This article was written by Daniel R. Levitt
This article was published in Fall 2012 Baseball Research Journal
ROBERT CREAMER (1922–2012) wrote the first truly modern biography of an American sports personality. Roger Angell called Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, “perhaps the best portrait yet struck of an American sports hero.” In his meticulous research, Creamer uncovered and fleshed out many of the Babe’s more unsavory moments, and he did not shy away from including them in all their sordid detail. But the book was not an exposé; it was a full characterization of one of America’s best known and most beloved heroes, fully capturing Ruth’s humor, generosity, insecurities, and sophisticated sense of his own place in America.
Born in Bronxville, New York, Creamer grew up in nearby Tuckahoe and realized at a young age that he loved writing. “I found out when I was quite young that writing was something I could do,” Creamer told interviewer Graham Womack just months before his death. “Other kids could do things well that I couldn’t do well, like whistling through your teeth or shooting marbles or drawing pictures or singing in harmony or doing push-ups…But I could write.”
After leaving the service after World War II, Creamer spent several years as an advertising copywriter and encyclopedia editor. When Sports Illustrated announced it was coming on the scene in 1954, Creamer, a big sports fan, jumped at the chance to sign on as a sportswriter, joining the magazine’s staff several months prior to the first issue in August. Creamer spent over 30 years at Sports Illustrated and was a senior editor when he retired in 1985, although he remained active in his sports writing for the magazine and elsewhere.
A decade after the release of his Ruth biography, in 1984 Creamer came out with a second highly acclaimed biography. In Stengel: His Life and Times Creamer captured another American sports icon who, as Jonathan Yardley remarked in his review, “was an enormously funny man, but he was also a shrewd student of baseball and human nature…It’s a life precisely suited to the talents of Robert Creamer.” Yardley concluded that Creamer’s “biography of Babe Ruth is the best ever written about an American sports figure. Now it can be said that Creamer has written the two best American sports biographies.”
Creamer also wrote a couple of other well-received books: Baseball in ’41 and Season of Glory: The Amazing Saga of the 1961 New York Yankees, written with manager Ralph Houk. He further collaborated with several baseball personalities on autobiographies and memoirs, notably Jocko Conlon, Red Barber, and Mickey Mantle.
Creamer was known for his generosity and support of other authors and writers. Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum recently recalled Creamer’s assistance and encouragement in his pursuit of a job at the magazine. In my own correspondence with Creamer relating to my biography of Ed Barrow, he was always enthusiastic and supportive in his responses. Despite the fact that it had been a long time since he had researched Ruth’s life, Creamer took the time to respond and point me in a couple of potentially helpful directions, and regretted he couldn’t do more: “I wish it were 35 years ago; I could have helped then. Time, you thief…”
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