For years, one of the great delights of working at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has been the pleasure of listening to special contributor Bob Creamer expound on his broad range of interests. In an age of easy cynicism, Creamer, 73, remains an unabashed enthusiast, holding forth on an astonishing variety of passions—from the music of Count Basie to Revolutionary War history to the fiction of his favorite writer, James Joyce. But baseball stories tumble most easily from Creamer's lips. And no wonder: Since coming to SI in March 1954, five months before our first issue, Creamer has spent most of his working life writing with exceptional grace and wit about baseball. His first bylined story for SI, The Yankees Are Still the Team to Beat, appeared in our second issue and would prove portentous, for the New York Yankees would become Creamer's de facto specialty. Among the eight books he has published are biographies of Yankee managers Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk. And Creamer's Babe: The Legend Comes to Life remains, 21 years after publication, the work with which all subsequent biographers of Babe Ruth have to contend.
When another Yankee great, Mickey Mantle, died on Aug. 13, Rick Wolff, a senior editor at Warner Books, was struck by the depth of feeling Mantle's death inspired throughout the nation. "Among my friends and colleagues," says Wolff, "there was a feeling of personal loss that I hadn't seen expressed for anyone except heads of state, like JFK." Wolff met with David Bauer, the editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED PRESENTS, and Stanley Weil, SI's manager of Printed Products, and they hit on the idea of tracing the arc of Mantle's career through SI's coverage of him. The result is Mantle Remembered ( Warner Books, $14.95), which not only includes lengthy excerpts from 17 SI stories on Mantle but also stunning black-and-white photos taken by the leading photographers of Mantle's era, such as Ozzie Sweet and Hy Peskin.
Who better to write the introductions to the various sections of Mantle Remembered than Creamer, a man who had more than a glimpse of the legend? When Mantle made the first of his 12 SI cover appearances—on June 18, 1956, in the midst of his Triple Crown season—it was Creamer who wrote the accompanying story, The Mantle of the Babe. Their relationship continued until Mantle's death. "He could be a tough guy to talk to," Creamer recalls. "My opinion was that he was shy. And he was burned too many times. He'd use a country phrase, and a writer would mock him for it. But as he matured, he grew more comfortable with himself, and then you began to see his natural sense of humor come through."
Though he has no baseball projects under way at this time, Creamer remains a busy man. Besides spending time with his four granddaughters, ages seven to 27, he continues to plug away at a historical novel, The Death of Nathan Hale, which he began several years ago, and also plays golf near his lifelong home of Tuckahoe, N.Y.
We were fortunate that Creamer accepted one more Yankee-related assignment. "Margaret, my wife [of 48 years], told me that if I ever agreed to write another book on deadline, she'd leave me," says Creamer with a chuckle.