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Once More Around the Park : A Baseball Reader ()


Orrin's All-Time Top Ten List - Sports

I have been fortunate enough to share a love of baseball and a particular interest in the Mets and the Red Sox with Roger Angell, though I've not followed him into his current infatuation with the Yankees.   As a result, I've not only read all of his books, his name is also one of the few whose appearance in The New Yorker's Table of Contents suffices by itself to get me to buy the magazine.

Since 1962, which was fortuitously the inaugural year of the Mets, Mr. Angell has written several baseball essays a year for The New Yorker.  There's always one on Spring Training and one on the World Series, then a couple of mid-season updates.  The earliest pieces, covering the years 1962 to 1972, were collected in The Summer Game (1973). Subsequent five year chunks appeared in Five Seasons (1978),  Late Innings (1982), and Season Ticket (1988), then came Once More Around the Park (1991), which mostly reprinted selections from those prior volumes, all of which are, disgracefully, out of print.

Baseball has attracted an extravagantly talented assortment of writers but no one has ever written more beautifully about the intricacies and every day charms of the game than Angell, nor captured the idiosyncrasies of individual players in greater detail.  It's impossible to match his prose, so let's allow him to speak for himself :

    *  Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility.
    It is a perfect object for a man's hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose: it is meant to
    be thrown a considerable distance-thrown hard and with precision. Its feel and heft are the
    beginning of the sport's critical dimensions; if it were a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, a few
    centigrams heavier or lighter, the game of baseball would be utterly different.  Hold a baseball in
    your hand ... Feel the ball, turn it over in your hand; hold it across the seam or the other way, with
    the seam just to the side of your middle finger. Speculation stirs. You want to get outdoors and
    throw this spare and sensual object to somebody or, at the very least, watch somebody else throw
    it.  The game has begun.
        -"On the Ball", Five Seasons

    * Baseball's clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a
    slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever
    more tightly with each pitcher's windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little
    half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch... Any persistent effort to destroy this
    unique phenomenon, to "use up" baseball's time with planned distractions, will in fact transform the
    sport into another mere entertainment and thus hasten its descent to the status of a boring and
    stylized curiosity.
        -The Summer Game

    * 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.
         -"The Interior Stadium", The Summer Game

    * The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference, if not irritation, to the
    non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not only informative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in
    aesthetic structure. It represents happenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures and
    history. Its totals - batters' credit vs. pitchers' debit - balance as exactly as those in an accountant's
    ledger. And a box score is more than a capsule archive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the
    sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most
    intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is
    subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an
    instant responding judgment - ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay - and an ensuing statistic. This
    encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a
    box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that pickles the scalp of a musician when he
    glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds
    and violins.
          -"Box Scores", The Summer Game

     * This is a linear sport. Something happens and then something else happens, and then the next
    man comes up and digs in at the plate. Here's the pitch, and here, after a pause, is the next. There's
    time to write it down in your scorecard or notebook, and then perhaps to look about and reflect on
    what's starting to happen out there now. It's not much like the swirl and blur of hockey and
    basketball, or the highway crashes of the NFL.

    Baseball is the writer's game, and its train of thought, we come to sense, is a shuttle, carrying us
    constantly forward to the next pitch or inning, or the sudden double into the left-field corner, but
    we keep hold of the other half of our ticket, for the return trip on the same line. We anticipate
    happily, and, coming home, reenter an old landscape brightened with fresh colors. Baseball games
    and plays and mannerisms-the angle of a cap-fade stubbornly and come to mind unbidden, putting
    us back in some particular park on that special October afternoon or June evening. The players are
    as young as ever, and we, perhaps not entirely old.
        -Once More Around the Park

    * There are baseball fans, it must be admitted, who don't like Tim McCarver's stuff. After they've
    listened to the celebrated baseball analyst working another World Series game, say, or a Fox
    Saturday Baseball Game of the Week, or a WNYW Yankees game, with Bobby Murcer, or, before
    that for many years, a Mets yawner or triumph with Ralph Kiner as sidekick, certain friends of
    mine have found fault. A few of them sound apologetic about it, as if they have failed Tim
    somehow; others plain can't stand him. Because I don't understand any of this, I have been at pains
    to listen to their whinings, which can be easily summarized: Tim McCarver likes to talk. He laughs
    and enjoys himself at ballgames. He makes jokes -- puns, even.  He uses fancy words. He's excitable
    -- he gets carried away by the baseball. He's always going on and on about some little thing. He
    thinks he knows how the game should be played. He knows too much.
        -"The Bard in the Booth", The New Yorker, September 6, 1999

There are of course those philistines who dislike baseball, and even baseball fans who simply dislike this kind of myth-tinged writing about the game.  For the rest of us, the essays of Roger Angell are a must.

We've had a particularly tough winter here in New England--as I write, it is March 31st and we just got another foot of snow.  But pick up any one of Roger Angell's books, turn to just about any one of his essays (though you might want to avoid a few of those in Late Innings, when he got caught up in the hysteria over rising salaries and free agency), read one of his descriptions of a play or a player and he effortlessly transports you into that Interior Stadium.  There are really only two sports that live on in our minds : golf and baseball.  In fact, many years ago I learned a trick to help you get to sleep if you're having trouble--as you lay abed, either play eighteen holes at your favorite course or figure out how you would pitch to your favorite team for nine innings.  It's no coincidence that these two sports, which have lent themselves to most of the truly great literature of sport, are the two which can be summoned thus in the imagination.

