"I had a slot for a transportation writer and I hired him. Not exactly typecasting, but I got him on board," said Mr. Carroll, who later became The Sun's editor. "It wasn't long before I realized he was truly an original and had a certain brilliance. Also, we had never had anyone like that before."
"He was one of the most gifted storytellers and writers who ever worked a typewriter," said William K. Marimow, who had been an Inquirer colleague and later managing editor of The Sun.
He recalled a vignette in Mr. Cramer's Esquire profile, "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" later published as a book, when a young Williams comes home after a road trip and spends hours practicing his swing in front of a mirror.
"That was the symmetry between Williams and Richard, who was always polishing his prose, always looking for new details, and always writing and rewriting," said Mr. Marimow, now The Inquirer's editor.
Mr. Cramer was assigned overseas from 1977 to 1984.
"That's where he got recognized for his work from the Middle East, which was a very different type of writing," said Mr. Carroll. "It was not your standard daily story. I called it immersion journalism because he was making the reader feel what it was like to be there. He was a wonderful storyteller."
Mr. Roberts said he made his mark avoiding the daily news conferences that other reporters covered.
"Richard was out there talking with the people and you could see that peace was going to come and that the Egyptian people were tired of war and they were pressing their leaders for peace," he said.
After leaving The Inquirer, Mr. Cramer wrote for Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Esquire, where his 1984 profile of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer — whom he dubbed "Mayor Annoyed" — brought both Mr. Schaefer and his profiler wide acclaim.
Mr. Cramer later turned to writing biographies. His 1992 book, "What It Takes," profiled George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis and Joseph R. Biden Jr. and their quest for the White House in 1988.
In addition to his biography of Ted Williams, Mr. Cramer wrote "Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life" and "How Israel Lost: The Four Questions."
"Richard sort of took life deliciously. He was a very good writer," said Leo D. Coughlin, former Baltimore Sun foreign editor and columnist. "I found it hard to put his books down. He had the courage to write the way he wanted to, not by someone else's formula."
Largely ignored and panned when it was published in 1992, "What It Takes" has since been recognized as a seminal piece of political reportage.
Two years ago, Jill Abramson, The New York Times' executive editor, wrote that "What It Takes" was "by all odds the last truly great campaign book."
Mr. Cramer had written for PBS' "The American Experience" and "Frontline," working with Thomas Lennon and Mark Zwonitzer, an independent filmmaker, author and researcher.
He also narrated several productions in his distinctive gravelly voice.
"What he wrote and spoke came from a distinctive voice that arose from his gut and came from years of smoking non-filtered cigarettes," said Mr. Zwonitzer. "It was an untrained and unmistakable voice that came from upstate New York and settled in the Middle Atlantic."
He said that whenever Mr. Cramer called, the greeting was always the same: "What's cooking? How's it looking?"
"You always knew it was him. It was something he got from Bob Dole," he said.
"Richard was warm, gregarious, critical and ironic but never, ever mean-spirited," said Michael Pakenham, former Sun book editor and a longtime friend. "He was truly one of the great reporters of our generation and his political reporting is unmatched. He was profoundly probing and deeply literate."
At Mr. Cramer's request, there will be no funeral. Plans for a memorial gathering to be held in the future were incomplete.
Mr. Cramer is survived by his wife, Joan Cramer, whom he married last year; a daughter, Ruby Cramer of Chestertown; and two sisters, Judith Cramer Findelman of Evanston, Ill., and Lynne (Lina) Cramer of New York City. An earlier marriage, to Carolyn White, ended in divorce.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
An earlier version misattributed the source of the quote "What's cooking? How's it looking?" The Sun regrets the error.