This fascinating Sports Illustrated piece by S.L. Price is mostly about the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer -- who wrote a definitive book about Joe DiMaggio, and an outstanding article about Ted Williams -- but the touchstone is a book about Alex Rodriguez that Cramer tried like hell to write but couldn't ...
Because once upon a time -- 2006, to be precise -- Cramer, the towering reporting talent of his generation, embarked on a book project about A-Rod titled "The Importance of Being Alex: A Life with the Yankees." How could it miss? No great player, ever, has maintained as strange a relationship with baseball, post-modern fame and his own prodigious talent as the painfully self-conscious Rodriguez. And no intellect seemed better equipped to plumb the ego that had blunted so many journalistic lances. If anything, to judge by Cramer's opening words on the man, it figured to be too easy.
Instead, like Rodriguez's teammates, the Yankees' franchise, commissioner Bud Selig and the sport itself, Cramer found himself drawn into the A-Rod briar patch. After five years, reams of notes, countless interviews with Rodriguez and his family and friends and teammates and coaches, two busted deadlines and the ransacked whole of a $550,000 advance, Cramer produced almost nothing.
All that survives is a 2,283-word prologue, a nasty bit of litigation by Hachette Book Group to recover its money, and a mystified regret over the masterpiece that might have been. On a list of a young century's stunning upsets, this wouldn't be a bad place to start.
"In a way," says HarperCollins editor David Hirshey, Cramer's longtime editor at Esquire, "A-Rod defeated him."
If you'd like to read about Alex Rodriguez, Price's piece does include a few passages from Cramer's prologue. But the problem was that Cramer chose as his subject -- because he did love baseball, and maybe also because it seemed like relatively easy money -- someone who just wasn't worth the 500 pages that Cramer was used to writing.
Granted, there were other issues. Cramer lost his best editor (his wife, when they split) and also some of his energy, after surgery to remove a brain tumor. But it just doesn't seem that Alex Rodriguez could measure up to Cramer's other subjects. There wasn't enough there there.
No doubt, someday a talented writer will pen a comprehensive biography of Rodriguez. But will you want to read it?