Evening Sun memories will glow forever within us THE EVENING SUN SETS AT 85

September 15, 1995|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,Sun Columnist

"I hate to see the evenin' sun go down."

-- W.C. Handy My first deadline assignment for The Evening Sun took me to the old federal courthouse on Calvert Street. It was September 1976. A couple of older, wiser and bearded reporters - they called me "Snookie" - needed help taking notes and filing copy for the late editions. They were covering a big trial. Whose trial? The governor's trial. Right then, right there, I knew Baltimore could not be the sleepy backwater snobby friends in New York and Boston had warned it would be.

We covered breaking news at The Evening Sun, and there was plenty of it. We wrote stories at 6 a.m. that were in print by 10, wrote stories at 10 that were in print by noon, wrote stories at 3 that were in print by evening rush. A reader could pick up the 7-Star or Final as The Sun set on the city and know, pretty much, what had happened that day in the trial of former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Or what had happened in Dundalk overnight.

Or what had happened in Arbutus that morning.

Or which horses had won the first couple of races at Pimlico.

Or what the pope had said in Rome.

Often, I went home, turned on the TV news at 6, and heard anchormen (and, once upon a time, an anchorwoman named Oprah) recite, almost word-for-word, local news stories Evening Sun reporters had dictated to the city desk from pay phones that afternoon. And across the open newsroom of The Sunpapers - that's what native Baltimoreans called us - morning Sun editors and reporters examined our paper (sometimes with sneers) to see what they had missed.

They scooped us. We scooped them. Some days, The News American scooped both of us.

For the first 10 years that I worked in Baltimore, there was a delicious newspaper rivalry, and the town was better for it. The News American folded in 1986. The Evening Sun sets today. This paper - my paper, our paper - lost its identity when the morning and evening news staffs were merged in 1992. But for most of the years, The Evening Sun was as distinct from The Sun as Haussner's from Hampton's.

I loved working for The Evening Sun. It was hard, with lots of deadline mania, and too much cigarette smoke. But it was fun - something different every day - and the news was offered to readers with our own spin, sometimes an irreverent or folksy one.

We took our work seriously, but not ourselves. We worked for the least prestigious of the three Sunpapers. I once heard someone call The Evening Sun "one of the best unread newspapers in the United States." It was "the writers' paper." Readers used to tell me they thought it was "more fun to read" than The Sun, and had far better sports coverage -- Phil Jackman, Phil Hersh, Dan Shaughnessy, Mike Janofsky, Kevin Cowherd, Mike Klingaman, Bill Tanton -- and sharper editorials (by Bradford Jacobs, Dudley Digges and Ray Jenkins). The Sun was read in the Oval Office; I once saw a guy reading The Evening Sun under the Jones Falls Expressway. When the morning paper launched an advertising campaign as "one of the world's great newspapers," our ace rewrite man, Nick Yengich, launched a newsroom rejoinder: "The Evening Sun: One of the world's newspapers." When science writer Jon Franklin won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, we had a little party, drank some beer, ate some macaroni salad (pasta salad hadn't been invented yet) and went home. No champagne. No big whoop. It was a Friday, and Franklin had to get up early the next morn; he had pulled Saturday rewrite duty.

The Baltimore into which I parachuted as a reporter in 1976 was a busy place -- the governor and his associates on trial, Reggie Jackson playing for the Orioles, Earl Weaver managing the team, Bert Jones handing off to Lydell Mitchell, a fellow named Kroner crashing an airplane into Memorial Stadium (injuring no one), a cigar-chomping, bigger-than-life police commissioner named Pomerleau and a peculiar but effective mayor named William Donald Schaefer. I regarded it all with awe and said to myself, "This town has promise."

And there hasn't been a dull moment since.

Early on, editors sent me to City Hall for Monday night meetings of the Baltimore City Council, with the brilliant and sarcastic Wally Orlinsky presiding. The council often engaged in Afghanistanism - debates on Third World economic development, the international oil supply, the spread of socialism, the nuclear arms race, financial disclosure by public officials. Of the latter, the late Mimi DiPietro said: "I don't think a politician should tell people he's a fat cat till after the election." On national defense, former City Councilman John A. Schaefer said: "Preparedness is the best detergent against aggression."

I just wrote it down. I didn't have to make it up. I didn't need a John Waters movie; there was plenty of wild material right here, live and in color.

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