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Award-winning journalist, Richard Ben Cramer, dies

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2013 at 8:01 pm •  Published: January 8, 2013
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Cramer's gifts were memorably demonstrated in the book's opening section, a long and occasionally farcical account of the events leading up to the most innocuous of rituals — then-Vice President Bush throwing out the opening ball at the Astrodome for a 1986 playoff game between the Houston Astros and the visiting New York Mets. Cramer details the extraordinary logistics behind this simple action. It described the coordination between the vice president's office and the White House needed for Bush to travel, the holding rooms and command posts that were established for security at the Astrodome and the booklet prepared outlining Bush's schedule.

The story of the opening throw gained extra meaning years later when a minor character at the time, Bush's eldest son George W., himself became president. The younger Bush — "Junior" — was then around 40 and had never held elective office. His most important contribution to the day's events was throwing a fit over the tickets he had received to the Astrodome, far from where his mother, Barbara Bush, and the vice president were sitting.

"They were screwing around with the wrong guy," Cramer wrote of the future president. "Junior was the Roman candle of the family, bright, hot, a sparkler — and likeliest to burn his fingers. He had all the old man's high spirits, but none of his taste for accommodation."

Cramer was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated from Columbia University's prestigious journalism school. Before joining the Inquirer, he worked three years at the Baltimore Sun, and he also wrote for Esquire and Rolling Stone. He began work on "What It Takes" in 1986, writing in the book's introduction that he wanted to learn what inspired presidential contenders to "bend their lives and the lives of those dear to them in one hugely public roll of the dice in which all but one would fail."

Cramer did not hesitate to take on public figures, whether politicians or athletes. Cramer's 2000 biography of DiMaggio, "Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life" made best-seller lists and offered a complex, multi-faceted portrayal of his life and career, revealing a sour and often unlikeable man behind the facade of grace and elegance. In recent years, he had been working on a biography of another New York Yankees star, Alex Rodriguez. But the project was abandoned last year and the publisher, the Hachette Book Group, sued to recoup Cramer's $550,000 advance.

"We had been trying to contact Mr. Cramer for well over a year, to no avail, and were not aware that he was ill," Hachette spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell said in a statement. "We were surprised and saddened to hear of his passing."