Edmund Morris and Richard Ben Cramer and unworthy subjects, a police procedural podcast, and reactions to the World Series: newsletter, Nov. 8, 2019

November 11, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, books, journalism, newsletter, podcasting, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,666) on Friday, November 8, 2019.


Baseball is a game you can share with others.

That was the message I got from a large number of emails sent after the special report on my trip to the World Series in the last newsletter. Those emails were delightful and heart-warming, and I appreciate them all. I have included some in this newsletter and will have more next week.

I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to a pleasant, fall weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,666 subscribers and had a 28.0 percent open rate; 2 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Edmund Morris and Richard Ben Cramer: two writers with unworthy subjects

A journalist or historian needs something to write about — a subject worthy of the time and effort it takes to gather the information and put it into a suitable form.

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, of course, stories just don’t pan out. If you’re working in daily journalism, a story like that is no big deal. It might mean a few hours lost and a few phone calls that go nowhere.

But, what if you’ve committed several months or more of your life and your big-time book publisher has advanced major bucks for your manuscript?

Historian Edmund Morris encountered that problem when he signed on to write the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan in 1985. At that time Morris had gained a good reputation as a biographer with his work on Theodore Roosevelt, and he had been courted by the Reaganites for some time. He was given special access to the White House and Reagan and his family. All were fully cooperative.

Reagan left office in 1989 and went into retirement. Morris continued to work with almost unlimited access to files in the Reagan Library.

The result of his efforts, after more than a decade of work, was Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 2.49.45 PM

Morris included all the standard biographical material, but he also created a fictional version of himself and placed it in the book. He resorted to this “literary device” because no one, including Reagan himself, understood the man. Reagan had no close friends. He was not in the least curious about himself. And no one that he talked to “could ever figure him out.” That included Morris.

In reviewing the book, the New York Times referred to Reagan as “the hollow man.”

Morris resorted to fiction to try to explain a subject he couldn’t locate. Here’s what the Times review said:

Most journalists, historians and nonfiction writers will find this unacceptable. The fictional characters are not clearly identified as such; often they are unnecessary and distracting, particularly an obnoxious made-up son of the author who becomes a radical in the 1960’s. Yet a reader who surrenders to Morris’s self-indulgent blend of scholarship and imagination will be led through a riveting story to a transcendent conclusion with a surprise twist. If there is a ”higher truth” justifying the book’s technique, it is that Ronald Reagan lived in a world of his own fictions, far more extensive than the fictions of Edmund Morris. Who better suited to plumb a phantom subject than a phantom narrator? (quoted material from the New York Times review)

Morris died in May 2019. (This is his New York Times obituary.) He had completed a biography of Thomas Edison that has recently been published and has received good reviews, just as this one from the New York Times.

Morris’s story is not unique.

Author Richard Ben Cramer encountered the same problem. His story is told in an excellent 2014 Sports Illustrated article, The Puzzle That Couldn’t Be Solved by S.L. Price. Cramer was a journalist of distinctive style and stunning success (What It Takes: The Way to the White HouseJoe DiMaggio: The Hero’s LifeWhat Do You Think of Ted Williams Now: A RemembranceBeing Poppy: A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush, among others).

Cramer died in 2013 of complications from lung cancer. He was 62 years old.

In 2006 Cramer sold both his publisher and his subject on a book about Alex Rodriguez, the star of the New York Yankees who was ultimately barred for a year by Major League Baseball for taking banned substances. The book had the title, The Importance of Being Alex: A Life with the Yankees. Cramer had a $550,000 advance from the Hachette Book Group. Rodriguez had agreed to cooperate fully. In fact, he welcomed Cramer into his entourage.

During the next year and a half, Cramer was all in with A-Rod and his crowd, spending hours and days traveling with him, talking with him, figuring out the relationships he had. It was a time when A-Rod was fulfilling most of the expectations that baseball fans had for him — the expectation, in particular, of being one of the greatest baseball players ever.

But at some point, in Cramer’s head, A-Rod began to evaporate.

He had hoped to give A-Rod “his size” as the apotheosis of postmodern stardom, but the deeper he dug the more he found, says one close friend, “nothing there. A completely vacuous person and a completely vacuous life.” (quoted material from the Sports Illustrated article)

By 2010, after A-Rod admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, not only was Cramer unable to find his larger-than-life story, but his subject had become loathsome.

It’s a sad tale for all concerned. (This summary doesn’t do the article justice; you should find it and read it.)

So, the lesson for journalists here is a cautionary one. Despite receiving the accolades of the world (in these instances baseball and politics), a subject may not be worth your time and talent.

Podcast: From the NYPD: Break in the Case

If you are a fan of true-crime police procedurals and looking for a good podcast along those lines, there probably isn’t a better source than the New York Police Department.

