Bob Creamer

RCreamer Bob CreamerBob Creamer is a sportswriter and editor who has spent the majority of his career writing for Sports Illustrated. Creamer was one of the first members of the Sports Illustrated staff when he was hired in 1954. He worked as a Senior Editor for the publication, starting with its commencement until 1984. He was also the writer for the weekly Scorecard section of the magazine. Creamer is also noted for writing the most definitive biography of Babe Ruth, titled “Babe”, which was published in 1974. Creamer is now retired; however, he occasionally writes retrospective articles for Sports Illustrated. Mr. Creamer opted for a written exchange for his interview with BRC. We present the questions and answers below.

 

 

BRC Q1: “What is your main attraction to the game of Baseball?”

BC A1: “It would take a lot of space to answer this fully. To be brief, I like it because of the great variety of skills it demands and because of the almost incredible peaks of excitement and accomplishment it can attain. Examples: Bobby Thomson’s home run in 1951 and the Red Sox victory over the Yankees in the 2004 American League championship series. But any game can contain great moments of accomplishment or excitement.”

BRC Q2: “When did you discover your passion for sports reporting?”

BC A2: “I don’t know that I’d call it a passion. I’ve always liked sports and I discovered early in my life that I had an ability to write. I was lucky to land my job with Sports Illustrated when I was into my 30s, and I was happy to find that I could make a good living writing about a subject that I was comfortable with. ”

BRC Q3: “Given your long career with Sports Illustrated, who are your favorite athletes of all time?”

BC A3: “Well, my interest in fine athletes goes back a long way before I joined Sports Illustrated. I instantly think of John Woodruff, an absolutely great half-miler, who won the Olympic 800-meter run in 1936. probably would have won it again in 1940 and 1944, except that there were no Olympic Games in those years because of World War II.
I loved Babe Ruth from the moment I saw him hit a homer in Yankee Stadium in 1932, when I was 10. Willie Mays, who came to the New York Giants in 1951, three years before I joined Sports Illustrated, was even more satisfying for me to watch than Babe, because the Babe was very old as a player when I saw him and Willie was in his burgeoning prime. I also very much admired Joe Louis and Ray Robinson as boxers; Doug Flutie as a quarterback; Yogi Berra as a ballplayer; Tiger Woods as a golfer; Greg Maddux as a pitcher; and, Nicole Blood as a runner. If I keep listing athletes I’ve admired, this list will get very long indeed.”

BRC Q4: “Specifically thinking about baseball, who are your favorite baseball players of all time?”

BC A4: “Limiting it to players I’ve seen in action, either in the ballpark or on TV, I’d say my favorites – the ones I’ve enjoyed watching the most, not necessarily the best — include Ruth, Mays, Berra, Maddux, Jackie Robinson, Lefty Grove, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Andruw Jones, Sal Maglie, Bob Gibson, Terry Pendleton, Derek Jeter…. I’d better stop. There are a lot more I’m thinking of, but, I know I’ll leave a favorite out, and that will make me feel bad.”

BRC Q5: “What are your thoughts on the Babe (as a player and as a person)?”

BC A5: “Gee, I wrote a long book that should answer that. Briefly, he was a magnificent player, surely the best who ever played the game. Personally, I gather that, for all his misbehavior, he had qualities that gave pleasure and joy to those who knew him well.”

BRC Q6: “Your book had a fairly balanced view of the Babe, acknowledging his appetites for woman and partying, but also that he was very kind to the fans, loved kids and had a joy for life. A lot of portrayals today, however, seem to focus more on the negative aspects (food, alcohol, women, etc.). Do you have any thoughts about that and why some of the media tends to focus on the negatives?”

BC A6: “Again, I touched on this in my book on Ruth. People love gossip — negative information about anybody. Seefeatured stories in any tabloid for verification. I’m not a Barry Bonds fan, but he’s taking a terrible beating in the media. All we seem to want to know about Bonds are the bad things. Mark Spitz, the great Olympic swimmer, said the American public likes to build up a hero and then knock him down. The exact quote is somewhere in ‘Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.'”

BRC Q7: “How important do you think Babe Ruth is to baseball today? What was his ultimate impact on the game?”

BC A7: “Ruth is of extreme importance. He’s become something of a saint, a boy with some naughty habits perhaps, but a genuine hero of the past, something to look up to and admire. His ‘ultimate impact’ on the game remains the home run, which was of secondary importance before he came along, but has been the single most admired aspect ever since.”

BRC Q8: “As you probably know, Babe Ruth was an amazingly balanced player, excelling in batting and pitching. In today’s world, who do you think is comparable to Babe?”

BC A8: “I thought at first you met balanced between skills like hitting and fielding, base-running, arm and so on. I thought of beautiful all-around players like DiMaggio, Musial, Mays, Aaron, Mantle and who might be like them today. But if you mean who compares to him as a batter/pitcher, there isn’t anyone. And, I can’t think of other sports with the divergent skills that baseball has. Maybe cricket, but I don’t know much about cricket.”

BRC Q9: “As a sports author, what is your opinion of the ‘Curse of the Bambino’? Do you think the Curse was good for baseball?”

BC A9: Sure it was. It was fun. Dan Shaughnessy’s book “The Curse of the Bambino”, which really hyped the idea, was a delight to read. And it certainly promoted interest in baseball in Boston.the talk about the Curse was the seed that led to the two wonderful documentary films about the Curse and the lifting of the Curse.”

