I own plenty of baseball memorabilia, but most of it’s in storage. Here in my apartment I have a baseball signed by seven Hall of Famers; a Johnny Damon autograph; an old Ernie Banks card. I also have a neat issue of SPORT from May 1951, which my mother picked up for me at a flea market on a lark.
SPORT was a monthly that predated Sports Illustrated and featured great color photography and a roster of famed sports writers. The advertisements are hilarious today, but the articles made demigods out of both the athletes and the authors.
To the younger generations, Grantland Rice is known as little more than the namesake of Grantland.com, known for its middle- to high-brow snark. Rice, on the other hand, made his name famous through the purplest of prose. His legacy focuses on his penchant for aggrandizement and hero worshiping—something professional sports no doubt needed in the first half of the 20th century.
My copy of SPORT was issued during Rice’s 50th year as a sports journalist. His assignments had become retrospection, and his article “The Cavalcade of Baseball” delivers all his signature touches. He begins with grandiose historical perspective: “Baseball has given this country more thrills than any other sport ever gave any nation. Baseball has furnished more entertainment for more people than any game ever invented.”
The essay provides proof of the game’s greatness through recitation of the greatest hitters, pitchers, and teams Grantland ever saw. Cobb was the best player; Shoeless Joe was the best hitter. Rube Waddell, whom Rice played against in college, had “a greater combination of speed and curves than any pitcher that ever lived.”
The question: does any writer have reason to remember, let alone study, Grantland Rice today? Is it fair for a kingmaker to be forgotten, or is it just the nature of sports writing?
A longtime Newsweek columnist and son of Ring, John Lardner’s obituary described him as “a sort of high-priced utility infielder for top-echelon American magazines.” John grew up around Fitzgerald and other celebrities, as well as Grantland Rice, due to his father’s career.
Lardner’s entry in my SPORT was one of those terribly ridiculous human interest pieces, memorializing a diminutive, boozehound shortstop named Walter “The Rabbit” Maranville. He only fielded fly balls by the basket catch (at the waist) and was lovingly called “unprintable” names by Babe Ruth and other friends.
The piece is titled “They’ll Never Forget the Rabbit,” but I must confess that I had never heard of the Rabbit nor John Lardner before opening up this magazine.
Blatz beer, Power Bilt golf clubs, Western Arms Corp. automatic pistols… The only mistake Branch Rickey ever made was selling away Chico Carrasquel… “the game which we call our national pastime today bears about as much resemblance to the 1842 version as a 1951 Cadillac does to a Stutz Bearcat”… Baseball is a TV headache—the problem of squeezing a whole ball game into a 12½-inch screen is still baffling the video experts… Anyone who doesn’t score a baseball game, whether he is at the park or watching the action on his television screen, is short-changing himself”—Red Barber…