Roger Angell's writing is so evocative, it too seems to tap into your store of memories,--of players, plays, and games--enabling you to visualize most of the scenes he writes about.  Writing in general, and sports writing in particular, just doesn't get any better than this.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

Roger Angell Links:

    -ESSAY: GONE SOUTH: In a last surprise, the young Marlins are champs. (ROGER ANGELL, 2003-11-17, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Four Taverns in the Town (Roger Angell, 1963-10-26, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The Old Folks Behind Home (Roger Angell, Spring 1962, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Game Time by Roger Angell (Joel Conarroe, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of LET ME FINISH By Roger Angell (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Let Me Finish (David Laskin, The Seattle Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of A Pitcher's Story
    -ESSAY : The beauty of losing beautifully. (Roger Angell,  Feb, 1996, Interview)
    -ESSAY : The Making of E. B. White (Roger Angell, August 3, 1997, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : The Minstrel Steig (Roger Angell, The New Yorker, February 1995)
    -DISCUSSION : Joltin' Joe : Baseball great Joe Dimaggio died at age 84 after complications of lung cancer surgery. Phil Ponce talks about his life with teammate Phil Rizzuto, New Yorker editor Roger Angell and essayist Roger Rosenblatt. (Online Newshour, PBS, March 8, 1999 )
    -ARCHIVES : "roger angell" (NY Review of Books)
    -PROFILE : BRILLIANT CAREERS : Roger Angell : Long before he started writing about baseball  for the New Yorker he was a fan of the game, and he has never been afraid to show it. (Steve Kettmann, Salon)
    -ESSAY : An Angell has been watching over Cone  (Gordon Edes, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY : BOOKEND : The Gentle Realist (William Maxwell) (DANIEL MENAKER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Once More Around the Park (LOUIS D. RUBIN JR., News Observer)
    -REVIEW : of The Summer Game by Roger Angell (Erik Lundegaard, Halcyon)
    -REVIEW : of LATE INNINGS A Baseball Companion. By Roger Angell (1982) (John Leonard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of LATE INNINGS A Baseball Companion. By Roger Angell (1982) (Mark Harris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Once More Around the Park By Roger Angell (1991) (HERBERT MITGANG, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of SEASON TICKET A Baseball Companion. By Roger Angell (1988)(Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of SEASON TICKET A Baseball Companion. By Roger Angell (1988)(Joel Conarroe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Five Seasons (Erik Lundegaard, Halcyon)
    -REVIEW : of NOTHING BUT YOU Love Stories From The New Yorker. Edited by Roger Angell  (Ian Jack, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : 'A Pitcher's Story': Toting the Wins and Losses of a  Pitcher's Art  : The year Roger Angell, the New Yorker writer, spent with  David Cone would turn out to be a nightmare for the pitcher.  (NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Pitcher's Story (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Pitcher's Story: Innings With David Cone  (PETE HAMILL, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of A Pitcher's Story (Allen St. John, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Roger Angell's A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone (Bob  Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

GENERAL/New Yorker :
    -ESSAY : STILL HERE AT THE NEW YORKER (Brendan Gill,  October 4, 1987, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ABOUT TOWN The New Yorker and the World It Made. By Ben Yagoda (John Leonard, NY Times)

GENERAL/Baseball :
    -Halcyon Baseball Book Reviews
    -ESSAY : The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature (George Plimpton, May 31, 1992, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : The Legacy of BALL FOUR and Other Sporting Tomes (Ron Kaplan , Book Reporter)
    -PROFILE : Brilliant Careers : Vin Scully : For 50 years, an Irish redhead from the Bronx has been the gold standard for baseball announcers (Gary Kaufman, Salon)
    -BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT : "29,000 people and a million butterflies" :   Vin Scully's radio call of the ninth inning of Sandy  Koufax's 1965 perfect game against the Chicago Cubs is pure baseball literature (Vin Scully)
    -REVIEW : of ME AND DIMAGGIO. A Baseball Fan Goes in Search of His Gods. By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (Roy Blount, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PHYSICS OF BASEBALL By Robert Kemp Adair (1990) (Sheldon Lee Glashow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HOME RUN HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD The Dramatic Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race By Ray Robinson (David Lehman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PROGRESS OF THE SEASONS Forty Years of Baseball in Our Town. By George V. Higgins and SPRING TRAINING By William Zinsser (Lawrence S. Ritter, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Baseball Anecdotes By Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  HOW LIFE IMITATES THE WORLD SERIES. By Thomas Boswell (1982) (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt , NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Natural by Bernard Malamud (Harry Sylvester, August 26, 1952, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Red Smith on Baseball (Maurice Timothy Reidy, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW : of Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years.(Wayne M. Barrett,  USA Today)
    -REVIEW : of  Baseball An Illustrated History By Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of BASEBALL An Illustrated History. Narrative by Geoffrey C. Ward (Avery Corman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE SHORT SEASON The Hard Work and High Times of Baseball in the Spring. By David Falkner (Daniel Okrent, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE GIANTS OF THE POLO GROUNDS The Glorious Times of Baseball's New York Giants by Noel Hynd and  SAY HEY The Autobiography of Willie Mays. By Willie Mays with Lou Sahadi (Hilma Wolitzer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of KINER'S KORNER At Bat and on the Air - My 40 Years in Baseball. By Ralph Kiner with Joe Gergen (Joel Oppenheimer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Bunts by George Will  (Curt Schleier for Fort Worth Star-Telegram )
    -REVIEW : of  Zim, a Baseball Life by Don Zimmer (Michael Prager, Boston Globe)
    -BOOK LISTS : Inside the Park : An All-Star Lineup of Baseball Books :  Selected By Joe Torre, Roger Kahn, Vin Scully, and Roger Angell (NY Times, April 6, 1997)

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