Tuesday, January 8, 2013

RICHARD BEN CRAMER (1950-2013):  Cancer fucking sucks. If you've never read Cramer's What It Takes, buckle down for 1000+ pages (and that's why we have e-readers) of the most masterful, insightful writing about politics you'll ever have the joy of reading—and it regards a presidential campaign (1988) which you wouldn't think merited such attention. But Cramer uses old-school research and access, combined with New Journalism vividness, to reveal the character of six men who seek the Presidency (Bush, Dole, Dukakis, Gephart, Hart, Biden) in such a compelling way as to make the tactics and daily tick-tock of the campaign almost secondary. Dole the recovering war hero; Dukakis the insufferable prig; Biden the exuberant climber devastated by tragedy and then undermined by his own actions ... it's all there. I only wish there were some suitable excerpts online, but I'm finding them hard to locate.

Cramer was also heralded as a sports writer, and for that we do have excerpts, below the fold:

On Cal Ripken and Baltimore, for SI in 1995:
And the town? Well, that's a complicated story—one that goes well beyond the Camden Yards theme park and the surrounding Inner Harbor theme park, with its rows of shoppees selling $20 T-shirts or crabs at $35 a dozen. None of that is meant for the man on the swing shift. In fact, there is no more swing shift. Crown Cork and Seal closed up its plants, like all the other big manufacturers.

The ball yard, Harborplace, the gleaming insurance and banking towers looming over the gleaming water—they were all designed (with forethought, control) to replace the blue-collar Baltimore that was crumbling like an empty row house. Or at least to distract attention: Here the rulers of the town would build the Baltimore you're supposed to see; they would stock it with family attractions—the shoppees, tall ships, an aquarium (Hey! How 'bout baseball?)...and plenty of parking, so the white people could jump into their cars and go back to the suburbs to sleep. They wanted the kind of place that Good Morning America would visit. If you build it, Joan and Charlie will come! And so they did! That worked like a charm. In fact, that's what they called Baltimore: Charm City.

But somehow that name never really stuck. See, the schools still didn't work, crime's a problem, taxes are murder. And even those new towers shining out there, beyond the centerfield fence, they're going empty. This town is literally shrinking up. Somehow, all the Disneyfication of the downtown didn't win for Baltimore the label that the rulers really wanted: big league. Now they've given up on the catchy nicknames. They've just mounted Cal up front, like a hood ornament, to symbolize what Baltimore's all about.
On Ted Williams, for Esquire, in 1986:
Ted Williams can hush a room just by entering. There is a force that boils up from him and commands attention. This he has come to accept as his destiny and his due, just as he came to accept the maddening, if respectful, way his opponents pitched around him (he always seemed to be leading the league in bases on balls), or the way every fan in the ball park seemed always to watch (and comment upon) T. Williams's every move. It was often said Ted would rather play ball in a lab, where fans couldn't see. But he never blamed fans for watching him. His hate was for those who couldn't or wouldn't feel with him, his effort, his exultation, pride, rage, or sorrow. If they wouldn't share those, then there was his scorn, and he's make them feel that, by God. These days, there are no crowds, but Ted is watched, and why not? What other match could draw a kibitzer's eye when Ted, on the near court, pounds toward the net, slashing the air with his big racket, laughing in triumphant derision as he scores with his killer drop shot, or smacking the ball twenty feet long and roaring, "SYPHILITIC SON OF A BITCH!" as he hurls his racket to the clay at his feet?

And who could say Ted does not mean it be seen when he stops in front of the kibitzers as he and his opponent change sides? "YOU OKAY?" Ted wheezes as he yells as his foe. "HOW D'YA FEEL?...HOW OLD ARE YOU?...JUST WORRIED ABOUT YOUR HEART HA HA HAW." Ted turns and winks, mops his face. A kibitzer says mildly: "How are you, Ted?" And Ted drops the towel, swells with Florida air, grins gloriously, and booms back:



  1. Dammit. What It Takes has been on my to-read list for a while, and this is a sad reason to move it up.

    As a Wire fanatic, I love the writing about Baltimore. RIP.

  2. Adam B.12:04 PM

    RBC, on Biden:

    There was nothing he wouldn't do. There are still guys in Scranton today who talk about the feats of Joey Biden. There was, for example, the Feat of the Culm Dump. Culm is the stuff they pile next to the mine after they've taken out the coal. Every mine shaft in Scranton had a mountain of culm, and in the fifties, when people weren't so picky about the air, the stuff was always on fire. There was just enough coal carbon left in the soot to cause spontaneous combustion; pile would burn for 20, 30 years. So what you had for instance, at the Marvin Colliery, down the hill from Green Ridge, three or four blocks from Joey's house, was a mountain on fire, lava-hot on the surface, except where it burned out underneath, and then there'd be a pocket of ash where you could fall right into the mountain, if you stepped on it...but, of course, no one was going to step on it...until Charlie Roth bet Biden five bucks that Joey couldn't climb the culm dump."

    To this day, Joe Biden has never seen the five bucks. Of course, by the time he got to the top, the five bucks wasn't the point anymore. It was more like...immortality.

  3. Well, by that excerpt I'm requesting the book from the library right now.

  4. Adam B.8:11 PM

    Basically, RBC talked to everyone -- parents, relatives, high school friends, teachers -- before he ever joined the trail.