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"It's the greatest spectator sport in the country," says Gov. Frank Skeffington in Edwin O'Connor's rich novel of Americana, The Last Hurrah. "People begin as strangers and in a little while they know the names and numbers of all the players; a little while more, and they're telling the coaches how to run things. They wouldn't play the game for ten thousand dollars, but it's great fun to sit in the stands and look on. I must say I can understand how they feel; it is exciting to watch."
The esteemed governor knew how to wield a metaphor--he wasn't talking about baseball, football or basketball, but about that other great American sport, politics. It's now October 2000, in the homestretch of a presidential campaign that will be put on semihold as the World Series occupies the nation's attention for the remainder of the month. Publishing's own "Mr. October," Richard Ben Cramer, a man equally at home on the baseball diamond or in a smoke-filled room, is, in fact, in search of just that--a smoke-filled room--as he meets PW at the midtown offices of his publisher, Simon & Schuster. The smoke-free corporate environment is not for the cigarchomping Cramer, and the search begins for a spare office on another floor. Cramer becomes a blur, all shirt and suspenders, until an office is found, a window is opened, a match is struck and the talk quickly turns to two things that Cramer knows best--politics and baseball. Both are played with a hardball, but what makes them so captivating to Cramer? "Both ha ve another connection," he says, "which is this: they're subjects much written about, that garner a lot of interest and a lot of ink, but in both cases I thought that there was a real space for someone to come in and do the hard work that never gets done."
In 1992, Cramer's hard work resulted in What It Takes, a 1,047-page history of the 1988 race for the …