A Roger Angell Companion

© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Summarizing the life’s work of Roger Angell — who lived for 101 years and covered baseball for 56 of them, doing it better than anyone has — was such a daunting task that I knew even before I started writing my tribute that I would need a little help from my friends. So I asked a small handful writers and editors within easy reach to share a few of their favorite Angell pieces with me and our readers.

Some of these pieces were cited within my tribute and mentioned multiple times within my informal polling, so as the responses came in, I nudged others for some deeper cuts, and limited myself to those as well. Many if not most of these pieces are behind the New Yorker’s paywall, but you could do worse than subscribe. Nearly all of them are collected in the seminal volumes that introduced so many of us to Angell’s work, namely The Summer Game (1972), Five Seasons (1977), Late Innings (1982), and Season Ticket (1988), with a few collected within the anthologies Once More Around the Park (1991) and Game Time (2003), and his final book, This Old Man: All in Pieces (2015).

The roster of contributors, alphabetically (with links to some additional Angell-related content): Lindsey Adler, staff writer for The Athletic; Alex Belth, founder of Bronx Banter and The Stacks Reader; Joe Bonomo, author of No Place I Would Rather Be: Roger Angell and a Life in Baseball Writing; Jason Fry, blogger at Faith and Fear in Flushing; Ben Lindbergh, senior editor at The Ringer and Effectively Wild co-host; Meg Rowley, FanGraphs managing editor and Effectively Wild co-host; Susan Slusser, San Francisco Chronicle Giants beat writer and past BBWAA president; Emma Span, enterprise editor at The Athletic; and John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball. Thank you to all of these folks for their timely submissions.

All dates refer to the cover dates of issues of the New Yorker in which these pieces first appeared.

“The ‘Go’ Shouters,” June 16, 1962 (collected in The Summer Game). Submitted by Fry and Rowley.

“Woven throughout Angell’s work is this understanding. To cheer for the losers, to be invested in their fate, is an act of fandom, but also an act of recognition; it is to see ourselves out on the field, even if only briefly. It helps to create adult stakes in what is fundamentally a child’s game. It can inspire silliness, dark intensity, behavior that in any other context might be deemed embarrassing. It moves us to blow a foghorn in the midst of a blow out, but it also inspires care and investment, and creates community – with the players we suddenly see as our fellows and with those around us in the stands who are similarly afflicted, with whom we share this recognition. Who see us out there on the field, in all our stumbling semi-success, and who we see in turn.” — Rowley

“Farewell,” April 25, 1964 (collected in The Summer Game). Submitted by Bonomo.

“Although I love Roger’s long-form essays, two of my favorites of his appeared as Comments in the New Yorker. This one is his amazing farewell to the Polo Grounds.” — Bonomo

“The Interior Stadium,” February 12, 1971 (collected in The Summer Game) Submitted by Thorn.

Thorn offered a trio of favorite passages from this one; I am particularly drawn to it as well:

“Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our fathers’ youth, and even back then—back in the country days—there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped. Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young. Sitting in the stands, we sense this, if only dimly.”

“Down the Drain,” June 23, 1975 (collected in Five Seasons as “Gone For Good”) — Submitted by Rowley and Span.

“For all our measurements and data points and projections, there’s often still a deep mystery to it when a player suddenly struggles, or recovers just as quickly… Angell is a writer who chose each word, every time, with care and for a specific reason. Very few people can write that way, and for a lot of writers, the attempt results in the kind of paralyzing anxiety spiral that may have affected Pirates pitcher Steve Blass, described so vividly in this same piece. If it ever happened to Angell, he never let it show.” — Span

“Agincourt and After,” November 9, 1975 (collected in Five Seasons). Submitted by Rowley and Slusser.

“‘Agincourt and After’ is the best bit of sportswriting of all time. It’s miraculous. How did a person produce that level of brilliance? I’m astonished and actually angry about it, it’s so perfect. 😆” — Slusser

“Distance,” September 22, 1980 (collected in Late Innings). Submitted by Jaffe and Lindbergh.

“A sensitive portrait of Bob Gibson that I have previously nominated as perhaps Angell’s best, written shortly before the indomitable Cardinal — a favorite subject of the writer via his 1960s World Series heroics — was elected to the Hall of Fame.” — Jaffe

“The Web of the Game,” July 12, 1981 (collected in Late Innings) — Submitted by Bonomo, Fry, Slusser, and Thorn.