The NYPD has just begun a new podcast called Break in the Case that will follow some complex cases through multiple episodes to their conclusion.

Break in the Case is a true crime podcast written and produced by the New York City Police Department. Listen as we follow “the world’s greatest detectives” to three crime scenes—some you may know, some you don’t. Source: Break in the Case – Podcast – NYPD

The first case in this series begins with the 1991 discovery of a small girl found inside a cooler discard along a busy highway. The police nickname her Baby Hope because there is no indication of her identity.

The podcast — I have listened to the first two episodes — is slickly produced with great narration and clear, concise interviews from multiple sources. I am looking forward to additional episodes. The new ones are posted each Tuesday.

The good thing about this series coming from NYPD is that there is lots of inside information from inside sources. What we are unlikely to hear, I imagine, is a lot of criticism of the NYPD — although I may be proven wrong in that assumption.

Meanwhile, however, if this is the kind of podcast that you have been waiting for, listen and enjoy.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

Vietnam Voices now available on Amazon

Vietnam Voices: Stories of East Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 1), the latest in our publications program for the Blount County Public Library is now available on Amazon in print, ebook, and large print editions.

We are having an official launch, combined with a Veterans Day event, on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. at the library in Maryville. We are also launching Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will McTeer. If you are in the area, please join us. The public is invited.

Here’s the Amazon description of Vietnam Voices:

  • A young infantryman, a “grunt,” spends weeks on patrol among the rice paddies of Vietnam and comes to regard it as “normal.”
  • An artillery lieutenant leads a patrol into the jungle so that he can call in artillery strikes to protect his unit.
  • An airman, on the day he returns from Vietnam, is accosted in a commercial airport by a civilian who calls him a “baby killer” and spits on him.
  • A Marine, 18 years old, quotes the 23rd Psalm as he walks through the jungle with this company at night.

These are just a few of the many stories told by East Tennesseans who served during the 10-year conflict that we now call simply “Vietnam.” The word resounds with memories for every American who was alive and aware during that time.

The memories of those who served there as members of the United States armed forces are especially important for us today because we must not forget their efforts and their sacrifice.

That is why the Blount County Public Library and the Friends of the Blount County Public Library have undertaken this Vietnam Voices project. Our goal has been to interview and record the stories of as many Vietnam veterans as possible. The audio interviews on which the chapters in this book are based are available at the library.


Elizabeth F.: Thanks! Enjoyed it all from Edith to baseball..and the little bit more of Nancy Drew…

Pat C.: I love baseball. I was introduced to it as a young child listening to Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reece on the radio in my Dad’s workroom. Have watched baseball with Dad as much as possible until I graduated HS and married. He loved it until the day he passed away. We had a farm team in Greensboro which used to be the Yankees and saw a lot of the players pass through here on to NY. And am still watching the games every year.

David L.: Hail to the . . . Nationals! And congratulations to you and Jeff on taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a live and in person look at the World Series. I’ve been rooting for the Nationals also and was happy to see their “come from behind” victories. As you can recall from the 1970s glory days of the Washington NFL franchise, it’s wonderful to see how sports can transcend political differences in a city that needs to find some common ground. . . and this time it lasted nearly 24 hours. I really enjoyed those wonderful sketches and the story behind them.

Robin K.: I grew up in a D.C. suburb, and my dad used to take me and my brother to Washington Senators games. We were devastated when the team left Washington. I haven’t lived in the area for over 40 years now, but each and every sports team there is my “home” team. I was thrilled when I heard the Nats were going in to be in the World Series. I was only able to watch game 6, and what a game it was! The Senators were never a great team in my lifetime, but they weren’t bad, either. I am so THRILLED that the Nats pulled out that World Series Championship – as are my numerous high school buddies with ties to the area. No matter where we live, Washington teams are the “home team!” Thanks for your accounts of the events – I skipped everything in between and read the World Series parts first! 🙂

Eric S.: Your basket of apples (last week’s watercolor) looks delicious.

Curtis D.: Being from Mississippi I took that as a small dig. Also, as a former HIS Band Director, tell Eric that we always need tuba players.

Vicki G.: Love the followup articles on Nancy Drew. Thanks for interesting newsletters.

Finally . . .

This week’s pen and wash: Left-handed

As you might understand, I have been drawing a lot of baseball scenes lately. Mostly, they have been pen-and-ink. But I have been getting a little weary of that, so I decided to splash some watercolor on this one and a couple of others. I’m not sure how I feel about it now. Technically, it’s a pen and wash. Any comments would be appreciated.

Best quote of the week:

A king can stand people’s fighting, but he can’t last long if people start thinking. Will Rogers, humorist (1879-1935)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Special report: World Series 2019; new information on Edith Cavell: newsletter, Nov. 1, 2019





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