Richard Ben Cramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter whose book What It Takes defined modern campaign reporting, died yesterday at 62.
A reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer, Cramer wrote dazzling profiles for Rolling Stone and Esquire, but it was his 1992 book, What It Takes, an epic history of the 1988 presidential campaign, that set a new standard for political reporting.
In an excerpt from What It Takes, Cramer wrote of George H.W. Bush's early years in politics and his preternatural need to be polite. "One Houston lady wrote him a letter," Cramer recalled. "So he wrote her back. So she wrote to thank him for his response. So he wrote her back, thanking her for her thank-you note. Finally, she sent him a letter that said: 'You remind me of my aunt, Mrs. Ponder. She just won’t stay written to.'”
In 1984, Cramer wrote an unflinching portrait of Baltimore mayor Donald Schaefer for Esquire: "How will they ever make a statue of him? They'll have to, you know. He saved the town. But how could they bronze that stubby little body, the melon head, the double chin? Put him on horseback? Ha! One foot up on a pediment, with those clunky shoes he buys on sale? Gazing over a book? He doesn't read, I guarantee you."
Two years later, he published a profile that Esquire considered one of its six best stories of all time—"What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" As he wrote: "Ted made the Hall of Fame in 1966. His old enemies, the writers, gave him the largest vote ever. So Ted went north to Cooperstown, and gave a short speed outside the Hall. Then he went back to Florida. He never went inside. They gave him a copy of his plaque. It listed his .406 year, his batting titles, slugging titles, total bases, walks, home runs. It didn't say anything about the wars, the dream, the rage, the cost. But how much can a plaque say?"
And in 1999, Cramer wrote the definitive biography of Teddy Ballgame's only real rival on the diamond, Joe DiMaggio: "For 13 years, he stood against the humbling nature of the game. He excelled and continued to excel, against injury and age, against the mounting 'natural' odds. He exceeded, withal, the cruelest expectations: He was expected to lead and to win—and he did. He was expected to be the best--and he was. He was expected to be the exemplar of dignity, class, grace—expected even to look the best. And he looked perfect."