Dave Newhouse Keeps Busy Writing Books

The beloved Oakland Tribune sports writer and columnist wrote his last column in 2011 but writes just as much these days.


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Dave Newhouse has migrated from sports and other newspaper columns to books.

Photo by Lori Eanes

In 2011, when legendary sports reporter and columnist Dave Newhouse left the Oakland Tribune after 47 years, he was ready for a new career. And the award-winning journalist, who also wrote for Sports Illustrated and hosted a sports talk show on KNBR, has been one busy guy writing books since he turned in that last column.

The last column was a classic. Newhouse talked about his love of words and infused the prose with some memorable lines, including, “This old-school newspaperman, misplaced in a world of texters, tweeters, and bloggers, is exiting before the gigabytes start to bite.”

Newhouse, 77, a longtime Oaklander, is a tall, engaging man with a self-effacing warmth and strong sense of optimism. He has an easy smile, yet behind the affable manner, he conveys a certain toughness cultivated, he said, to deal with sometimes enigmatic sports personalities. 

“Some were great, and some were downright nasty, or putting the best face on it, difficult. To get good interviews, particularly with some of the iconic sports figures, you had to build trust. It took time,” he said over coffee in Montclair recently. “Being a journalist, you were always up against inherent skepticism, and so sometimes, it was like pulling teeth, as they say, to get them to talk to you.”

With the column’s demise, Newhouse, who by then had authored nine books, made it clear and that he was not retiring, only leaving his day job.

“People would always ask, ‘What are you going to do with yourself? How are you going to fill your time with no job to come to every day?’ And, more importantly, ‘How will you know who you are, what your identity is, without that daily column?’”

But he has embraced the new era. “It’s exciting,” he said of writing. “I sometimes get up at 5 in the morning, grab a muffin—no coffee—and go down stairs to my den, settle in at my desk, and before I know it, it’s 7 in the evening and I’m still in my pajamas.”

Newhouse was born in Menlo Park at the tail end of the Depression, the son of an abusive alcoholic father. He grew up wondering what he was gong to do with his life, though he had a vague fantasy of being a sportscaster someday. After graduating from Menlo-Atherton High School, he spent a couple of years at Santa Rosa Junior College, but in 1957 quit and joined the Air Force for a four-year stint. While stationed in Laon, France, a small, picturesque city northeast of Paris, Newhouse covered his first baseball game for the weekly base newspaper. He liked covering sports enough to major in journalism at San Jose State University.

He married Patsy Lewis, a transplant from Ely, Nevada, in 1964, the same year he started at the Tribune. They had two sons, Casey and Chad, with tragedy striking in 2012 when Chad took his own life. The grieving was long and painful. Book writing became therapy for Newhouse.

That was when Newhouse began working on Founding 49ers: The Dark Days Before the Dynasty, one of the most comprehensive books ever written about the early days of a major football team before the team was a major football team. Chock-full of incredible details and facts, it is set in the post war era of the 1940s, when the team was a fledgling local club. At the center of the book is Louis G. Spadia, the son of Italian immigrants whose meteoric rise—beginning in 1946 from a series of menial jobs to general manager of the 49ers and then to club president and eventually on to part owner—reads like a Horatio Alger success story.

Spadia brought the club a long way and ultimately to National Football League acceptance after years of rejection and held the presidency until 1977 when he was demoted with the DeBartolos purchase of the franchise. At 91, Spadia implored Newhouse to write his memoir, but Newhouse demurred—until Spadia’s daughter Louise asked him to reconsider and wouldn’t accept anything but a yes.

“She sweet talked me,” Newhouse said.

Newhouse got in two interviews with Spadia before he died at 92 in 2013. The book took him 2½ years to complete and includes numerous interviews and hundreds of hours of research. At the same time, Newhouse was working on a biography of and with Lou Campanelli, the former controversial coach of the Cal basketball team. Both books came out 2015.

Newhouse is now hard at work on a book about a woman who adopts horses who would otherwise be euthanized and a biography of Edward “Slip” Madigan, the head coach of Saint Mary’s College who was suddenly fired in 1939.

Newhouse seems to have a soft spot for the rise and fall of noble spirits of the sports world. In many ways, his own story is similar to Spadia’s: By resolve, he developed a passion for what he ended up doing with his life and climbed that ladder to the pinnacle of his profession, which Newhouse said he hopes to continue his into his 90s.

 

Published online on Dec. 22, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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