Over at the Daily Beast, Allen Barra weighs in on the forgotten genius of Ring Lardner:
It’s seems strange today that hardly anyone who invokes the Golden Age of Sports Writers associates it with the man who really started it, but then Ring Lardner’s career was filled with odd contradictions.
First, he is often included as a member of the Algonquin Round Table (Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, etc.), though in fact he seldom sat with the bunch and almost never at the Algonquin. Second, he’s recalled as a popular writer—sort of the rich man’s Damon Runyon—who won grudging critical respect from his peers, but Lardner’s books never sold particularly well during his lifetime (a handy explanation is that his stories had already reached most of Lardner’s readers through magazines).
A third misconception, possibly the most damaging to Lardner’s critical reputation, was buried in a tribute by his good friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ring, Fitzgerald implied, wasted a great deal of time and creative energy writing about baseball, “a boy’s game with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bound by walls which kept out novelty or danger or adventure.”
And yet, Lardner’s influence on American writing, both journalism and short fiction, is arguably greater than that of any American writer in the 20th century before Hemingway. How influential was Lardner on American prose circa World War I? Consider that Hemingway, writing sports for his high school paper, chose Ring Lardner as his pseudonym.
Lardner was considered the equal or superior of Sinclair Lewis (by Edmund Wilson), of Fitzgerald (by Hemingway), and of Hemingway and Fitzgerald (by Parker). H.L. Mencken, admittedly a fast man with a hyperbolic comparison, thought him more profound than Henry James. (“I can recall no character in the Lardner gallery,” wrote the Sage of Baltimore, “early or late, male or female, old or young, who was not loathsome … They are all as revolting as so many Methodist evangelists, and they are all as thoroughly American.”)