Roger Angell 1920–
American nonfiction writer, short story writer, critic, and editor.
Angell has a deft ability for analyzing the intricacies and subtleties of the game of baseball and for focusing on events and people that reveal the sport's ongoing human drama. Since 1960 Angell has been contributing essays and general observations on baseball to The New Yorker. Several features that characterize the magazine are evident in Angell's writings: finely crafted prose, painstaking analysis, and dry humor. His pieces have been collected in three highly acclaimed works—The Summer Game, which covers the years 1961–1971; Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion (1972–1976); and Late Innings: A New Baseball Companion (1977–1981).
Angell is most concerned that baseball maintain the traditions which have united players and fans in a continuing seasonal ritual, providing lasting memories that tie the present to the past. Critics have praised the sensitive concern and passion with which Angell chronicles an era of significant change, when many intimate midcity ballparks have been replaced by massive suburban stadiums. Angell particularly dislikes the advent of artificial turf, free agency, designated hitters, and multimillion dollar revenues, but he finds little change in the essence of the game itself. Most critics view Angell as an extraordinarily talented writer who has found his niche in writing about baseball but whose work can be appreciated by the general reader as well.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60.)
Angell is simply the most elegant, stylish, and intelligent baseball writer in the country today. His annual autumn account of the World Series [that appears in the New Yorker] has come to be a major event for me—and on occasion it proves to be better than the World Series. Angell knows that baseball is a game deeply wedded to ritual and tradition, and the perennial smack of horsehide against leather is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile with inflated schedules, floating franchises, and an American League club called the Texas Rangers. Money has become the name of the national pastime, and a decided elegiac note runs through Angell's expert reporting. The Summer Game collects Angell's New Yorker baseball writings, and the teams parade by—in spring training, in heated pennant races, in the World Series—from the 1962 Amazin' Mets to the 1971 world champion Pirates. Perhaps some would feel that a few of these pieces are a little too ephemeral for republication, but everyone who understands with the author that baseball is a country of the heart will recognize The Summer Game as the treasure it is.
Keith Cushman, in his review of "The Summer Game," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, April 15, 1972; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company): copyright © 1972 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 97, No. 8, April 15, 1972, p. 1456....
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The bare bones of Roger Angell's "The Summer Game" do not seem promising. Ten years' worth of reports on baseball that have already appeared in The New Yorker, where Mr. Angell is chief resident buff? Twenty-one installments on our great national pastime written during a period when—thanks to expanding teams and schedules, carpetbagging owners and Charles O. Finley—baseball has threatened to become our great national bore? Pages devoted to such forgettable episodes as the triumph of the New York Yankees over the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series, or the Orioles' sweep of the A's in the 1971 divisional playoffs? Who—as the expression goes—needs it? But what such a summary of "The Summer Game" fails to reckon with is Mr. Angell's love of the game. It is a love that sees a fair complexion beneath the old girl's flaking make-up. It is a love that still finds the prospect of a summer without box scores to mull over "like trying to think about infinity." It is a love that sees poetry in names like Ossee Schreckengoat, Smead Jolley, Cletus Elwood Poffenberger and Luscious Easter. It wonders how many Burleigh Grimeses can dance on the head of a pin.
It is a love that had Mr. Angell chasing around the country from 1962 to 1971 attending "grandmothers' funerals"—his euphemism for significant confrontations on emerald diamonds all the way from San Francisco Bay to Back Bay. It had him poking around the vulgar splendors of...
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"The Summer Game" provides such finely observed and finely written reportage on major-league baseball during the past decade that I hope it will triumph over certain of its disadvantages. One is that it is a collection of pieces. Collections don't sell unless they have an obvious gimmick, and I don't see any in sight for Roger Angell's witty but tactful coverage. Still, "The Summer Game" is a genuine book, unified by its ongoing account of the new developments and distortions of the sport and integrated by Angell's consistent ability to capture the "feel" of the player, the game, the series, the pennant race, and by his articulate and imaginative defense of the sport itself against its adversaries, beginning with the major league owners.
All of this creates a second liability: Angell's book is written for the sophisticated fan rather than for the adolescent one—chronological or arrested—that most sports books are aimed at. A writer concerned with the nature and nuances of baseball space and baseball time, or with the social and psychological differences between the pastoral old ball parks and the new programed stadiums, or who refers, however naturally and aptly, to the "Caligulan whims" of the owner of the Oakland A's, or who elegantly sums up the Mets in 1968 as a team that "went on winning, sometimes implacably, sometimes improbably," is not likely to reach many of the heavy consumers.
