That Old Fighting Spirit

At Coors Field, there's hitting on the field -- and in the press box.

You've been hearing it for weeks: The joint operating agreement that's set to link the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post will pour cold water on the competitive fires the papers have stoked for over a century. There's even fresh evidence to support this theory: On June 11, News sports columnist Bob Kravitz announced that he's leaving the paper for The Indianapolis Star, in part because the News will no longer have a Sunday edition -- its highest-profile battleground with the Post.

However, a recent incident in the Coors Field press box suggests that while peace may be at hand, at least two soldiers -- the Post's Mike Klis and the News's Tracy Ringolsby -- aren't yet ready to raise the white flag. Relations have been frosty between these veteran sportswriters since at least last August, when Klis authored a page-one story predicting the imminent departure of Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard. Ringolsby, speaking on AM 950/The Fan, criticized that piece as a rehash of rumors that had been circulating for months; then, following Gebhard's resignation a few days later, he implied in a subsequent Fan appearance that this apparent scoop was actually more of a coincidence than anything else ("Ball Carriers," September 16, 1999). Since then, Ringolsby and Klis haven't spoken, even though they both cover the Rockies on a full-time basis. "It's a big press box," Ringolsby explains.

Not big enough, apparently.

The latest conflict between the pair took place late on the afternoon of May 31, just prior to the Rockies' 8-6 victory over the Houston Astros -- but in the beginning, Ringolsby was on deck, while his News colleague, Clay Latimer, was at the plate. Specifically, Latimer was interviewing a Rockies staffer about star right-fielder Larry Walker, who'd been smacked by a line drive during batting practice. Klis barged into the middle of this chat (at which a scribe from the Colorado Springs Gazette was also present), and afterward, Latimer made what he characterizes as "a sarcastic remark" to Klis regarding the intrusion, a faux pas in the sweaty world of sports reporters.

Latimer subsequently returned to the News's designated space on press row and sat down beside Ringolsby, who was busy writing. Before long, Klis arrived at Latimer's side to continue the "conversation." But Ringolsby soon put a stop to it: "I said, 'Get the fuck out of our area. We've got work to do, and we don't have to listen to your bullshit.' And the next thing I know, he was on my back, pounding on my head."

Seconds later, Latimer and the Post's John Henderson pulled Klis off the object of his ire. Ringolsby, who says he didn't retaliate against Klis, emerged relatively unscathed. "No welts, no bruises, no anything," he says, adding (for maximum insult value), "I've had ex-wives who hit harder."

Within minutes, Denver police arrived on the scene and questioned everyone involved in the matter. Ringolsby, though, declined to press charges. "What good would come of that?" he says.

Ringolsby contends that the cops subsequently escorted Klis out of the stadium, but Klis says that's not quite right; he insists he was leaving anyway. As for his side of the story, Klis keeps most of it to himself. "Tension has been building for a while," he concedes, "but otherwise, what happened is between him and me. And it won't happen again."

Yet Klis hasn't rushed to smooth things over with Ringolsby. When he's asked if he'd like the two of them to clear the air, he mutters, "Not particularly."

That's fine by Ringolsby, who says of Klis, "He has his hangups, and I just ignore them." But he regrets airing his complaints about Klis's Gebhard article in public -- "I lost control of my emotions, and that was wrong" -- and sees physical confrontations as antithetical to his oft-published beliefs.

Latimer, for his part, admits that he's never seen anything quite like the Klis-Ringolsby dustup in his nearly two decades of sports reporting. But in some ways, he's not surprised that it happened. "Over the years, there's been a lot of attacks in person and in print that have been part of this overheated newspaper war," he points out. And he doesn't believe such rhetoric will vanish just because of a joint operating agreement. "It's just the nature of the beast that people in this business are very competitive, and I don't think you can deprogram yourself from that because there's a JOA."

If only that meant more newspaper scraps in the future. Wouldn't you love to see, say, Bill Johnson and Chuck Green in a fight to the death? That way we'd come out ahead no matter who won.


Speaking of Green, he attacked Westword in general, and yours truly in particular, in the June 11 Post via "Proud to Be Labeled 'Dogfather,'" another in a long line of jaw-droppingly ludicrous columns. He began with an example of his sterling research skills, claiming that this paper had labeled him the Dogfather of Denver "a couple of weeks ago" (actually, we did so on February 17 -- and some of his Post colleagues have been doing so for ages) and a "dog worshiper" (I actually referred to him as a "pet worshiper" -- meaning that in attempting to recount a two-word phrase, he could only manage to get one right). This was followed by a typically treacly salute to four-legged companions everywhere (a "lonely, one-bedroom apartment" can be made more livable by "a warm, cuddly ball of fur") that somehow led to the bizarre claim that Westword "doesn't give a damn" about "a kid or an old person." Betcha if he'd had more space, he would have written that we like to stomp on baby chicks, too.

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