Guide to Baseball Fiction: Ring Lardner
Ring Lardner (1885-1933) is the most distinguished writer of baseball fiction from the first half of the 20th century.
All the works listed below are collected in Ring Around the Bases: The Complete Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Scribner's, 1992). This is the definitive edition.
- "Alibi Ike." Saturday Evening Post, 31 July 1915. Repr. in How to Write Short Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1924). Repr. Bowering, Holtzman, Staudohar. A star outfielder makes good in the big leagues, even gets engaged to the manager's sister-in-law, but runs into trouble when he can't stop apologizing for everything he does.
Lardner's observation of this psychological type has relevance far beyond baseball, obviously.
- "Back to Baltimore." The Red Book Magazine, November 1914. Repr. Strecker. A big league manager is driven out of his job by a lady owner and her pet college boy.
- "The Crook." Saturday Evening Post 24 June 1916. Why has a usually unflappable umpire savagely attacked a ballplayer who's called him a crook? There must be a woman involved.
Fairly soft-hearted for Lardner, though there are some good one-liners in the mix.
- "Good for the Soul." Saturday Evening Post 25 March 1916. A ballplayer "confesses" how he spent an entire season on a Federal League roster despite the imminent collapse of his legs, so he could earn enough money to marry.
- "Harmony." McClure's August 1915. Repr. in How to Write Short Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1924). Repr. Staudohar. The scouting of a young prospect, as told from several perspectives: has he been tipped for his hitting, or for his tenor voice?
- "The Hold-Out." Saturday Evening Post 24 March 1917. A manager bluffs both sides as he mediates between a tightfisted owner and a reluctant ballplayer.
Interesting for its representations of salary dynamics of the 1910s--which are much like today's, give or take a factor of two or three thousand.
- "Horseshoes." Saturday Evening Post, 15 August 1914. Repr. in How to Write Short Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1924). One busher finally is vindicated in his lifelong rivalry with another, a rivalry where he's always come in second due to sheer luck.
Several elements of Lardner's baseball stories mesh here: rivalry, luck, the "busher" up in the major leagues, and unreliable narration.
- "Hurry Kane." Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan May 1927. Repr. Round Up (New York: Scribner's, 1929). A big busher from the Southwest survives money trouble and woman trouble to help his club win the World's Series.
Lacks the bite of Lardner's earlier stories or of Lose With a Smile.
- Lose With a Smile. New York: Scribner's, 1933. A rookie breaks in with the Brooklyn Dodgers while writing letters back home to his girl.
Written in a surreal twilight language that would not be out of place in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, this is more than You Know Me Al for the 1930s; it's a confusing, contradictory, energetic, linguistically brilliant novel.
- "My Roomy." Saturday Evening Post, 9 May 1914. Repr. in How to Write Short Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1924). Repr. Silverman. A major leaguer tells the story of his roommate, a (literally) crazy busher.
A slapstick story that turns steadily gruesome; Lardner is at his best here in the exploration of obsessive personality. A salient theme here is the self-destructiveness of athletes who are thrust into fame without the psychological resources to cope with it. The theme shows up again in a story like W.P. Kinsella's "Punchlines."
- "The Poor Simp." Saturday Evening Post, 11 September 1915. Two big-leaguers play tricks on a dumb, fresh busher; in the end, the joke is on them.
An appealingly wry story that turns out to be as much about the empty lives of the wise guys as about the colorful antics of the busher.
- "Sick 'Em." Saturday Evening Post, 25 July 1914. A busher with promise dogs it through half a season till his team learns that the only way to motivate him is to trade for a fellow busher with whom he has a virulent rivalry.
Pleasant one-note story.
- "Take a Walk." The American Magazine October 1933. An umpire mourns the premature retirement of his partner, who has become embroiled in a dispute with a ballplayer over a girl.
Unusual among Lardner's baseball stories for its standard dialect and straightforward narration. Also a sad story, quite a touching lament for someone who suddenly realizes he's no longer young.
- "Where Do You Get That Noise?" Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1915. A big-league club trades for a young prospect, who turns out to be the type who contradicts anything said to him.
Routine Lardner fare, full of obsessions and verbal tics.
- "Women." Liberty 20 June 1925. Repr. The Love Nest and Other Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1925). A benchwarmer on a big-league club complains loudly about women ruining his life, but can't stop his womanizing to save himself.
Dialogue vignette, possibly a prose idea for a vaudeville sketch.
- "The Yellow Kid." Saturday Evening Post 23 June 1917. A young pitching phenom who can't read and is terrified of women is persecuted by his teammates, but gets the last laugh on them.
- You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters. New York: Scribner's, 1916. A pugnacious, uncontrolled young pitcher writes to a friend back home about his misadventures as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
A humor serial that turned into a substantial novel, moving from grotesquerie and stereotype into something resembling the great American novel of disillusion and experiment. Except that narrator Jack Keefe is always too irrepressible and stupid to be really tragic . . . Immensely influential on later "vernacular" baseball fiction, especially Mark Harris.
Lardner's Jack Keefe stories continued through 1919 and include these baseball stories: "Call for Mr Keefe!" (Saturday Evening Post 9 March 1918); "The Busher Reënlists" (Saturday Evening Post 19 April 1919); "The Battle of Texas" (Saturday Evening Post 24 May 1919); "Along Came Ruth" (Saturday Evening Post 26 July 1919); and "The Busher Pulls a Mays" (Saturday Evening Post 18 October 1919). They were never collected as a set until Ring Around the Bases (1992), probably because, as a series of stories about a fictionalized 1919 White Sox team, they fell victim to the 1919 World Series scandal. The stories are comparable in quality to the earlier Keefe stories collected in You Know Me Al. In the mid-1920s, Jack Keefe returned in a comic strip with continuity by Lardner.