There have been a few...
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Angell is a formidable humorist. Yet he sees all the current tinkering with baseball as no laughing matter. He imagines a time when the World Series will be totally surrendered to television, transported to some domed stadium, and made the excuse for a week of canned spectaculars. If network and baseball moguls have not already dreamed up this plan, they will now. Angell protests: "We are trying to conserve something that seems as intricate and lovely to us as any river valley….
True fans need no convincing. They can read Five Seasons for remembrances of games, pennant races and World Series past, for another chance to think about their beloved sport under the tutelage of an expert….
Angell's style neatly complements the balance, pace and mathematical exactitudes of the game he celebrates. He does not throw many high, hard ones; he favors the change of pace, the roundhouse curve. (p. 95)
Five Seasons contains leisurely off-the-diamond reporting: Angell travels through the hinterlands with a major league scout, a species of rugged individualist now threatened by cooperative head-hunting and centralized data banks. He visits three hyperfans of the Detroit Tigers and comes up with a deft report on the joys of obsession. He spends time with Steve Blass, a top pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates until, during the winter of 1972, he inexplicably lost the knack of getting batters out....
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Make no mistake about it, Five Seasons is a "baseball book." It is, in point of fact, one of the two best baseball books we have—the other being Angell's The Summer Game, published in 1972—and anyone who loves our national pastime is going to love Five Seasons. But it is also so much more than a baseball book that a grave injustice will be done if only diehard fans read it. If its central subject is a game, it is also deeply concerned with larger, and in some cases darker, questions….
As one who admired The Summer Game with unreserved ardor, I followed Angell's dispatches [in The New Yorker] in the five years after its publication with uneasiness and apprehension; it seemed to me that he was in danger of repeating himself, and that he was becoming a member of the Baseball Establishment, that pack of journalists and assorted hangers-on who yap at the heels of the younger, handsomer and luckier men who play the game. Brought together in one volume, however, Angell's 1972–76 baseball pieces prove me resoundingly wrong. Five Seasons makes abundantly clear that Angell has been altering the focus of his writing rather than trading on past glories, and that he has become a ferocious and devastating critic of the game's commercialization and debasement.
It is true that Angell now talks to the men on the field rather than watching them from the stands, but what is noteworthy is that...
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I've never read a sporting novel that succeeded as do novels of the sea or of the West,… although I've read a number that attempted to inflate one sport or another into a subject as pelagic as the sea and as enormous as the West. The solution seems to lie with a zinging new book out about baseball by Roger Angell called Five Seasons…. [It] is so jammed with glee and eagerness and lore and exact fact that they all do manage to meld together. (p. 76)
The savage element of money has invaded even the players' side of baseball lately and has lent it what may turn out to be a new dimension. Angell takes an uncertain crack at defining this, having defined all of the old dimensions already. On more mundane matters, he says that batters have been losing out to pitchers because of the many night games, because of better pitcher-coaching, better bullpens, and the invention of the slider, which can be thrown with no discernible change in motion. He suggests an orange baseball, and shaving the edges of home plate a little, so that the .275 "slugger" can become a .350 hitter again; but no disruptive alterations like the "designated hitter," who disjoints the essential strategy of the game, or a World Series propelled into such wintry weather by wild-card play-off games that it reaches the status of a Sugar Bowl at last.
Outside the ball park, Mr. Angell is a New Yorker editor and over many years has helped to...
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Roger Angell's Five Seasons bears comparison with one other baseball book—Roger Angell's The Summer Game (1972). The new book is even better than the first, and renders the game from various places of enlightened vantage. In The Summer Game Angell remained largely in the stands, describing the green mural as innings transpired before him—descriptions which blended the welcome repetitions of the game with its sudden minute varieties of action. He described a painting (a strange one, with moving figures) which carried its own light with it. Now in Five Seasons he describes baseball as if it were sculpture, which changes as you perceive it by walking around it, or as day's light moves over the stone from pink dawn through white noon to yellow twilight. Now he writes not only observing the game itself, as the sport's most articulate fan, but observing the work of professionals on the sidelines: owner, ex-player, roving scout. He writes of lawsuits and commissioners, players' unions and free agents, lockouts and the [designated hitter] and nighttime World Series TV spectaculars; he writes of Howard Cosell and Bowie Kuhn.
Still the best of Angell renders the game on the field…. I forgot to mention that, in the course of rendering and advocating, Angell from time to time is extremely funny.
Five Seasons is a fan's notes on baseball from 1972 through 1976, five early seasons and...
