Roger Angell Edward Hoagland

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Edward Hoagland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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 shape that publication's famous shrinking-violet writing style. Very occasionally he himself falls victim to it. More often he is on vacation, though, pleasuring himself with the traditional chestnuts of baseball scribes: "the starting hurler," "the starboard garden," "the visiting nine," "the pill," "a hummer," "a round-tripper," "a fourply blow," "heavy mitting," a "rainmaking" fly. Perhaps because The New Yorker tends to run overlong profiles, he avoids profiles on these days off. Indeed, except for [Steve] Blass (who has a writerly "block") and a baseball scout named Ray Scarborough, we hear rather little about most of the people behind the lively feats he makes us privy to. He's short on atmosphere also, a feel for time and place, although he's so lavish with action, names, a thousand bits of memory thrown glittering in together, so full of modesty and humor and generous spirits you know he has it and has assumed that you do too. The only other way he might be faulted is that, except for a few overtargeted villains like Charlie Finley and Bowie Kuhn, he never says anything about anybody that might wear out his welcome anywhere; he's awfully discreet.

But this is quibbling. The book is irresistible, the best companion to the sport since Angell's own The Summer Game in 1972…. (pp. 76, 78)

Edward Hoagland, "A Fan's Notes," in Harper's (copyright © 1977 by Edward Hoagland; reprinted by permission of Lescher & Lescher, Ltd, as agents for the author), Vol. 255, No. 1526, July, 1977, pp. 76, 78.