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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Richard Ben Cramer dies at 62

Cramer put all his fury, emotion and eye for detail on the page in such works as “Joe DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life” (2000), “How Israel Lost” (2004) and especially “What It Takes,” a 1,047-page account of the 1988 presidential race.

Mike Emeigh Posted: January 08, 2013 at 05:32 PM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: authors, new york yankees

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   1. esseff Posted: January 08, 2013 at 06:09 PM (#4342360)
I mentioned in the dugout that he had a deal for an A-Rod bio, but put the project on hold last summer. The publisher had sued just a few days ago to get the advance returned.
   2. Rough Carrigan Posted: January 08, 2013 at 06:12 PM (#4342366)
Aging former waiters and waitresses stiffed by the Yankee Light Tipper must've gotten a lot of satisfaction out of Cramer's DiMaggio biography.
   3. The Chronicles of Reddick Posted: January 08, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4342398)
I have the book somewhere in storage and haven't read it for a while. I used to work at KNBR in SF for 2 years on the weekends and during that time there was a horse racing show featuring Sam Spear who takes up a few pages of the book. I never remembered him saying anything good or bad about DiMaggio in all the time I was there. Guess I should have been writing a book.
   4. esseff Posted: January 08, 2013 at 06:57 PM (#4342405)
DiMaggio comes across as dislikable in the book until Morris Engelberg shows up and sucks up all the dislikability in the universe, at which point the older DiMaggio becomes merely pitiful.
   5. AndrewJ Posted: January 08, 2013 at 06:59 PM (#4342407)
Cramer writes of the 1939 Yankees in the DiMaggio book that Babe Dahlgren "was much better than competent at first." Um, no.
   6. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 08, 2013 at 07:24 PM (#4342416)
DiMaggio comes across as dislikable in the book until Morris Engelberg shows up and sucks up all the dislikability in the universe, at which point the older DiMaggio becomes merely pitiful.

I was thinking more "intense" and "private" and "tight with money" but, yeah, DiMaggio was definitely not a cuddly bear.
I certainly enjoyed the book - especially the shot of one of DiMaggio's old semi-pro teams at a field in SF's Marina District where I sometimes play ball.
   7. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: January 08, 2013 at 07:29 PM (#4342419)
Cramer was a great enough writer that my wife, who could care less about baseball, loved the DiMaggio biography.
   8. Publius Publicola Posted: January 08, 2013 at 07:31 PM (#4342422)
If anything, Cramer's book was the first that didn't treat DiMaggio like a demigod and at least tried to describe him as he really was, rather than what DiMaggio wanted everyone to think what he was.

Who is the Yankee fan here who mentioned that DiMaggio wouldn't come to any old timer games unless he was introduced as "the greatest living Yankee", sticking a finger in the eye of Mickey Mantle, who could have cared less how he was introduced. Might have been Mahnken.
   9. AndrewJ Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:05 PM (#4342436)
Cramer also wrote in the DiMaggio bio that Barry Halper "had honor; his stuff was real, and so was he. That's why he was King."
   10. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:05 PM (#4342437)
I think he insisted on being introduced as the "Greatest Living Ballplayer", period. (When they had the Centennial of Baseball Celebrations in 1969, DiMaggio was voted as such, and he never forgot it.)
   11. pthomas Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:09 PM (#4342438)
Greatest Living Yankee? Try Greatest Living Player: pg 425 of Cramer's book ....."which was the epithet he insisted upon, when he was introduced"....

During the Baseball Centennial in 1969, there was actually a vote for Greatest Living Player...and Dimaggio won it.

(I second Mr. Dissipation's comment)

Last add GLP...

From Jane Leavy's bio of Mickey Mantle "The Last Boy" pp291

(Joe is upset at the huge ovation Mantle received at Mantle's first Old Timer's Day appearance) "The Clipper was so angry he swore he would never return to the Stadium. He was wooed back with sweet nothings and lucre. But, when Mantle's monument was unveiled in center field in 1996 at a ceremony emceed by Billy Crystal, Dimaggio actually punched him in the stomach because he failed to introduce Joe D as "Baseball's Greatest Living Player."
   12. Publius Publicola Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:12 PM (#4342439)
During the Baseball Centennial in 1969, there was actually a vote for Greatest Living Player...and Dimaggio won it.


Joe had good publicists.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:19 PM (#4342446)
“What It Takes,” a 1,047-page account of the 1988 presidential race.

One of the most boring campaigns featuring two of the least engaging candidates in the history of presidential campaigns.
   14. Morty Causa Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:28 PM (#4342451)
What did Cramer have to say about that presidential race that could justify 1047 pages?
   15. Mark Armour Posted: January 08, 2013 at 08:45 PM (#4342465)
The man could write. If you are good enough writer, you can overcome the subject. There were many fascinating people involved in the race, as candidates or otherwise, other than the nominees.

I loved the Joe D book though I thought DiMaggio was an uninteresting prick before and after reading the book. Mantle, on the other hand, was a somewhat interesting prick, making Leavy's job a bit easier. I liked her book too, though she is no Cramer.
   16. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: January 08, 2013 at 09:11 PM (#4342482)
What did Cramer have to say about that presidential race that could justify 1047 pages?


