A Gentle Giant

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Jack McCallum is a terrific reporter and writer. He was with SI for many years and still does the occasional piece for them. He is also an author and runs a blog. The blog has lots of fun posts. This one, a tribute to the late Robert Creamer, is tender:

Robert Creamer was one of those gentle giants in the world of journalism, not because of his size (though he was tall) but because he made a difference without ever calling attention to himself. Without Bob, chances are I would’ve remained toiling in obscurity, never getting the chance to work at one of the great magazines of the world. I’m not suggesting that would’ve been a loss for journalism, but it sure as hell would’ve been a loss for me.

Back in the 1970s Bob was the “outside text editor” for Sports Illustrated. That meant he handled copy from freelance schlubs like myself. SI was a different publication back then, thick, huge, diverse, as likely to do a long story on, say, Bengal tigers as the Cincinnati Bengals. The editors looked for long stories and treasured the idea that they could find a nobody and get him read by a few million people. And trust me—as a guy covering high school football, soccer and wrestling at the Bethlehem (Pa.) Globe-Times—I was a nobody.

After I submitted a few freelance ideas, having been encouraged by another giant, the late Jerry Tax (I did make it to Jerry’s memorial), thus did I come under the care and attention of Creamer.

“Bob Creamer?” I said to Tax. “I’m supposed to write to Bob Creamer?” Had I been on more familiar terms with Jerry, I would’ve said, Bob Fuckin Creamer? Bob was an SI legend, having been there since the inception of the magazine in 1954. He was also the author ofBabe, one of those books that every sports writer who cared about being literate had to read. Today, 40 years after he wrote it, in graceful and eminently readable prose, Babe still appears on best-sports-book-lists.

Here is an excerpt from Creamer's most famous book, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life:

Wherever he happened to be, he was the focus of attention. During the 1918 season he drew louder and more sustained applause than anyone else. The other players, teammates and opponents both, liked him, or at least enjoyed being around him. He was such an outspoken, engaging extrovert they could not help being amused and entertained by him. And they were in genuine awe of the way he could hit, the way he could play baseball. Nonetheless, they rode him constantly, his teammates relatively gently but his opponents often viciously. They mocked him, jeered him, made pointed insults about his round, flat-nosed, heavily tanned face. They called him monkey, baboon, ape, gorilla. The terms were not used with rough affection; they were insults, harsh comments on his homeliness, his ignorance, his crudity. When he was still relatively new to the major leagues someone noticed in the clubhouse that he had the distressing habit after taking a shower of putting back on the same sweaty underwear he had taken off after the game, and of wearing the same underwear day after day. Baseball wit is seldom subtle, and Ruth, who only a few years before had come out of St. Mary's home for boys, took a cruel barrage of heavy-handed comment for this singular lack of personal fastidiousness. He reacted by abandoning underwear completely and for years thereafter wore nothing at all beneath his expensive suits and silk shirts.

[Photo Credit: John Iacono]