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Award-winning journalist, Richard Ben Cramer, dies

Award-winning journalist, Richard Ben Cramer, dies

WASHINGTON (AP) Richard Ben Cramer, a fearless and dedicated author and reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism and wrote the classic presidential campaign book ``What It Takes,'' has died. He was 62.

Cramer died Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from complications of lung cancer, his agent, Philippa Brophy, said. Cramer lived with his wife, Joan, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Cramer won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting from the Middle East while with the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for seven years. He was known for an in-depth reporting style that involved spending significant time with the subjects he profiled and recreating scenes with vivid color and dialogue. His 1986 profile of Ted Williams in Esquire magazine traced the arc of the hitter's career - including his personal relationships and feelings on fame - from early days to post-baseball life in the Florida Keys, where, Cramer wrote, locals might run into him at the tennis club, coffee bar or tackle shop.

``It was forty-five years ago, when achievements with a bat first brought him to the nation's notice, that Ted Williams began work on his defense. He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust,'' Cramer wrote.

Many readers knew him best for 1992's ``What It Takes: The Way To the White House,'' a 1,000-page narrative of the 1988 presidential race that was equally heartfelt and irreverent. It is often ranked with Timothy Crouse's ``The Boys On the Bus'' and Theodore H. White's ``The Making of the President'' as masterpieces of political reporting. Cramer delved into the lives and careers of the candidates, explaining how eventual winner George H.W. Bush had early in his political career resisted the urging by advisers to speak openly about his war record or the death of his young daughter from leukemia - personal topics he later discussed movingly during his presidential campaign.

Vice President Joe Biden ran for the White House in 1988 and Cramer described at length how his campaign was brought down in part by revelations that the then-U.S. senator from Delaware had lifted words from a British party leader for his own speeches. But Biden said on Tuesday that Cramer was an unmatched talent

``It is a powerful thing to read a book someone has written about you, and to find both the observations and criticisms so sharp and insightful that you learn something new and meaningful about yourself,'' Biden said in a statement.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called Cramer the greatest political journalist ever and said ``What It Takes'' captured affectionate portraits of the candidates.

``They are appreciative of each individual, their qualities, and their failings. But everything is done with great affection for the process, and the individuals. It's a joy to read. So, if you haven't already, go get it,'' he said.

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.''

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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

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NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities. Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention.

Think about that. After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world.

That’s wild.

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet.

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. And fans loved him for it. The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.
Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air.

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run in by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in.

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action.

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it.

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same.

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics.

It wasn’t all laughter.

Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast.

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated.

As for crying, Tandler wasn’t much of one. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye.

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend.

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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