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Rather than try to match superlatives with other reviewers of Roger Angell's new baseball book [Late Innings] let's just say Angell is back, and the stuff is as good as ever. That should be news enough for most fans, because Angell is special to so many of us….
The degree of his caring about baseball, I think, is what makes Angell so special. Quite apart from his tremendous technical knowledge and his sharp eye for a significant, generally unnoticed detail, he obviously loves the game unstintingly. And anything that threatens it—such as the inclination of some team owners to adopt a farcical playoff system in 1981—threatens him. Some of us appreciate that.
As always, Angell is mainly concerned with major league players, but there are some rewarding side trips, notably to the playing fields of Yale in the company of Smokey Joe Wood, the 91-year-old former Yale coach who won 34 games as a Red Sox pitcher in 1912, and to the big league locker rooms (or the corridors just outside them) with several bright female reporters who were trying to breach that journalistic barrier in 1979. (p. 14)
One of the most appealing aspects of Angell's reporting is the air of seeming innocence he takes with him when he talks to baseball people, whether it be in a World Series locker room or on a lazy spring afternoon at a training camp in Arizona or Florida. You don't get informative answers from players and...
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Late Innings is [Angell's] third collection of baseball pieces, and on the whole it reaffirms his position as the most astute and graceful chronicler the sport has known. I say "on the whole" because, at the risk of seeming to deface a national monument, I find Angell somewhat short of his best in many of these articles, which appeared in The New Yorker between 1977 and 1981. He has, perhaps, stayed too long at the fair; especially in his by-now-traditional spring-training and post-season pieces, he too often seems to be going through the motions—brilliant and inimitable motions, to be sure, but familiar ones all the same. This may cause no ennui on the reader's part, but I sense some on Angell's; he is repeating himself, as in his repeated references here to "the foolish and dispiriting winter baseball news." With the exception of a fine profile of the great pitcher Bob Gibson, and several passages in other pieces, Angell's best baseball writing is not here, but in The Summer Game and Five Seasons.
But these reservations are listed only because the writer under discussion is Roger Angell; he must be held to the standards he has set for himself, and they are very high indeed. Under any other byline, Late Innings would be welcomed as splendid work. It provides a perceptive, opinionated, informed account of five seasons that began with the three-homer high-water mark of "the Jacksonian Era"—Reggie...
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The 16 essays in "Late Innings" cover the period from 1977 to 1981 and, depending upon our geography, connect to our nostalgia for a past so recent that is has not been remembered. They also re-establish a claim about which there cannot have been much doubt. Although Mr. Angell's specialty is baseball, he marvelously avoids the clichés and weary formulations that characterize baseball writing. He never draws upon the stock of jargon that has been gathering for a century. He sees things by looking at them, not by remembering what has been so often said about them. He listens hard, especially to baseball players themselves (never to publicists), and by some masterful technique writes down the things these highly informed people say….
Mr. Angell respects the game these people play, and because he cares for his own style and is rather a genius at writing well without seeming to press (which must be very hard work), he feels or understands the meaning of being excellent at the work one does….
The great task as one grows older (Mr. Angell was born in 1920) is to keep the signs of weariness out, to conceal from one's enemies the fact of one's tiring. In that way one might go on indefinitely. A wise fan said to Mr. Angell, "But I'm not one of those who goes around always saying that the old players were the best." Good. Nor does Mr. Angell; therefore his writing remains young. This does not contradict the fact that...
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Angell is doted on by the dabblers, the people who pick baseball up and put it down as the mood strikes, but is not, I believe, fully approved of in [sports columnist] Red Smith's kingdom, the press box, because he doesn't have to meet deadlines. In fact, most journalists wouldn't know what to do with the extra time if it was granted, as their occasional books show. But the Deadline is a stern discipline which makes for a brotherhood, and Angell isn't quite in it.
In fact, as a New Yorker writer, he has no natural allies in the business. He talks of dedicating Late Innings to the fans—by which he seems to mean something very close to E. M. Forster's "the sensitive, the decent and the plucky," a band of fellow spirits which one just has to take on faith. And speaking of Forster, imagine Angell's clip being passed around a locker room to appreciative chuckles: "As E. M. Forster said (I can still see him, with one spiked foot on the top step of the dugout and his keen, Ozark-blue eyes, under the peak of the pulled-down cap, fixed on some young batter just now stepping up to the plate), Only connect."
Neither a jock nor an English major would make much of this, but Angell soldiers on gamely. In his earlier baseball musings [Angell] seemed to accept his distance, and watch baseball under glass, like the New Yorker's Eustace Tilley peering through his monocle. But in his later books, especially...
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