Thursday, March 20, 2014

Young Ring Lardner

Continuing my look at the state of short-form comic writing in America at the time of the Great War...

Ring Lardner (1885-1933) began his writing career as a sportswriter, working consecutively in South Bend, Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis.  In 1914 his first major story, "A Busher's Letters Home," was published in The Saturday Evening Post and his career as a humorist was launched.  In contrast to the more precise literary style of British comic writers of the era, Lardner emphasized common American vernacular.  His New York Times obituary described his writing — a bit archly perhaps — as a mixture of "shrewd touches of character and the natural speech of the lowbrow."

The Saturday Evening Post, vol 187
March 16, 1914

A Busher's Letters Home

Terre Haute, Indiana, September 6.

FRIEND AL: Well, Al old pal I suppose you seen in the paper where I been sold to the White Sox.  Believe me Al it comes as a surprise to me and I bet it did to all you good old pals down home.  You could of knocked me over with a feather when the old man come up to me and says Jack I've sold you to the Chicago Americans.

I didn't have no idea that anything like that was coming off.  For five minutes I was just dum and couldn't say a word.

He says We aren't getting what you are worth but I want you to go up to that big league and show those birds that there is a Central League on the map.  He says Go and pitch the ball you been pitching down here and there won't be nothing to it.  He says All you need is the nerve and Walsh or no one else won't have nothing on you.

So I says I would do the best I could and I thanked him for the treatment I got in Terre Haute.  They always was good to me here and though I did more than my share always felt that my work was appresiated.  We are finishing second and I done most of it.  I can't help but be proud of my first year's record in professional baseball and you know I am not boasting when I say that Al.

Well Al it will seem funny to be up there in the big show when I never was really in a big city before.  But I guess I seen enough of life not to be scared of the high buildings eh Al?

I will just give them what I got and if they don t like it they can send me back to the old Central and I will be perfectly satisfied.

I didn't know anybody was looking me over, but one of the boys told me that Jack Doyle the White Sox scout was down here looking at me when Grand Rapids was here.  I beat them twice in that serious.  You know Grand Rapids never had a chance with me when I was right.  I shut them out in the first game and they got one run in the second on account of Flynn misjudging that fly ball.  Anyway Doyle liked my work and he wired Comiskey to buy me.  Comiskey come back with an offer and they excepted it.  I don't know how much they got but anyway I am sold to the big league and believe me Al I will make good.

Well Al I will be home in a few days and we will have some of the good old times.  Regards to all the boys and tell them I am still their pal and not all swelled up over this big league business.

Your pal, JACK.

* * *

Chicago, Illinois, December 14.

OLD PAL: Well Al I have not got much to tell you.  As you know Comiskey wrote me that if I was up in Chi this month to drop in and see him.  So I got here Thursday morning and went to his office in the afternoon.  His office is out to the ball park and believe me its some park and some office.

I went in and asked for Comiskey and a young fellow says He is not here now but can I do anything for you?  I told him who I am and says I had an engagement to see Comiskey.  He says The boss is out of town hunting and did I have to see him personally?

I says I wanted to see about signing a contract.  He told me I could sign as well with him as Comiskey and he took me into another office.  He says What salary did you think you ought to get? and I says I wouldn't think of playing ball in the big league for less than three thousand dollars per annum.  He laughed and says You don't want much.  You better stick round town till the boss comes back.  So here I am and it is costing me a dollar a day to stay at the hotel on Cottage Grove Avenue and that don't include my meals.

I generally eat at some of the cafes round the hotel but I had supper downtown last night and it cost me fifty-five cents.  If Comiskey don't come back soon I won't have no more money left.

Speaking of money I won't sign no contract unless I get the salary you and I talked of, three thousand dollars.  You know what I was getting in Terre Haute, a hundred and fifty a month, and I know it's going to cost me a lot more to live here.  I made inquiries round here and find I can get board and room for eight dollars a week but I will be out of town half the time and will have to pay for my room when I am away or look up a new one when I come back.  Then I will have to buy cloths to wear on the road in places like New York.  When Comiskey comes back I will name him three thousand dollars as my lowest figure and I guess he will come through when he sees I am in ernest.  I heard that Walsh was getting twice as much as that.

The papers says Comiskey will be back here sometime to-morrow.  He has been hunting with the president of the league so he ought to feel pretty good.  But I don't care how he feels.  I am going to get a contract for three thousand and if he don't want to give it to me he can do the other thing.  You know me Al.

Yours truly, JACK.

* * *

Chicago, Illinois, December 16.

DEAR FRIEND AL: Well I will be home in a couple of days now but I wanted to write you and let you know how I come out with Comiskey.  I signed my contract yesterday afternoon.  He is a great old fellow Al and no wonder everybody likes him.  He says Young man will you have a drink?  But I was to smart and wouldn't take nothing.  He says You was with Terre Haute?  I says Yes I was.  He says Doyle tells me you were pretty wild. I says Oh no I got good control.  He says Well do you want to sign?  I says Yes if I get my figure.  He asks What is my figure and I says three thousand dollars per annum.  He says Don't you want the office furniture too?  Then he says I thought you was a young ballplayer and I didn't know you wanted to buy my park.

We kidded each other back and forth like that a while and then he says You better go out and get the air and come back when you feel better.  I says I feel O. K. now and I want to sign a contract because I have got to get back to Bedford.  Then he calls the secretary and tells him to make out my contract. He give it to me and it calls for two hundred and fifty a month.  He says You know we always have a city serious here in the fall where a fellow picks up a good bunch of money.  I hadn't thought of that so I signed up.  My yearly salary will be fifteen hundred dollars besides what the city serious brings me.  And that is only for the first year.  I will demand three thousand or four thousand dollars next year.

I would of started home on the evening train but I ordered a suit of cloths from a tailor over on Cottage Grove and it won't be done till to-morrow.  It's going to cost me twenty bucks but it ought to last a long time.  Regards to Frank and the bunch.

Your Pal, JACK.

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