Guide to Baseball Fiction: Ring Lardner

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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.

Selected criticism: Avery, McGimpsey

Lardner's observation of this psychological type has relevance far beyond baseball, obviously.

Fairly soft-hearted for Lardner, though there are some good one-liners in the mix.

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.

Several elements of Lardner's baseball stories mesh here: rivalry, luck, the "busher" up in the major leagues, and unreliable narration.

Lacks the bite of Lardner's earlier stories or of Lose With a Smile.

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.

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."

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.

Pleasant one-note story.

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.

Routine Lardner fare, full of obsessions and verbal tics.

Dialogue vignette, possibly a prose idea for a vaudeville sketch.

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.