place. The internal politics reeked of lameness. The writing values were a joke. If you got anything much past "ga ga, goo goo" into the paper, you knew the copy desk would pay.

All we could do was bust stories, numerous stories, consistently. We were good at that, even if The Post was long past its glory days and marking its time before I showed up in 1986.

Everyone has known for 30 years that The Post would be finished on Dec. 31, 2007. The paper was self-consciously and for so long headed for its demise on that day that I don't know if I should mourn it or congratulate it.

All I know is it's gone now.

CONTACT BILL PETERSON: [email protected]

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