Donald Hall

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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.

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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 on-going seasons, and five specimens of the World Series, featuring the 1975 epic between [Cincinnati] Reds and [Boston] Red Sox. Angell describes extraordinary things with humor and vigor, but he excels at rendering the game's Ordinary Moments—a normal July in an undistinguished year—and stops action like a good sports photograph, freezing for the perpetual album of memory not a dramatic moment but a typical one. Baseball's echt moment is typical or ordinary; those who cherish the game cherish repeated scenes, and Angell is Shakespeare to the diamond's archetypes….

Angell's prose is graceful and pleasant, with never a misstep, never cliché or corn or overstatement or pomposity. What a pleasure it is to read him, like the pleasure of watching effortless fielding around second base. Angell can pick it. And the construction of his articles—as well as the dance of syntax and the proportion of analogies—makes for our pleasure. He paces his essays—up and down, slow and fast, back and forth—leading the reader lightly, giving him just enough of each subject to leave him wanting more. I watch his essayistic subtleties and shenanigans with admiration and despair, much as a Beer League softball pitcher might observe [pitcher] Luis Tiant.

When Angell comes to the subject of baseball's owners and the imperatives of television—to Howard Cosell and Bowie Kuhn—anger replaces his usual good humor, as he defends the game against the gods of hype….

Criticisms of baseball's enemies form a rightful part of this book, because Angell's prose and vision serve the game. But the plupart of Five Seasons is grandly positive. (p. 1183)

Donald Hall, "A Fan's Notes," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1977; 150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), Vol. XXIX, No. 40, October 14, 1977, pp. 1183-84.

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