Thursday, January 17, 2013

Richard Ben Cramer Appreciations - by Alex Belth, Ryan McGee, Joe Posnanski & Tom Junod

Last week Nonfiction writer Richard Ben Cramer passed away and there was some really remarkable writing done by people appreciating his work. Cramer's most well known books were What it Takes: The Way to the White House and Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life and he was also a longtime newspaper and magazine writer.

The appreciation pieces done last week most frequently referenced two Cramer works, What it Takes and "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" from Esquire and included in the magazine's list of seven greatest stories published. While The Williams piece is certainly a remarkable one, I was struck even more by what I believe was the first story of his I saw, "The Ballad of Johnny France" for Esquire and which I posted on back in Jan 2012.

In terms of the appreciation pieces, there was varying levels of personal connection to Cramer, but each writer was very much impacted by his work and that definitely comes across in the pieces written.

For Esquire, Tom Junod wrote "What Do You Think of Richard Ben Cramer Now?" and most striking for me were sentences Junod quoted from the Ted Williams piece including the opening "Few men try for best ever, and Ted Williams is one of those." The second quote (which Junod noted as being on "Williams's simultaneous need for fame and distaste of celebrity") was Cramer's observation "this is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust."

The second appreciation piece to mention here was by Joe Posnanski on his personal blog with the simply titled "Richard Ben Cramer." What I particularly liked about this piece was the quoting of passages from Cramer and Posnanski's commentary on how he felt about the writing.

Another noteworthy piece of writing on Cramer was done by Ryan McGee for ESPN. "Richard Ben Cramer: A Hero Missed" was about McGee's experience working with and becoming friends with Cramer. Just some really cool stuff contained within about the writing process and thoughts on it that Cramer passed along to McGee.

The last piece to note here was not so much an appreciation piece, but rather a great story about Cramer told by his Esquire editor, David Hirshey. "What it Takes" was reprinted on the site Alex Belth's Bronx Banter (which is the same place I found "The Ballad of Johnny France") and it's on Cramer's subterfuge employed to get the 1986 Ted Williams profile published at his 15,000 words written rather than the 13,500 allotted to it by Esquire. Perhaps it's not a story that would happen today, but it's entertaining and enlightening about Cramer and how he felt about his work.