Richard Ben Cramer, 1950-2013

by Bill Chuck on January 8, 2013

Richard Ben Cramer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose brilliant depiction of the 1988 presidential campaign, “What It Takes,” redefined political coverage (The book was ranked No. 58 in a New York University list of the century’s top 100 works of journalism), passed away yesterday at 62. To read more about the political chops of this great writer head to POLITICO.

Mr. Cramer was born on June 12, 1950, in Rochester. He went to Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate and later studied at Columbia University’s Graduate of Journalism. He worked at The Baltimore Sun before joining The Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1970s, where he was a Middle East correspondent from 1977 to 1984. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his reporting there.

But if you want to read some gifted baseball journalism, head to Cramer’s  article from Esquire entitled What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? from June of 1986, which they regard as one of the seven greatest articles to ever appear in their magazine.

This is a piece worthy of Ted Williams; this was great writing:

Here are three random paragraph from the outstanding opus:

In May, he enlisted for Navy wings and that shut up most of the hecklers. Still, he was always in a stew of contempt for some joker who said something unfair. It seemed Ted courted the rage now, used it to bone his own fiber. Now there was no awkwardness, no blushing before he blew. It was automatic, a switch in his gut that snapped on and then, watch out for the Kid. One day in July, a fan in left was riding Ted pretty hard. Ted came to bat in the fifth: he took a strange stance and swung late, hit a line drive, but well foul into the left-field seats. Next pitch, again he swung late, hit another liner, but this stayed fair — and Ted didn’t run, barely made it to second. Cronin yanked him out of the game, fined him $250 for loafing. But Ted wasn’t loafing, the hit caught him by surprise. He’s been trying to kill the heckler with a line drive foul.

Ted Williams was the greatest old hitter. In two months, upon return from Korea, he batted .407 and hit a home run once in every seven at bats. For the next two years, he led the league (.345 and .356), but injuries and walks robbed him of the titles: he didn’t get the minimum four hundred at bats. In 1956, he lost the title in the season’s last week to twenty-four-year-old Mickey Mantle (who finished .353 to Ted’s .345). The next year, Mantle had an even better season, but Ted, at age thirty-nine, pulled away and won, at .388, more than twenty points ahead of Mantle, more than sixty points ahead of anyone else. With five more hits (say, the leg hits that a younger man would get), it would have been .400. As it was, it stood at the highest average since his own .406, sixteen years before. In 1958, Ted battled for the crown again, this time with a teammate, Pete Runnels. They were even in September, but then, once again, Ted pulled way to win at .328. For the final fifty-five games (including one on his fortieth birthday), he batted .403.

Every day, every season, he was still first to the ball park, where he’d strip to shorts and bone his bats; still first out to the cage, where he’d bark his imaginary play-by-play: “Awright, Detroit, top of the ninth…” Then back to his locker for a clean shirt and up at a trot to the dugout, to clap a hostile eye on the pitcher warming up, to pick apart his delivery, hunting for any weakness. No, Ted would not give up on one game, one time at bat, a single pitch. No one since Ruth had hit so many home runs per times at bat. No one in the league hit like Ted, year after year: .342, .343, .369, .343…. It seemed he never broke a bat at the plate, but he broke a hundred in the clubhouse runway. If he failed at the plate he’d scream at himself, “YOU GODDAMN FOOL!” and bash the cement, while the Sox in the dugout stared ahead with mute smiles. Once, after a third strike, he smashed the water pipe to the cooler with his bare fists. No could believe it until the flood began. And on each opening day, Ted would listen to the national anthem and he’d feel the hair rise on the back of his neck, and his bands would clench, and he’d vow to himself: “This year, the best ever.”

Williams and Richard Ben Cramer were both outstanding in their fields and among the best ever.

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