Charles E. Van Loan (1876–1919)
From Baseball: A Literary Anthology
Spring fever means baseball at Library of America, and we celebrate opening day by remembering one of the forgotten chroniclers of the sport’s early years.
“During the decade from 1910 to 1920, the whole complexion of baseball writing changed for the better,” wrote former National League president Ford Frick, name-checking such writers as Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon. “They were the human catalysts who brought humor and fun in the baseball picture.”
Lardner and Runyon, of course, became famous for turning from the diamond and the gridiron to the page and the stage. Lardner found success with such still-anthologized stories as “Haircut” and “The Golden Honeymoon” and with the hit Broadway comedy June Moon, while Runyon is remembered for dozens of comic stories adapted as movies and, above all, for the two tales that became the musical Guys and Dolls.
Both writers’ metamorphoses owed much, however, to their forgotten predecessor, Charles E. Van Loan, a sportswriter in the century’s first decade who became one of America’s most respected short story authors in the second—and who helped both Lardner and Runyon early in their careers.
For our Story of the Week selection, then, we present “Baseball as the Bleachers Like It,” one of Van Loan’s essays on baseball—or, more accurately, the fans—written in 1909 during the months when he began to find success publishing short stories. In the introduction, we describe how, through a bizarre and unlikely encounter, he found a publisher for his first of nearly two hundred stories, as well as other details from his remarkable and tragically abbreviated career.