Roger Angell Mark Harris

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Mark Harris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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The 16 essays in "Late Innings" cover the period from 1977 to 1981 and, depending upon our geography, connect to our nostalgia for a past so recent that is has not been remembered. They also re-establish a claim about which there cannot have been much doubt. Although Mr. Angell's specialty is baseball, he marvelously avoids the clichés and weary formulations that characterize baseball writing. He never draws upon the stock of jargon that has been gathering for a century. He sees things by looking at them, not by remembering what has been so often said about them. He listens hard, especially to baseball players themselves (never to publicists), and by some masterful technique writes down the things these highly informed people say….

Mr. Angell respects the game these people play, and because he cares for his own style and is rather a genius at writing well without seeming to press (which must be very hard work), he feels or understands the meaning of being excellent at the work one does….

The great task as one grows older (Mr. Angell was born in 1920) is to keep the signs of weariness out, to conceal from one's enemies the fact of one's tiring. In that way one might go on indefinitely. A wise fan said to Mr. Angell, "But I'm not one of those who goes around always saying that the old players were the best." Good. Nor does Mr. Angell; therefore his writing remains young. This does not contradict the fact that during the five years covered by these pages Mr. Angell's center of interest shifts slightly. There seems to be more concern for the older player as opposed to the younger, for the retired player thinking back not only upon the glory that was but also upon what might have been had he only had the sense to make more of the short moment…. (p. 3)

Mr. Angell is one of those few lucky writers whose working arrangements enable them to write their specialties slowly, to be on top of the news in the way of The New Yorker rather than in the way of the daily newspaper, the television interviewer or the fanatical sports magazine. Thus he sees his subject whole—each of five complete April spring-training sessions or the entire season when it is over. He avoids speaking of the future, about which so much is said on so little basis. He has worked himself free of the worst demands of journalism, which so often produce in writers that desperation turning to hatred of their very subjects. For many sports reporters a convenient object of their fury was the woman reporter's winning her right to the clubhouse interview and to equal access generally. Mr. Angell's essay on female sports reporters is a fine example of work by a writer who is at once involved, unfettered and positive.

Journalism, even for The New Yorker, is subject to limitation, and inevitably these selections, sound and solid and satisfying as they are, lack the unity of a premeditated book. The good outcome of this is that the focus is finally upon the figure who is constant throughout—the tale-teller himself. I have met Mr. Angell at last through this slightly inadvertent self-portrait. He is the artist whose respect for the art he observes exceeds every temptation to cynicism. What makes a writer great to me is longevity. (p. 18)

Mark Harris, "Playing the Game," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 23, 1982, pp. 3, 18.