You Know Me Al Summary

Ring Lardner

You Know Me Al

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You Know Me Al Summary

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You Know Me Al is a 1916 novel by Ring Lardner, later reproduced in a comic strip that was syndicated nationally. The book consists of a montage of letters written by a pro baseball player with a comedic spirit named Jack Keefe to his friend Al Blanchard, as he overcomes obstacles in Bedford, Indiana.

You Know Me Al begins as Jack Keefe plays baseball as a minor leaguer in Terre Haute, Indiana. Renowned regionally for his pitching arm, Keefe soon learns he is accepted into the big leagues as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox in 1914. He writes letters home, barely literate, addressed to his friend Al, recounting his experiences in the major leagues. Keefe’s relationship with Al turns out to be a strange one: he is practically incapable of the empathy needed to sustain a true friendship. Bragging often and making excuses for his actions, he patronizes Al to stoke his ego. Meanwhile, Al is unable to see that he is being used.

So self-confident that he imparts the minutest details about his life, Keefe writes elaborate stories about his foolish adventures as he aspires to succeed in the major leagues. When Keefe attends a training athletics camp on the West Coast, he immediately irritates the manager of his team, eating excessively, refusing to obey orders, and being generally lazy. Though he excels at pitching with his right hand, he slacks off as a fielder and doesn’t pay close attention to base runners. The team manager tries to humor him with sarcasm, but Keefe doesn’t understand. Whenever Keefe has a bad pitching day, he complains that it is because his arm is sore. He blames successful hits on him as the fault of his teammates to the point of absurdity. Keefe also thinks that women cannot resist him. At the camp, he meets a girl named Violet visiting from Detroit, and makes plans to hit on her when the White Sox play a game there.

During spring training, Keefe initially excels, and is officially placed on the White Sox roster. However, in his first game against the Tigers, he pitches horribly. As punishment for his personality, the manager keeps him in the game to embarrass him, and the Tigers make sixteen runs. Ty Cobb steals four of his bases. Still, Jack blames his failure on his arm. The manager is so disgusted that he sells him back to the minor leagues to play in a team in San Francisco. Keefe sulks, claiming he will quit the sport entirely, but goes to the new team.

Once in San Francisco, Keefe excels again, winning 11 games in a row. He becomes engaged to a woman named Hazel. At the end of the season, the White Sox call him back to the team. He pitches well enough this time to go to the City Series game against the Cubs. Hazel requests money to pay for transportation to Chicago for their wedding. Keefe declines, sending her insufficient fare, leading her to ultimately marry a boxer instead. Keefe pursues Violet once again, but she marries a different baseball player. Finally, he marries a girl named Florrie, the sister of Allen, a left-handed White Sox player.

Florrie uses Keefe’s salary to live lavishly in Chicago, refusing to move to his hometown during the off-season. Allen and his wife move in with them to save money, making tensions worse. Keefe and Florrie separate for a few months, reconcile, and have a child named Allen, who they nickname Little Al. Florrie wrongly assumes Allen is named after the Allen they both know, but Keefe has actually chosen the name because it’s the name of Al, the person he corresponds with in the letters. Their marriage remains tense even after Allen’s birth, and they are constantly arguing when Keefe is not absorbed by baseball. It is clear that there has been some infidelity, but Keefe remains oblivious that the child might not be his biological son.

Keefe comes into his own as a major league pitcher, but never stops blaming his teammates for his losses. His gullibility and self-absorption create more obstacles than they solve and frequently raise the question of whether he lacks the moral character to play on a professional team. Keefe is never totally fulfilled playing baseball because he is too absorbed in his narcissism and the routine of blaming his peers. The novel ends as Keefe departs with his team to a trip to Japan, where they will attend a baseball exhibition.

A comedic story about character flaws, the consequences of repressing personal issues, and failures in communication, Lardner develops Keefe’s personality against the oblivious, blank, receptive, and enabling persona of Al Blanchard. Ultimately, the book suggests that the problems of the narcissist are never resolved, and impair one’s ability to succeed in a team.