A few words of response and clarification may be in order re. Ringo37's recent post here on the great sportswriting tradition of which the work of Damon Runyon (1880-1946) still stands as both prototype and principal representative.
First, Ringo37 credits Runyon with capturing "the familiar spirit of the Polo Fields and Madison Square Gardens".
To be a bit of a fact-stickler, actually that was not Polo Fields but Polo Grounds--at 157th Street, beneath Coogan's Bluff, in New York City, where assembled the cream of New York's sporting society in the baseball season of 1911, when Damon Runyon, the hottest young spark in the Hearst journalistic empire, freshly imported from Denver (where for the Denver Post he'd reported on the activities of Bat Masterson, ex-sheriff of Dodge City and prominent promoter of sporting and gambling activities in Denver) took up the baseball beat, covering the New York Giants of manager John McGraw for Hearst's American. Not polo but baseball--and business--took place at the Polo Grounds.
And among the kinds of business that took place there--like those which took place beginning in the late Twenties at Tex Rickard's Madison Square Garden, a singular garden in fact largely of gambling, blood and dirty money--were shady-side activities that Runyon knew intimately and wrote of with the authority of an insider.
Ringo37 and commentators on his piece have introduced several parallels among Runyon's contemporaries and successors. The first of these, and the best comparison, is Ring Lardner. Lardner began not at the Saturday Evening Post but as a junior writer at the American (when one of his pieces happened to appear above one of Runyon's, there was hell to pay, and it never happened again). But in their time it was well known that the differences between Runyon and Lardner were greater than the similarities. Both came from America's heartlands and wrote brilliantly in an invented and stylized version of the vernacular, but the likeness ended there.
Runyon was a tough, laconic teetotaler--a reformed drunk in fact--who lived and worked and traveled among the seamier precincts of Broadway. Lardner cultivated a slightly more genteel demeanor, drank heavily, was a Long Island neighbor of F.Scott Fitzgerald, and was socially conversant with a "literary" crowd (Scott and Zelda, Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson) who stood off from Runyon as the polite always stand off from those regarded as associates of the truly dangerous: Runyon's own associates included the dapper playboy Mayor Jimmy Walker, picturesque hoods like Abba Dabba Berman and terrifying gangster lords like Al Capone (who would one day be Runyon's neighbor in Florida).
In a fascinating review of what remains a useful book on the subject of what Ringo37 calls "the Runyonesque Archetype"--Tom Clark's The World of Damon Runyon--Lardner's son Ring, Jr. (himself no slouch as a writer, his credits including the M*A*S*H screenplay) underlines the basic opposition of character and temperament between his father and Runyon.
"Half a century ago in the Georgica section of East Hampton, where my father and Grantland Rice had bought land together and built adjoining houses on the ocean, there was a slight taint attached to the name of Damon Runyon...I got the impression in my teens that there was something vaguely shady about Damon Runyon. As Tom Clark points out, the disapproval was all on one side. Runyon couldn't understand why his colleagues would want to spend time a hundred miles from Broadway finding their favorite diversion in a game he disparaged 'because golf doesn't require any courage, except the pants'... He shared none of my father's fondness for Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker...or Granny Rice's for some leading figures of the social and business worlds. And they, moral and fastidious men both, couldn't understand what they regarded as a moral deficiency in him. It wasn't only gangsters and con men and ordinary denizens of the underworld whom Runyon chose as friends and drew on for fictional characters. He had quite a close relationship going with Al Capone, just as his friend Walter Winchell did with Lucky Luciano. And they felt there was something not quite right about a sportswriter getting involved in the actual promotion of athletic events, especially of prizefights with prearranged results."
Over the years Runyon covered the baseball Giants, a frequent guest in the Polo Grounds owners' box of the club was Arnold Rothstein, a New York gambling king. Rothstein would be made legendary by Runyon in short stories where he appears thinly-disguised as an imposing character called "The Brain", and also, somewhat more thickly veiled, would figure as the shadowy-grotesque "Meyer Wolfsheim" in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Among other questionable activities, he bankrolled the bucket shops and rum-running operations of one of the boxholding club owners Horace Stoneham; backed the Havana racetrack enterprise of Stoneham and manager McGraw; and even invested in a pool hall run by McGraw (Rothstein, as Runyon knew from first-hand observation, hung out there shooting nine-ball at $100 a game). When three policemen were shot in Rothstein's gambling parlor, the Partridge Club, another of the Giants owners, Judge Francis McQuade--as Runyon would report with typical close-mouthed cynicism--obligingly dismissed charges against twenty of twenty-one persons arrested. Rothstein had indeed personally brokered the McQuade-Stoneham-McGraw purchase of the Giants; it was not until a few years after it became apparent not only to Runyon and Fitzgerald but practically everybody else that Rothstein had also masterminded the infamous "fixing" of the 1919 World Series, that he was finally discouraged from appearing any more in the owners' box.
The difference between the Runyon "insider" strain of Golden Era sportswriting and the less-involved, more distanced Lardner "literary" strain is worth going into because it brings out an underlying class difference--which in turn sheds some interesting light on the latter-day parallels offered by Ringo37 and his Pseuds commentators.
For my money the only parallel cited by Ringo37 and his commentators that bears much weight is that brought up by Guitou: i.e. Jim Murray, the late, legendary Los Angeles Times sports columnist who consciously and openly patterned his writing approach after Runyon's, and to a great degree managed to live up to that high standard in his work over many decades.
As to others cited: Ringo37 mentions Hornby, Plimpton and Mailer. But Hornby's work is a bit too clever, selfconscious and distanced to really bear much relation to the tradition under discussion, and the more literary he gets the further away he moves from the prize ring/poolhall ambiance that is Runyon's home ground; "cute" is certainly one term not applicable to anything Runyon ever wrote. Plimpton and Mailer, even more, were "literary" writers whose other-side-of-the-tracks assignments on sporting beats always felt very much to this writer like high-class slumming. (Plimpton, for whom I once worked, was a prince of a fellow in many ways, but a tough guy he definitely was not; in fact he didn't have to be; it's a little-known fact, speaking of class as we were, that among the possessions of G.P.'s New England WASP family was the original manuscript of one of The Canterbury Tales.)
MouthoftheMersey introduces The New Yorker's Roger Angell and Anthony Lane into the discussion. The New Yorker and everything it represents, in terms of U.S. sociology, are diametric opposites of "the Runyonesque". Angell is a nice, polite, sensitive baseball writer who would have been entirely out of his depth on any Runyon assignment--say, interviewing Jack Dempsey about his days "riding the rails", or covering the murder trial of Ruth Snyder, who eliminated her spouse with one hefty swing of a sash weight. MacMillings hits the target here when he deftly dismisses Angell from the discussion as a "chin-stroking" type. And as for Anthony Lane, the movie critic, with this suggestion we have moved all the way across the board from the fight-ring to the fey (and I don't mean Tina).
One final note: Ringo37 laments that "England doesn't really have a sportswriting tradition". Is he being a strict purist and eliminating writers of Irish origin from consideration, or can it be he's really never heard of the wonderful historian of the London prize ring of several centuries ago, the immortal Pierce Egan? To put it as Egan's great fan Damon Runyon might once have, Pierce Egan's furbishment of fistic fact has never been surpassed. And that, fellow Pseuds, is saying something.