I would like to think that if Roger Angell were a guitar player with a teen daughter, he would wear an earring. He definitely combined worlds. As a word-by-word best-in-class editor whose mother married E.B. White (and didn’t tell him), Angell could have written anything, and he chose to focus on a game. Baseball.
Roger Angell died at 101 this past weekend. Angell has both real estate in the Baseball Hall Of Fame and The American Academy Of Arts And Letters. He worked at The New Yorker for 70 years as a writer and editor. He graduated Harvard, as did his father. He became the fiction editor of The New Yorker, as had his mother. Angell served in the military (World War II) and blogged. He was in therapy almost his entire adult life, he grew authors like John Updike and Garrison Keillor, and he carried a Mead composition notebook to every game.
Baseball is a hobby, a sport. A game. It is neither necessary or mandatory. On the face of it, baseball may not be important. Even Angell acknowledged this surface glance.
“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team,” he wrote in his book “Five Seasons” (1977). “What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.”
There. There it is. That was the genius of Roger Angell. Looking deep enough.
Of Ron Darling, he once wrote, “the best right-handed part-Chinese Yale history major among the Mets starters.” And of life he once wrote, ““Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.”
What I admired most about Mr. Angell’s career was his unapologetic stance. I can only imagine that an Editor of The New Yorker must have had to attend his fair share of cocktail parties on the East Side in apartments overlooking the river. From all accounts, he never once slumped his shoulders at the category of sports writer at them. Instead he held up the game of baseball and humbly said, there are life lessons here, too.
By not apologizing, he elevated. There is a compass there for anyone curbing parts of themselves so that the world understands them better. You don’t compromise, you elevate.
There are other secrets of life to learn from Roger Angell. He was married to his first wife, Carol, for 48 years, who told him while she was dying that he had a year to find someone new, or she would come back and haunt him. He hailed. And at age 93, began another life with Peggy Moorman. In love, as in work, he never stopped. And thusly went into extra innings.
Writers, in exchange for the blood on the page (screen) are granted this Faustian bargain whereby when we are gone, if you want to know what we were thinking (and thus who we were), you can read us. It would be impossible to render an impression of Roger Angell better than the one he rendered. I encourage you to read him. As an essayist his dexterity was more pianist than relief pitcher.
What is possible, though, is to call out a lesson from his life that I am not sure he even knew he was teaching. That one’s joy in something is reason enough. That it is the quality of the mind and not the perceived importance of the endeavor. That reducing one person’s passion is to admit your own short-sightedness, and that even a two hour game can be cast in dignity when the lighting operator is willing to think on it right.
“It’s just clothes,” is an AWFUL lot like “It’s just baseball.”
That passage about the need for attachment and love is the kind of writing I like best from guys like Angell and E.B. White: direct, not flowery, even simple; but boy does it paint a picture and hit you right in the gut.
A-level stuff here.
A class act on many levels. He was a writer of beautiful prose that clearly conveyed his thoughts without gaudy excess. His writings were both soothing and challenging.
“There is a compass there for anyone curbing parts of themselves so that the world understands them better. You don’t compromise, you elevate.” Roger Angell seems to bring out the best in your writing, too, JB. Lots to think about in this one.
No interest in baseball, but my favorite items of headgear are a khaki ballcap and a navy one. Neither bears a logo—certainly not a baseball team logo. They go great with khakis and navy polo shirts. That makes them Ivy in my book.
You don’t have to like baseball to like Angell’s writing on baseball.
I trust your taste and will now read Angell’s writing. My comment was inspired by the title of the post.
You might like to start with Angell’s “This Old Man”, as recommended by Charlottesville:
E.B. White co-wrote “The Elements of Style.” It was required reading my freshman year.
One of the teachings was to keep it simple, or as Thoreau wrote, “simplify, simplify.”
Bullseye, John. Well done
Bullseye, John. Thank you for this.
Roger Angell was a great writer and interesting man. In addition to the sports writing for which he is perhaps best known, he wrote on topics like food and travel for Holiday Magazine and his New Yorker essay “This Old Man” is a must-read classic.
I have read “This Old Man” daily since your comment. Holy cow, it is that good. Thank you!
This is just excellent, beautiful writing and a fitting tribute.
There was a time in my childhood when I was truly obsessed with baseball. I could rattle off an encyclopedia full of trivia and stats, (nearly all of which I’ve long since forgotten). I loved playing the game, though I wasn’t often very good at it. At this point, I haven’t followed the sport in eons. But still love to go to a game once in a blue moon; the whole experience is still worth taking in.
Perfect, both as a tribute to Angell (a mensch, if ever there was one) and to his style. (And never let it be said that baseball can’t be Ivy.)
Highly enjoyable piece. Thank you.
Terrific piece. Thank you.
I regret to say that I was unaware of Roger Angell until his passing. Since then myriad writers I respect have paid tribute. Are there any particular books or articles you, or any readers of this site, would particularly recommend?
Thanks! Scroll up and there are a few links in the comments. I think you will enjoy him.
Ah ha! Thank you.
As a reader of The New Yorker since college in the early 1960’s, one of the annual highlights was Roger Angell’s long holiday poem titled “Greetings Friends.” Always clever and a great mix of pop culture and references to the classics.
When writing about a great writer and Editor
honor his memory with perfect grammar.
“He graduated Harvard, as did his father.”
It’s graduated FROM Harvard.
Perhaps the rules have loosened up since I learned them,
in which case ignore these remarks. Otherwise, a great
It is actually either. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/graduated-or-was-graduated
The article you linked does not address your usage. The ones covered in the article are:
1. “I was graduated from Harvard”
2. “I graduated from Harvard”
3. “I graduated college in 1945” (controversial usage per the article)
What is not addressed is your usage, which invokes a specific school: “Angell graduated Harvard.” It may be the case that this falls under usage 3, but that is not stated in the linked article. Either way, it is more unclear grammatically than “Angell graduated college at Harvard,” for example, and a good rule of thumb is always clarity rather than pedantic technical corrrectness in spite of clarity.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure you read the article in the link, after you do, and you retract your first sentence in your second sentence, avoid giving any further advice.
…Okay? I did read the article, hence my comment. Perhaps you could do with a dictionary search for “straw man” or “ad hominem,” as those seem to be favorites of yours.
Only he and George Will ever made me care about baseball on a level deeper than me cracking open a cold one and watching a game on a lazy Sunday.
Baseball was my favorite sport growing up in the 70s and early 80s but I lost interest as I got older. Becoming a father 18 years ago rekindled my interest and I have read many books on the history of the game.
Agnell and his writing will be missed. Many great metaphors and lessons in the game.
Roger Angell on things other than baseball:
Here he is on the dry martini:
and here’s an interview where he talks about about reading and writing:
Roger Angell was “natty as always in crisp khakis, a blue Oxford shirt, and a Paul Stuart blazer”
Nice one, JB. Imagine sitting down with Angell for a long lunch at a place overlooking the water – and dragging in James Salter, if he was in town.
That would be one of those interview question lunches – if you could have lunch with any two people, who would it be? My original was JFK and Einstein, but I think yours is better.
That ball cap bears the logo of the Antique and Classic Boat Society.
Tom Verducci wrote a marvelous essay on Angell for Sports Illustrated, easily findable.