So Familiar and So Startling

July 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Roger Angell, 93 years old, New Yorker fixture, former fiction editor for the magazine and the son of Katharine White, stepson of E. B. White, will be awarded the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for writers during induction ceremonies at the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.

When he accepted the award Saturday at Doubleday Field, Angell said that he collected “.300 lifetime talkers like a billionaire hunting down Cézannes and Matisses”— loquacious folks like Keith Hernandez, Roger Craig, Bill Rigney and Dan Quisenberry. And he gave his thanks to baseball, “which has turned out to be so familiar and so startling, so spacious and so exacting, and so easy looking and so heartbreakingly difficult that it filled my notebooks in a rush.”

As Joe Bonomo writes:

“…Angell’s best writing about baseball is always simultaneously the best writing about living, because he writes with passion, intelligence, economy, and humanity, and because, as in all great writing, his narrow subjects naturally give way his larger subjects. Angell shows us, again and again, how our loves, small or great, full of heartbreaks, disappointments, and diminishing returns, take many shapes. Angell’s is diamond-shaped.”

Angell’s best writing didn’t profile players in their prime, but when they faced crossroads—such as Steve Blass, who completely lost the ability to throw strikes in 1973, and David Cone, the veteran pitcher who was trying to keep his career alive with the Red Sox after a baffling season of terrible luck with the Yankees in 2000. That article, “Before the Fall,” was expanded into a book, A Pitcher’s Story:

He’d been smoking more. I almost never saw him light up, even when he was at home, but Lynn said he’d stopped inviting me to drive up to the Stadium with him or back home after a game, as he sometimes had, because he smoked in the car and didn’t want me to know. When I asked how many cigarettes a day he smoked, he said more lately but less than a pack. Lynn said he was way up over that by now. Cone did tell me that his doctor, John Olichney, had recently prescribed Zyban, a mild antidepressant that would help you get off nicotine when you were ready. One of its side effects was powerful dreams, and in August David said that only the night before he’d found himself pitching for the Red Sox, in a dream. It was all perfectly clear—the green wall behind him and the red letters on the uniform. “It wouldn’t be bad there, at that,” he said musingly. “That would be a change—pitching with those fans on my side. And I like Jimy Williams as a manager. I’ve always wondered what living in New England would be like…”

The New Yorker has opened up its archives, but since I can’t get the link to work, here’s a post with links to some of Angell’s featured baseball writing, and an earlier one from David Remnick made after Angell’s induction was announced.

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