Alibi Ike by Ring W. Lardner, 1915
The magic trick:
Gift for dialogue, especially the backtalk from Carey and the narrator
Today marks baseball’s Opening Day, which in my hometown of Cincinnati at least, is call for a parade and all kinds of city celebration (if not genuine optimism for the local team’s chances this summer). So I figured what better way to honor the occasion than with a story from Ring Lardner, probably America’s most famous baseball writer.
During this 10-day run of baseball stories on the SSMT website, we’ve had authors put us into the mindset of aging players, up-and-coming rookies, even fans. Today, though, we get a real treat: Lardner provides the language of the clubhouse; and it’s colorful and comedic. Lardner served as a baseball beat writer, so he was well-versed in the day-to-day language of the sport.
In “Alibi Ike,” the story is pretty silly but the dialogue soars. I was particularly amused by the backtalk Carey and the narrator give Ike when they try to trap him in his web of lies and excuses. Hilarious stuff, and, as a record of 1915 pop culture and common language, it’s a really valuable document. And that’s quite a trick on Lardner’s part.
“Your friend writes long letters,” I says.
“Yes,” says Ike; “he’s tellin’ me about a ball player.”
“Where does he play?” ast Carey.
“Down in the Texas League–Fort Wayne,” says Ike.
“It looks like a girl’s writin’,” Carey says.
“A girl wrote it,” says Ike. “That’s my friend’s sister, writin’ for him.”
“Didn’t they teach writin’ at this here college where he went?” says Carey.
“Sure,” Ike says, “they taught writin’, but he got his hand cut off in a railroad wreck.”
“How long ago?” I says.
“Right after he got out o’ college,” says Ike.
“Well,” I says, “I should think he’d of learned to write with his left hand by this time.”
“It’s his left hand that was cut off,” says Ike; “and he was lefthanded.”