Fans not just of baseball or of baseball writing but of writing in general will be happy to hear that Roger Angell has won the Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award. As New Yorker editor David Remnick notes in his post announcing the news, the recognition has come none too soon: Angell, ninety-three, has been writing on baseball for decades and seemed, perhaps because of his literary associations, overlooked in favor of famous beat-writer Cooperstown inductees like Red Smith and Ring Lardner.
The Summer Game, Angell’s first collection of baseball writing, was published in 1972 and contains essays dating to the 1962 season – including “The ‘Go’ Shouters,” one of several on the nascent New York Mets and their fans, whose ranks I was doomed to join. “The ‘Go’ Shouters” was the first thing from Angell I ever read, and it stands alongside “The Web of the Game” (recounting a Yale vs. St. John’s pitchers’ duel between future big leaguers -- and Mets -- Frank Viola and Ron Darling) and the palindromic-headlined “Not So, Boston” (how the 1986 Red Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory) as my favorites. The latter is collected in Season Ticket, for which Angell borrows a quote from Ted Williams to adorn the contents page: “Don’t you know how hard this all is?” Williams meant batting in particular and baseball in general, but it could also apply to writing well, not just about baseball but about anything.
Angell has made it look easy for many years – whether in his reviews or in his “Greetings, Friends” Christmas verse in the New Yorker or in his pieces on baseball – but his awareness of the effort required is apparent from the careful composition and the clarity of his prose, his respect for the work reflected in the thoughtful regard in which he holds his subjects. Maybe his even longer career as fiction editor at the New Yorker has had something to do with it? In any case, the magazine has posted links to a number of Angell’s baseball pieces here.