Down Great Purple Valleys

By John Lardner True May 1954 Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast. That was in 1910. Up to 1907 the world at large had never heard of Ketchel. In the three...

Memphis Kid and the Horrible Truth About Prize Fighting

By W.C. Heinz From The Professional 1958 Eddie had come back off the road with the others and had his breakfast, and I had left him lying on his bed and reading the morning papers and listening to the radio while Jay sat at the table writing postcards. After three...

The Life and Loves of the Real McCoy

By John Lardner True February 1956 The hotel manager and the detective stood looking down at the man on the bed, who had killed himself during the night. “Norman Selby, it says on the note, and Selby was how he checked in,” the manager said. “Wasn’t that his right...

Work Horse on Ice

By W. C. Heinz The Saturday Evening Post January 10, 1959 In five hours Gordie Howe would play hockey with the Detroit Red Wings against the New York Rangers. Now it was 3:30 in the afternoon, and he was sitting at the kitchen table in his new home in a residential...

Gracious Man With Dealer’s Hands

By Murray Kempton The New York Post October 9, 1956 There was the customary talk about the shadows of the years and the ravages of the law of averages when Sal Maglie went out to meet the Yankees yesterday afternoon. It was the first time, after all the years, that he...

The Legacy of a Busher’s Letters Home

By John Lardner From You Know Me Al 1959 edition The You Know Me Al letters have an unusual history, in terms of reputation. The impact of their original publication, forty-five years ago, was such that their fame has endured to a large extent by word of mouth, like...

Battling Siki

By John Lardner From White Hopes and Other Tigers 1951 Hell’s Kitchen, the region west of Eighth Avenue around the Forties, won its name many years ago and continued to deserve it until about the time the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed. Things are different there...

Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff

By Red Smith The New York Herald Tribune October 4, 1951 Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible...

Titanic Thompson

By John Lardner True 1951 One day not long ago, a St. Louis hotel detective tipped off a cop friend of his that there was a fellow in a room on the eighth floor who packed a gun. They decided to do a little further research. They went into the room without knocking,...

Night for Joe Louis

By Red Smith The New York Herald Tribune October 27, 1951 [This column is collected in American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith] Joe Louis lay on his stomach on a rubbing table with his right ear pillowed on a folded towel, his left hand in a bucket of ice on the...

The Rocky Road of Pistol Pete

By W.C. Heinz True March 1958 “Down in Los Angeles,” says Garry Schumacher, who was a New York baseball writer for thirty years and is now assistant to Horace Stoneham, president of the San Francisco Giants, “they think Duke Snider is the best center fielder the...