Download Harmony Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Harmony Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Harmony” is both a baseball story and a mystery story. The setting is a train full of baseball players on their way east to a game in Boston; the narrator is a baseball writer; the mystery that the writer is trying to solve through talking to the manager and to various players is how the club recruited Waldron, the unknown player whose batting has put the team in first place.

Ring Lardner’s structure is fairly complex, involving stories within stories. There are five people who contribute information about the mystery: the narrator, who begins and ends “Harmony”; Ryan, who gives the first account but who disagrees with the narrator’s final version; Dick Hodges, the Jackson coach, who originally acquired Waldron and who is quoted by Ryan; Art Graham, who recruited Waldron but who is secretive about the details; and Bill Cole, whose story the narrator accepts as the truth.

The story begins on a train moving east toward Springfield, Massachusetts, where the narrator must file a story about the team with which he is traveling. The hottest news is the new outfielder, Waldron, who is setting records at bat. The only story about him that has not been told, however, is how Ryan, the club manager, found him. According to Ryan, there is no mystery. Art Graham spotted Waldron and recommended him even though both men were outfielders, and Waldron might well take Graham’s place. Ryan accepted Graham’s explanation that his motive was the good of the club and drafted Waldron.

However, the Jackson coach, Hodges, is still puzzled. Ryan quotes a conversation with him in which Hodges described his plan to conceal Waldron for a season and insisted that Graham could not possibly have been impressed with his single performance when Waldron batted under a false name and popped out, at that. Did a Jackson player tell Graham about Waldron? Or could Graham spot a great batter, as he insists, simply by the way he swung?

Although there are still some loose ends, the narrator files his story at Springfield and does not inquire further until he encounters Graham at dinnertime. Graham is noncommittal, and it is not until the narrator finds himself in the diner with Cole that he hears what Cole insists is the true story. Graham had never gone to the ballpark in Jackson, it seems. He had recruited Waldron not for his ball-playing abilities but for his fine tenor voice. Graham’s great passion is barbershop quartet harmony, Cole says, and the happiest times in Graham’s life have been those periods when the team included three other good singers, one of them the essential tenor, who were willing to...

(The entire section is 699 words.)