On September 19th a titan of the baseball world celebrated his 100th birthday. Like most of my generation, I grew up in awe of the baseball writing of Roger Angell. His books, essays, and regular material in The New Yorker touched me in a way that no baseball writing ever has or ever will. On his 100th birthday, one sad fact became all too clear to me, a lot of newer baseball fans have no idea who Angell is or why he is so important to the game.
This isn’t going to be a breakdown of Angell’s career or some sort of biography. There are biographies out there and great articles that detail his illustrious career. Rather I want to write about the feeling that Angell imbued in me as a baseball fan because I think that is important in explaining him to be not too familiar with his work. More than anyone alive today, Angell is responsible for me being the type of baseball fan I am.
There isn’t one column that stands out more than the rest. In fact, I can’t recall the first Angell column that I read. What I do remember is that my Grandma dropped me off at the library and I was trying to work on some sort of high school research paper. I was a freshman at the time and had no idea how to put together a research paper or do the research. In the course of my winging it, I did some digging through the periodical section. In true “Bill was never the most attentive student” fashion I ended up reading essays that had nothing to do with my chosen topic. At some point, I pulled out an issue of The New Yorker that had some non-baseball related essay from Angell. The emotional truth of his writing grabbed me right away and I looked up more from him.
As I dug deep into Angell’s baseball writing it was like someone was explaining to me in as clear of a manner as they could, why I was a baseball fan. It wasn’t always pretty, when he felt the game was ugly Angell would lay out the ugliness for all to see. Whether that was bad play or bad ethics, Angell didn’t shield me from that like so many other baseball writers seemed wont to do. There were reasons to be upset with the game of baseball and it was important to expect more from the game, its owners, and its players. Angell’s prose helped me to realize that simply accepting the game as is wasn’t good enough.
Love was what I most took away from Angell’s baseball writing. Even when being critical one emotion rang out from his words loud and clear; love. Angell loved the game, he thought highly of the game. His love for the game was infectious, the more of his work I read the more I loved the game of baseball. Angell had a habit of making the simplest of moments seem like it was more than that. The reason for this was always the love he had for the game being played.
As soon as I started writing about baseball I knew I wanted to emulate Angell. There was never any delusional thought that I would be as good as Angell or that my best work would be able to hang with his worst work. However, I knew that I wanted to imbue the same feeling of love for the game that Angell did in his writing. When I was critical of the sport I wanted people to understand I was critical because I knew the game I loved could be better. When I was overjoyed writing about my topic of choice I wanted that love to come through with each and every word. There was nothing mechanical about the relationship between Angell and the sport of baseball. I wanted to make sure that no matter what I avoided the mechanical writing that so often dominated the sport.
If you love the sport of baseball then you owe it to yourself to seek out Angell’s works. Buy his books online, rent them from the library, search out his essays however you can. It’s not often that we get to say we were alive when the very best to ever do it was actually doing it. When it comes to baseball writing we can say that because we have lived during Roger Angell’s time covering the game. There will never be another like him so drink in his work to celebrate all that the man has given to the sport. If you aren’t familiar with him then you really are missing out, trust me on this, your baseball life will be better for having discovered Roger Angell’s words.