Roger Angell Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

Start Your Free Trial

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Download Roger Angell Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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 the Houston Astrodome, trying to imagine plastic worms a-wiggling beneath the pluck-proof plastic grass, or sitting at the right hand of Judge Roy Hofheinz, "the Kublai Khan of the Domed Stadium," who swigged his coffee from a golden cup, dropped cigar ashes into an outstretched golden glove and expounded for Mr. Angell's benefit on the art of entertaining baseball fans with electronic scoreboards and fine restaurants, as if watching the game itself weren't entertainment enough.

[No] matter what [the owners] did to the surface of the game, there was always the game itself for Mr. Angell….

So return with him here to the days when the Mets were still patsies…. Return to the dear days not so long ago when … [Spiro] Agnew was only a name on the sunshades of Oriole fans at the 1966 World Series.

Savor the gentle comedy of elderly fans watching baseball's spring exercise in the Florida sun. See Whitey Ford in the 1962 World Series, standing "on the mound like a Fifth Avenue bank president"; or Lou Brock in the '67 Series, "a tiny little time pill that kept going off at intervals during the entire week"; or Dick Hall in the '70 Series, pitching "with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud."…

Recall "The Flowering and Subsequent Deflowering of New England" in 1967, when Boston Red Sox fans, after years of misery, saw their team rise almost to the pinnacle, only to be denied by Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in the seventh game of the Series. See the Mets arrive at "downright competence" and then go on to the larger miracle of 1969. Rarely has it all been described so well.

Mr. Angell isn't blind with love…. He waxes wroth on what TV has wrought. But his criticisms are subsumed beneath his love, and both in turn are servants of his wit and style.

That is finally what makes this old news so fresh and vivid—Mr. Angell's wit and style. I have a game I sometimes play while dropping off to sleep or shaving; it involves imagining certain writers as ballplayers—Norman Mailer as a sort of Yogi Berra, lofting bad pitches out of the park; John Updike as Ted Williams, a .400 hitter who never played on a World Series winner…. Among baseball writers, Roger Angell is a sort of Al Kaline or Billy Goodman; no star of the brightest magnitude, he does it all well and makes it all look easy. And reading all his pieces together makes one realize how well he's been playing throughout the years.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Angell Wings Over Baseball," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 6, 1972, p. 39.