Roger Angell Ted Solotaroff - Essay

Ted Solotaroff

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Summer Game" provides such finely observed and finely written reportage on major-league baseball during the past decade that I hope it will triumph over certain of its disadvantages. One is that it is a collection of pieces. Collections don't sell unless they have an obvious gimmick, and I don't see any in sight for Roger Angell's witty but tactful coverage. Still, "The Summer Game" is a genuine book, unified by its ongoing account of the new developments and distortions of the sport and integrated by Angell's consistent ability to capture the "feel" of the player, the game, the series, the pennant race, and by his articulate and imaginative defense of the sport itself against its adversaries, beginning with the major league owners.

All of this creates a second liability: Angell's book is written for the sophisticated fan rather than for the adolescent one—chronological or arrested—that most sports books are aimed at. A writer concerned with the nature and nuances of baseball space and baseball time, or with the social and psychological differences between the pastoral old ball parks and the new programed stadiums, or who refers, however naturally and aptly, to the "Caligulan whims" of the owner of the Oakland A's, or who elegantly sums up the Mets in 1968 as a team that "went on winning, sometimes implacably, sometimes improbably," is not likely to reach many of the heavy consumers.

There have been a few relatively adult baseball books such as [Jim Bouton's] "Ball Four" and now "The Boys of Summer" which make the best-seller lists, mostly because they cater to the contemporary penchant for candor or nostalgia or both, and satisfy the fan's perennial question of what So-and-So is "really like." Angell has none of this; his base of observation is behind first base rather than in the clubhouse or hotel room. He will tell you that Choo Choo Coleman, a catcher for the early Mets, "handles outside curve balls like a man fighting off bees," but nothing about his sex life or racial attitudes. Angell's book has the further misfortune of following in the wake and glare of the similarly titled "The Boys of Summer," by another Roger (Kahn) to boot. Hopefully, some readers will pick up "The Summer Game" and looking for the cant of the new journalism—two parts low-down, one part corn, and a dash of obscenity—they will discover the freshness, accuracy and the unexpected depths of Angell's prose—roughly the difference, in baseball parlance, between a flashy but limited thrower and a polished and versatile pitcher: Vinegar Bend Mizell going against Warren Spahn. Page for page, "The Summer Game" contains not only the classiest but also the most resourceful baseball writing I have ever read….

Now and then Angell lapses into certain mannerisms of The New Yorker, where he is an editor and where these pieces first appeared. His genuine enthusiasm and empathy can tail off into the habitual...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)