Why lauding John Lardner matters today

“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.”

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It’s not just John Schulian’s opinion that those are quite certainly the 25 most perfect words ever written by a sportswriter — John Lardner’s lead to a story entitled “Down Great Purple Valleys” from a 1954 issue of True Magazine, about the former world middleweight boxing champion, who some say was the best ever in his class.

In Schulian’s new book, “The John Lardner Reader: A Press Box Legend’s Classic Sportswriting” (linked here), equally esteemed sportswriter Dan Jenkins agrees. About Lardner being in a class of his own as well.

“It’s my strenous opinion that any newspaper or magazine sports scribe over the last fifty years who is worth his weight in typewritter ribbons — or delete keys nowadays, I should say — has studied the works of John Lardner, the greatest sportswriter who ever lived … Literary giant is more accurate,” Jenkins writes in the forward to Schulian’s book.

Roger Kahn, of “The Boys of Summer” fame, did the 1961 anthology of Lardner’s work, published a year after Lardner’s death. Kahn recently wrote in his 2004 book, “Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was a Art And Writing About it was a Game,” that the best Lardner lead he ever came across was on Bill Veeck after he recently purchased what was considered to be just about the worst team in baseball at the time: “Bill Veeck bought the St. Louis Browns, under the impression the Browns were owned.”

Schulian, who says he first read Kahn’s book on Lardner in 1972, adds in his own re-intro: “John Lardner has been forgotten. That’s as wrong as wearing white socks at a funeral.”

We’ve caught up with Pasadena-based Schulian, a former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News, included in the “Sports Illustrated Fifty Years of Great Writing” and frequent “Best Sports Stories” anthology, who reinvented himself as a Hollywood TV scriptwriter but tends to most of his days now trying to bring a new generation up to speed on some of the best writing that can’t be left behind.

Friday’s media column will get into the legacy of Lardner, the oldest son of legendary humorist Ring Lardner .

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Meanwhile:

== A John Lardner bio (linked here)

== Another interesting bio, including in an amazing listing of a donations his daughter made of her father’s personal correspondence and other effects to the Newburry Library of Chicago (linked here)

== An National Public Radio show interview Schulian did recently on his Lardner book: (linked here)

== Columnist Stan Isaac’s review of the Lardner Reader (linked here)

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