Roger Angell Jonathan Yardley - Essay

Jonathan Yardley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Jacksonian, that is—and ended with the strike ("From first to last, the crisis was an invention of the owners …") and the farcical split season [of 1981]. Angell has penetrating things to say about interesting subjects: the father-son relationship between baseball generations, the age of big money, the growing distance between players and fans. Above all, he is a fan who loves the game, who understands its intricacy and its mystery and its history. (p. 3)

Jonathan Yardley, "Baseline Facts for Baseball Fans," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1982, The Washington Post), May 23, 1982, pp. 3, 9.∗