Game Time

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Roger Angell’s sixth anthology of baseball essays should be savored, detail-by-detail, to let its delicate and subtle tastes and tones fully digest. The twenty-nine pieces, spanning forty years of covering the sport for the New Yorker magazine, include both masterful and journeyman jobs on Major League Baseball’s people and places.

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Essay subjects include Wrigley Field, circa 1984, and ex-ballplayer/broadcaster Tim McCarver. There is also McCarver’s former batterymate Bob Gibson—seemingly gritting his teeth in retirement—and the game’s pitchers coping with the great Home Run Race of 1998. Also featured are famous geniuses such as Ted Williams, with his encyclopedic knowledge of hitting at age sixty-five, and lesser-known veterans of the sport and craft of play. Two standout essays focus on baseball’s edges: experienced scout Ray Scarborough and several superb coaches, from Rod Carew and Johnny Pesky to Tom Trebelhorn and Merv Rettenmund.

All that said, Game Time has a weakness stitched through the work like the seams on a hardball. Read as one anthology instead of individual pieces of magazine journalism, the book seems to immediately indulge in the journalistic conceit of first-person narrative. Here, that can make stories more memoir than reporting, with an inescapable awareness of Angell’s presence at scenes, his involvement, and his authorship. Unlike other excellent baseball scribes—Jerome Holtzman, Thomas Boswell, even “the other Roger,” Kahn—Angell is less a reporter than a participant, sometimes even a protagonist, in the proceedings.

Finally, however, this style is not a fly in the ointment but a fly on the wall, observing (if sometimes annoying). Angell, in his eighties at the time this work was published, ultimately succeeds by not resisting his love of the game, but by using that appreciation and devotion as a lever to expose its depth and breadth. As Angell shows, baseball—professional as well as purer amateur versions—is an idyllic, pastoral activity unfettered by time.

Ably edited by Steve Kettmann, the collection, though repeating some material from earlier volumes, compares favorably with Angell’s previous books, Late Innings (1982) and The Summer Game (1972), but still falls a bit short of those omnibus beauties that seem to package great sports writing from all quarters such as The Second Fireside Book of Baseball (1958) by Charles Einstein.

With eloquence and grace, access and insight, Angell overcomes his need to be in his stories to emphasize players and places, past and present, and to stress the game itself.

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