BRC Q10: “Your book on the Babe is generally considered the most definitive biography published to date. Why do you think that is? Do you have any interesting stories from when you were researching the book? Do you have any interesting stories on reaction/feedback about your book after it was published through today?”

BC A10: “Whoa… too many questions asking too much for me to answer briefly. I’ll say only that my book is one of many good sports biographies. The fact that it’s about Ruth, a fascinating human being, adds to its luster. If you want to read an excellent biography of a sports figure, read David Maraniss’s book on Vince Lombardi.”

BRC Q11: “There has been mention that you were a bit rushed in finishing up your book due to another Babe Ruth biography being released about the same time. Is this true? If this is true, were there any stories or aspects of the Babe that you would have liked to incorporate, but that you didn’t have the opportunity to include in your book on the Babe?”

BC A11: “Leigh Montville in his new biography of Ruth, “The Big Bam,” is generous in thanking me for the little bit of help I gave him, but in his acknowledgments he got the story I told him about the pressure of finishing the book a little wrong (probably because of the way I told it to him). I’d been working on the book for four years when, for reasons having to do with my job at Sports Illustrated and Henry Aaron’s pursuit of Babe’s record of 714 homers, I absolutely had to have the manuscript finished by the end of the summer of 1973. I was at most only vaguely aware of other biographies of Ruth being prepared at the same time and really wasn’t concerned about them. I put everything in the book that I wanted to put in at that time.”

BRC Q12: “As I also understand it, Leigh Montville has written another very complete look at the Babe. Some of his book is apparently based on additional material that you had gathered. How do you think his book will differ from yours?”

BC A12: “I’ve read Leigh’s book. He’s an excellent writer and he’s done a fine job. He may have found some stuff in my research that helped him, but I think he found a lot more in stuff he uncovered through his own extensive research — notably extra material Jerome Holtzman had amassed in writing his “No Cheering in the Press Box” and Lawrence Ritter in writing his “The Glory of Their Times”. How his book and mine differ, I leave up to readers. No two biographies are exactly alike.”

BRC Q13: “You mention that you saw Babe hit a homerun in 1932. It must have been quite a thrill for a 10-yr old boy. Could you elaborate on that experience?”

BC A13: “I can’t be specific. I know that I went to ball games in Yankee Stadium once or twice a year in 1932, 1933 and 1934, usually double-headers. I know that each of the four or five times I was there, the Babe hit a home run… not in every game. He’d hit one in the first game of a doubleheader, but not in the second game; or, he might sit out one of the games in a doubleheader. But I do know that I was never disappointed, because he always came through with a homer when I was there. However, I cannot remember the first home run (I saw), as such.

I do remember that, each of the homers I saw him hit, was pulled into the right-field seats and that each seemed hit very high, so that each seemed to float into the seats. One homer that I do specifically remember came in an odd game that the Yankees won over the Philadelphia Athletics 17-11, probably in 1933. As I recall, the A’s scored 11 times in, I think, the second inning and led 11-4 going into the bottom of the fourth, when the Yankees scored ten times to take a 14-11 lead. Then in the seventh or eighth, the Babe hit a three-run homer to put the icing on the cake. I also remember (I think correctly) that a young pitcher named Don Brennan came in for the Yankees after the A’s took that big lead and pitched beautifully the rest of the way.”

BRC Q14: “A number of people I have talked with have said that Babe was really just a “big kid.” What do you think about that?”

BC A14: “I agree, except that it’s too much of a simplification. As Waite Hoyt said (see page 18 of my book), he was much more complex than that. Yet, it’s true (see the last three paragraphs of Chapter 28 of my book, pages 333-334) that he often behaved like a big overgrown child.”

BRC Q15: “Babe obviously had a unique background and childhood, given that he grew up in an orphanage. In your opinion, how much do you think that impacted the Babe and do you think that his vices are at all attributed to that?”

BC A15: “It wasn’t unique. Lots of children in that era ended up in orphanages for shorter or longer periods of time. My wife’s mother, who was born about the same time Babe was, was put in an orphanage at the age of seven or eight after her mother died. There were other children and her father was incapable of handling the family. Later, an older cousin took her in and raised her as her own daughter. I have to point out that my mother-in-law was wonderful — a sweet, considerate woman, who had to fend with lots of difficulties in her life, yet never lost her kind, gentle manner. I mention this only to reaffirm the old adage — different strokes for different folks.

But there is no question that the reform-school atmosphere of St. Mary’s affected Babe, particularly the discipline, which had to be a constant frustration for such a lively soul. When he got out of St. Mary’s and was free at last, he wanted to stay free. Again, see my book, page 330, where his old teammate Ernie Shore says, ‘You have to remember, he had grown up in that Catholic reformatory. When they let him out it was like turning a wild animal out of a cage. He wanted to GO every place, and SEE everything and DO everything.’ And he didn’t want to be told not to.”

BRC Q16: “I know you touch on this topic somewhere in your book, but if you could go into a bit more detail: Why did you decided to write a book about the Babe, as opposed to another sports figure?”

BC A16: “My first three books were all “told-to” books and I wanted to do something on my own. I suggested several topics to Peter Schwed, the editor I knew at Simon & Schuster, and he thought the Babe was the best idea. It was as simple as that. Later he suggested Casey Stengel, a subject I also loved writing about. But, after doing “Stengel”, I never was able to come up with a single figure that combined dramatic ups and downs in life with fun, rich anecdotes and lively personalities, such as I found in Babe and Casey. I’m sure there are one or two out there, but none that got to me the way Babe and Casey did.”

 

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