Leonard Gardner, Larry Merchant, and the late John Lardner have been named by the Boxing Writers Association of America as winners of the A.J. Liebling Awards. Bestowed since 1995 by the BWAA, the award honors the elegant New Yorker stylist, who chronicled the sport for decades and whose work was subsequently collected in the timeless boxing books The Sweet Science and A Neutral Corner. The Liebling Awards will be presented at the BWAA’s annual dinner in New York on June 12th.
Born in 1933, Gardner is best known as the author of Fat City, an American classic whose stature has increased over the years since its publication in 1969. A gritty depiction of life at the bottom of the fight game on the California club-fight circuit, Fat City is widely considered to be among the greatest boxing novels ever written. Gardner also wrote the screenplay for the widely acclaimed film version of Fat City, which was directed by John Huston and starred Stacey Keach and the young Jeff Bridges as his protagonists. Before turning to television scriptwriting, Gardner also covered boxing as a journalist (Duran-Leonard I for Inside Sports) and critic (Jose Torres’ Sting Like a Bee for the New York Times Book Review.) He lives in Marin County, California.
Familiar to today’s fans for his 30-year role as analyst for HBO Championship Boxing, Larry Merchant cut his boxing teeth as a journalist. Born in 1931, Merchant became the sports editor of the Philadelphia Daily News at the age of 26, and after a decade at that job moved on to the Big Apple, where he spent another ten years as the featured sports columnist for the New York Post. A self-described “last-string halfback” for Bud Wilkinson’s undefeated national championship team at the University of Oklahoma, Merchant got his introduction to sportswriting when he was named the sports editor of the Daily Oklahoman, and during the period of the Korean war PFC Merchant served as the sports editor of Stars and Stripes. The author of three books, he was previously honoured by the BWAA as a recipient of both the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism and the James J. Walker award for Long and Meritorious Service to the sport. He makes his home in Santa Monica, California.
The eldest son of the legendary Ring Lardner, John Lardner (1912-1960) was described by Roger Kahn as “quite simply, the best sports columnist I have read,” while Stanley Walker, the editor of the World, said Lardner “came close to being the perfect all-around journalist.” A longtime columnist for the North American Newspaper Alliance and, later, for Newsweek, Lardner served as a correspondent (and was uncomfortably wounded) covering the war in the Pacific from 1942-1945. While he authored books on many subjects, boxing remained the subject dearest to his heart. He compiled Playboy’s annual Boxing Preview, deconstructed fight figures ranging from Doc Kearns and Battling Siki to Gene Fullmer and Sugar Ray Robinson, and composed his now-classic lead for a story about the wildest middleweight the world has ever known: “Stanley Ketchel was 24 years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.”
The recipients of the 2009 Liebling Awards were chosen by a committee of veteran boxing journalists, chaired by George Kimball and comprised of Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Anderson, Bernard Fernandez, John Schulian, and Ed Schuyler.