The John Schulian anthology of the great John Lardner (pictured left) is something we highlighted in today’s media column (linked here) as best we could — we were almost inspired to call Lardner the “Cezanne of sportswriter” but thought better of it.
We couldn’t pull it off like Lardner. Or Red Smith. Or Jim Murray. We realize our limitations, and we got it out of our system years ago. We think.
We’ve also come to realize that Schulian (pictured right, and linked here), who also did a marvelous book in ’05 called “Twilight of the Long-Ball Gods” (linked here), may have some time and distance away from the daily grind of the sportswriting game, but he knows what he reads is quality, for-the-ages stuff, and what goes to the side of the media exit ramp as litter.
“It would be an odd fit if he were writing today,” said Schulian of Lardner, who died in 1960 a month before his 48th birthday, as dying young seemed to run in his family. “He was so unque. Todays sportswriters, the columnists, they’reall pounding their chests and rending their garments and howling at the of their lunge every day. ‘This football program is terrible, that general manager has to be fired, trade this guy, trade that guy.’ And the next day they contradict themselves
“The artistry has gone out of column writing. There’s little if any premium placed on being a wordsmith, on being an entertainer, on surprising people. The columnist all seem to follow the lead of sports-talk radio and that to my way of thinking is a fool’s mission. That’s just people passing on gossip and getting upset that Tim Wallach wasn’t named the Dodgers manager. And then you ask: Have you ever seen Wallach manage one game? Did you go to Albuquerque and watch him to see his genius? No, they’re just running off at the mouth because it’s something to stir up the natives.”
Putting Lardner up against today’s writers reveals that.
“What I see almost is manipulative work: You beat up a guy in print and then write a weeper,” said Schulian. “Then you submit it and get an award.”
The beauty of having not just access to Schulian’s book, but also the quickness of the Internet and websites such as Powells.com and Abebooks.com to track down lost copies of “The World of John Lardner,” “Strong Cigars and Lovely Women,” “It Beats Working” and “White Hopes and Others,” gives much more depth and context to Lardner’s work.
You sample the jar of candy, and you want more. And before you know it, it’s Christmas on your doorstep.
The one I’ll indulge in briefly was called “Thoughts on Radio-Televese” from 1959 New Yorker Magazine, found in “The World of John Lardner,” as Lardner writes about how those who do interviews on TV or radio seem, at that time, to be butchering the language — stuff that today might not even be caught in anyone’s audio filter.
“Perhaps the most startling aspect of radio-televese is its power to more freely in time, space, and syntax, traposing past and future, beginnings and endings, subjects and objects. This phrase of the language has sometimes been called backward English, and sometimes, with a bow to the game of billiards, reverse English. …
“Dizzy Dean (said), ‘Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s double header.’ Tommy Loughran, a boxing announcer, was exploring the area of the displaced ego when he told his audience, ‘It won’t take him (the referee) long before I think he should stop it.’
“Ted Husing was on the threshold of outright mysticism when he reported, about a boxer who was cuffing his adversary smartly around, ‘There’s a lot more authority in Joe’s punches than perhaps he would like his opponent to suspect!’
“It is the time dimension, however, that radio-televese scores its most remarkable effects. Dizzy Dean’s ‘The Yankees, as I told you later …’ gives the idea … (phrases like), ‘Mickey Mantle, a former native of Spavinaw, Oklahoma’ … (Vic Marsillo, a boxing manager, who says:) ‘Now, Jack, whaddya say we reminisce a little about tomorrow’s fight?’ …
“It is occasionally argued in defense of broadcasters (though they need and ask for no defense) that they speak unorthodoxly because they must speak under pressure, hasily, spontaneously — that their eccentricities are unintentional. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Their language is proud and deliberate. The spirit that has created it is the spirit of ambition Posterity would have liked it. In times to come, our forebears will be grateful.”
And to think, Rick Monday was only 14 years old when this was written.