“It was often said Ted would rather play ball in a lab, where fans couldn’t see," Cramer wrote. “But he never blamed fans for watching him. His hate was for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t feel with him, his effort, hiis exultation, pride, rage, or sorrow." But Cramer will be most remembered for “What it Takes," a 1,000-page, vigorously researched tome that delved into the passions, idiosyncrasies and flaws of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Joe Biden and other candidates as they fought for the presidency in 1988.
As he reported for the book, he spent time with the candidates’ family members, college roommates and sometimes even their elementary schoolteachers.
He became close with the candidates themselves and in some cases forged friendships that endured after the election. Biden later gave him tips on fixing up an old farmhouse that he purchased in Maryland, he said in a 2010 interview with Politico.
“He made no bones about the fact that he became friendly with the people he reported on," said his longtime friend Stuart Seidel, an editor at National Public Radio. “He liked Joe Biden and Bob Dole and both Bushes. He did not feel compromised by allowing himself to get close to them. He did not see himself in a confrontational reportorial role — he was telling a story."
The book begins with the elder Bush, then the vice president, throwing out the first pitch at a Houston Astros game in 1986.
“He’ll be cheered by 44,131 fans — and it’s not even a risky crowd, the kind that might get testy because oil isn’t worth a damn, Houston’s economy is down the crapper, and no one’s buying aluminum siding," he wrote. “This is a playoff crowd, a corporate-perks crowd, the kind of fellows who were transferred in a few years ago from Stamford, Conn. You know, for that new marketing thing (and were, frankly, delighted by the price of housing), a solid GOP crowd, tax-conscious, white and polite."
The book is in many ways the product of a bygone era, before quote approval and a micromanaged press corps, and when minute-by- minute coverage of a presidential campaign or anything else was a technological impossibility.
In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, Cramer described political journalists in his day as wielding real power — a contrast with now, when campaigns can seem to hold reporters at their mercy.
“Even if you had the wherewithal to embarrass a reporter, there was no mechanism to do it," Cramer. “And in most cases, you might as well save your breath because the reporter had no shame anyway."
The book received poor reviews, and sales were initially poor. Fellow journalists were also slow to see its value. Disappointed, Cramer never again wrote as prodigiously about politics. Rather, he turned his attention to other interests. He wrote a biography about Joe DiMaggio and returned to the Middle East for a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Cramer lived in Chestertown, Md., with his wife, Joan Cramer, who survives him. He was previously married to Carolyn White, with whom he had a daughter, Ruby Cramer, who also survives him.