“Angell sitting with Smoky Joe Wood watching Ron Darling and Frank Viola? It sounds like a W.P. Kinsella story, but it really happened.” — Fry

“Streakers,” November 21, 1982 (uncollected). Submitted by Bonomo.

“This 1982 World Series recap is great, of course, but also because the passages about Cesar’s Inn, where some of the Brewers players and Audrey Kuenn, “Mrs. Manager,” hung out, are just priceless and vintage Roger Angell, and because fantastically he never included it in full in any of his books. More people should know the piece!” — Bonomo

“In the Fire,” March 4, 1984 (collected in Season Ticket). Submitted by Lindbergh.

“A 1984 ode to the complexities of catching that exemplified Angell’s observational skills and reporting prowess (and inspired some research of my own).” — Lindbergh

“Not So, Boston,” December 8, 1986 (collected in Season Ticket). Submitted by Fry.

“I’ve re-read ‘Not So, Boston’ again and again and because of that, I still point my finger and intone, ‘Oh ye of little faith’ when fans leave a game seemingly headed for a wrong result.” — Fry

“No, But I Saw the Game,” July 23, 1989 (collected in Once More Around the Park) — Belth

“One of my favorite Angell pieces is an essay he wrote about baseball movies in the summer of 1989.” — Belth

“Legend of the Fens,” September 24, 2001 (Collected in Game Time). Submitted by Jaffe.

“As another Red Sox season went off the rails, Mike Mussina locked horns with David Cone in an epic pitcher’s duel at Fenway Park, one in which the Moose came within one strike of a perfect game, spoiled by Carl Everett. Angell found Mussina — who as a free agent had replaced Cone in the Yankees’ rotation that season — shocked and dour in victory. By contrast, Cone, who had rebounded with Boston after pitching terribly for the Yankees in 2000 (a season covered by Angell in 2001’s A Pitcher’s Story: Innings with David Cone) was rejuvenated even in defeat.” — Jaffe

“Here Comes the Sun,” March 30, 2003 (collected in This Old Man: All in Pieces). Submitted by Bonomo.

“His last on-site Spring Training report, a perfect Angell piece combining reportage and story-telling.” — Bonomo

“So Long, Joe,” November 5, 2007 (uncollected). Submitted by Belth and Jaffe.

“Well into his eighth and ninth decades, Angell was particularly drawn to the Joe Torre-era Yankees and to the ex-Mets player and manager for his accessibility, his humility (within is yet another mention of Torre invoking the July 1975 day that he grounded into a record four double plays), and his humanity — qualities that also resonated in this Dodgers-fan-by-birth. The end comes for every manager, and Angell played Torre off with his usual grace.” — Jaffe

“Don’t Say a Word,”, April 20, 2011 (uncollected). Submitted by Adler.

“This piece about an improbable Mariano Rivera blown save is one of my faves.” — Adler

“This Old Man: Life in the Nineties,” February 9 2014 (collected in This Old Man: All in Pieces). Submitted by Slusser and Thorn.

“It resonates for me, at my age, more than it may for you at yours.” — Thorn

“The Best,” October 30, 2014 (collected in This Old Man: All in Pieces). Submitted by Lindbergh.

“Roger the late-career October blogger could declare Madison Bumgarner a better playoff performer than Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, or Sandy Koufax with the authority of one who had applauded them all; liken Dallas Keuchel’s beard to ‘a black chemise or bit of underwear hanging on the far side of your closet door’ and reminisce about attending the Mickey Owen Game a few paragraphs apart; and compare Aaron Judge to Babe Ruth from personal experience.” — Lindbergh

“Baby Giles,” May 2, 2018 (uncollected). Submitted by Lindbergh.

“Whether months or minutes in the making, his words were restorative; even in his last published piece about baseball, a nearly 98-year-old Angell could delight in witnessing a ‘Never Before.’ In him, we had — and on the page, still have — a Never Before and a Never Again.” — Lindbergh

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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1 year ago

I wonder whether it is true that “an excellent cash-producing long-term investment is to wager that the winning team in any game will score more runs in a single inning than the losing team scores in nine” (Agincourt and After)—seems like it could be a fun project to find out

Ryan Nelsonmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Thrynn

I think EW may address this

Ben Lindberghmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Thrynn