John Lardner, a forgotten giant of the sportswriting world
Lardner might well have been writing about himself, although calling him a writer's writer is too limiting, not to mention entirely inadequate. In a career that spanned three decades, the '30s through the '50s, he wrote for
In an age of legendary sportswriters, Lardner was every bit the equal of
But mostly he is forgotten because he died a month before his 48th birthday, in 1960, too young to achieve the lasting greatness that he surely seems to have been building toward.
Fortunately for us,
"He was the antithesis of the screamers and borderline hysterics who are so plentiful among today's sports columnists," Schulian wrote via e-mail recently. "He was wry, playful and always understated."
Here is Lardner writing about
"Casey remained a merry fellow until the day the Yanks fired
The new Lardner collection is best savored slowly, and in measured doses. It is not fair to the reader or to Lardner to try to read too much at once. Lardner's prose style is immaculate -- there is no waste -- but it is also dense, and it takes time to adjust to it for maximum reading pleasure.
"The father of us all, whether we knew it or not," Schulian continued, "was Lardner. Look at those
Lardner loved writing about offbeat characters like Titanic Thompson the grifter, or boxers like
There are also pieces in this collection on legendary figures like
He came by his reserve naturally. His father was
"Out of our inheritance and environment, we four brothers had certain qualities in common," wrote
John was the brother most like his father. When he was 16,
"Reading Lardner in the late '40s and throughout the '50s," writes
"We used to fondle them, memorize them, argue about the best of them, and steal from them," writes Jenkins.
Here's a quick taste from a newspaper column:
"The career of
Then this from
But the best of them all is the opening sentence to a
"Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast."
Lardner's writing remained pristine despite great personal suffering. His father, Ring, died at 48, and two of his brothers died young --
Like his father, John battled health issues for much of his adult life -- tuberculosis, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis. He told friends that he wouldn't outlive his old man, and he was right. John Lardner died of a heart attack three weeks before his 48th birthday.
The day that he died, John Lardner was writing an obituary for an old family friend,
What Lardner left behind is a lively and accomplished body of work, not a persona and that's probably the way he wanted it. As accomplished as he was until his death there is no reason not to believe that his best work lay ahead of him. Sadly, Lardner's reputation has faded with time, but if