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Farewell, Tribbies: Oakland Suffers a Rare Defeat

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Want to read about the Warriors’ quest for 73 wins? Lucky you. ESPN The Magazine has a special issue. The New York Times Magazine has an article on the team’s majority owner. The Times even dispatched basketball writer Scott Cacciola to embed in Oakland.

Now the bad news: Monday was the final daily issue of the Oakland Tribune. Which means that during the stretch run of Oakland’s biggest sports story in years — not to mention the cultural boom that’s overtaking the city — the oldest source of local sportswriting is dead. As Dave Newhouse, a sportswriter who spent 45 years at the Tribune, said recently, "Only in Oakland do these things happen."

Newhouse was a classic "Tribbie," which is the nickname the paper’s writers gave themselves. On his first day of work, in 1964, Newhouse didn’t even look up the Tribune’s address; he merely drove toward the 21-story tower that loomed over downtown. Back then, the Tribune sports desk was staffed by a bunch of newshounds like Ed Schoenfeld, who wrote and looked like a bulldog. This was typical. Tribbies tended to be as scrappy and unpretentious as Oakland itself. A snob could go write for the Chronicle in San Francisco.

"Maybe it’s braggadocious to say, but I thought in the late ’60s and early ’70s we had the best sportswriters," Newhouse said. There was upside to working in Oakland. From 1972 to ’77, the city won five world titles in three sports — the kind of bounty that Boston writers are enjoying now. Moreover, the Tribune was an early and loud proponent of diversity. The African American writer Ralph Wiley became a columnist in 1979, which propelled him to Sports Illustrated and, later, ESPN’s Page 2.

The Tribune had a touch of goofiness. Tribbies would get drunk in a bar called the Hollow Leg. The paper’s aviation writer used to gin up bits of philosophy, post them on the newsroom walls, and sign his missives "The Phantom." But the sports staff kept minting big-name writers. Kit Stier on the A’s. Ron Bergman on the A’s, Raiders, and Warriors. When Warriors coach Don Nelson would complain to Bergman about his press, Bergman would tell him not to worry. "The birds shit on the paper the second day," he’d say.

For a Tribbie inclined to see Oakland as a hard-luck town, the death of a sports page is merely another data point. "The Warriors" — who will move to San Francisco in 2019 — "are already gone," Newhouse said. "I can just hear Mark Davis or Lew Wolff saying, ‘Why should we stay in Oakland? They don’t even have a daily newspaper.’" Newhouse noted that the last issue of the Tribune wouldn’t even be delivered to him — as part of its slow death, the paper stopped delivering to homes on Mondays years ago. Newhouse sighed. "It doesn’t get any more macabre than that."

This piece originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.