Well, for starters, he dedicates 600 pages to his theory that Dukakis was a cross-dressing serial killer. Libelous, sure, but as it was also the only time anyone accused Dukakis of being interesting the governor wrote him a nice thank-you letter.
   17. Rowland Office Supplies Posted: January 08, 2013 at 09:28 PM (#4342490)
The general election was no great shakes...but there's fine stuff in the book about the primaries. Especially about the Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson campaigns. The Bush/Dole feud, too.
   18. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 08, 2013 at 09:34 PM (#4342496)
One of the most boring campaigns featuring two of the least engaging candidates in the history of presidential campaigns.

As I recall, the Democrats were calling it the most important Presidential race of our lifetimes.

But anyway, GOOD things about Joe DiMaggio: Billy Martin gave him absolutely no respect, and DiMaggio actually seemed to like that.
Probably would've been different if it was Mantle or somebody, but it's nice to know SOMEbody wasn't constantly all, "Woo woo, the Great DiMaggio."

Also, I would punch Billy Crystal in the stomach for nothing.
   19. Jay Z Posted: January 08, 2013 at 09:43 PM (#4342501)
Cramer writes of the 1939 Yankees in the DiMaggio book that Babe Dahlgren "was much better than competent at first." Um, no.


Did he write that Dukakis was a much better than competent governor too?
   20. Rough Carrigan Posted: January 08, 2013 at 09:53 PM (#4342505)
A buddy of mine also read Cramer's book on DiMaggio and comes back again and again to the story of how Joe wouldn't do crap to help out their sister resulting in her finally turning to Dom living all the way across the country. When Dom helped her out, Joe got all offended saying that Dom was only doing it to make him look bad. Just a monumentally self-absorbed guy.
   21. Darren Posted: January 08, 2013 at 10:03 PM (#4342510)
I guess Marilyn also refused to call him the greatest living ballplayer.
   22. Adam B. Posted: January 08, 2013 at 10:29 PM (#4342524)
The general election was no great shakes...but there's fine stuff in the book about the primaries. Especially about the Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson campaigns
Actually, RBC barely discusses either in the book -- he stated afterwards that Jackson never afforded him the access he needed to write about him properly.

But it's the best damn Bob Dole biography you'll ever read -- his heroism, tenacity, and gruffness come through so well. Biden, too, you get to see all the striving, all the flaws, all the grief. It's a book about character, not tactics.
   23. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: January 08, 2013 at 11:37 PM (#4342549)
What It Takes is one of the most important books in political journalistic history - as a 15 year old, I couldn't put it down, and it did as much to get me passionate about politics as any book I've ever read. He focused on candidates who would give sufficient candor and access, and who he thought had a chance of success. This included Dukakis, Biden, Hart, and Gephardt for the Dems (Simon, Gore, Babbitt, and Jackson did not get profiled). For the Republicans, the focus was on Bush and Dole (Robertson, Kemp, Dupont, and Haig did not get featured).

The book weaves back and forth between these six featured candidates, with the others being introduced as needed, focusing on the personal side of these people. It is truly about characters, with the campaign being the setting - not the other way around. It really was the first hugely successful "behind the scenes" presidential campaign account, and it spawned countless others...most not nearly as good. It is truly a great book.
   24. bookbook Posted: January 08, 2013 at 11:49 PM (#4342553)
"I guess Marilyn also refused to call him the greatest living ballplayer."

She did however agree that his little ballplayer was an uninteresting prick...
   25. Walt Davis Posted: January 09, 2013 at 02:23 AM (#4342616)
The book weaves back and forth between these six featured candidates, with the others being introduced as needed, focusing on the personal side of these people.

So one of the most important books in political journalistic history in that it helped set the trend that has destroyed political journalism?

(Please take that as a comment on the horrible state of political journalism and its endless focus on personality and the desperate search for signs of "true character", not the quality of the book which I have not read)
   26. Eric Ferguson Posted: January 09, 2013 at 10:45 AM (#4342715)
I'm trying to remember the name of a book that focused on the '41 season -- specifically Williams' pursuit of .400 and DiMaggio's streak. I could have sworn it was by Cramer, but apparently not. Any help?
   27. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 09, 2013 at 10:51 AM (#4342723)
It may not be the one you're thinking of, but there's Michael Seidel's 1988 Streak: Joe Dimaggio and the Summer of '41. Among other things, it has an Appendix with all of the box scores up through the game when the streak ended.
   28. McCoy Posted: January 09, 2013 at 11:02 AM (#4342736)
There is the book The Last .400 hitter by John Holway that details Ted Williams' season on a daily basis and includes what Joe did during the streak.
   29. Chip Posted: January 09, 2013 at 11:05 AM (#4342737)
Cramer's profile of Ted Williams might be one of the two or three greatest pieces of magazine journalism ever: What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?
   30. just plain joe Posted: January 09, 2013 at 12:09 PM (#4342830)
I'm trying to remember the name of a book that focused on the '41 season -- specifically Williams' pursuit of .400 and DiMaggio's streak. I could have sworn it was by Cramer, but apparently not. Any help?


Baseball and Other Matters in 1941, by Robert Creamer.
   31. Eric Ferguson Posted: January 09, 2013 at 12:19 PM (#4342850)
That's the one. Thanks!
   32. phredbird Posted: January 09, 2013 at 01:03 PM (#4342918)
never read 'what it takes' in its entirety, but i do remember reading large parts of it on a friend's recommendation, and was engrossed by cramers writing about g. bush and dole.

a hero's life was a good read too. i think -- strictly from reading the book -- cramer initially disliked dimaggio intensely but tempered his dislike towards the end, a little.
   33. The District Attorney Posted: January 09, 2013 at 01:07 PM (#4342924)
Poz wrote a Cramer tribute article.

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