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Lardner Decoded

June 2024
1min read

The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring W. Lardner, 1914–1919

edited by George W. Hilton, Stanford University Press, 631 pages .

When Ring Lardner wrote his classic baseball stories in the 1910s, he seamlessly mixed his fictional players with real ones, setting their adventures in the context of the actual major and minor leagues of the time. For dedicated readers part of the fun has always lain in identifying the real-life people and events that pop up in the adventures of Jack Keefe (hero of the “You Know Me Al” stories) and Lardner’s other homespun characters.

Now George W. Hilton, a UCLA economics professor who usually writes about railroads, has gone through the corpus from Lardner’s golden age and footnoted every name, place, and incident that has some connection to real life, even speculating about whom fictional characters might be based on. In addition, Hilton discourses on such Lardner precursors as William Makepeace Thackeray and delves into the historical statistics of the Central League’s Terre Haute club.

The profusion of information can be daunting at first, but it’s easy to skip and skim or to read the stories first for Lardner’s masterly narrative and then again for Hilton’s exhaustive background. After eight decades the tales remain as charming as ever, and the annotations will multiply the enjoyment for any reader, new or old.

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