A Fond Goodbye To Roger Angell
ALSO: SALUTING THE ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME DOUBLE IMMACULATE INNING
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Did you know…
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An Angell in the Elysian Fields
The singular Roger Angell left us at age101
By Jeff Kallman
The various and splendid anthologies of Roger Angell’s New Yorker baseball essays were subtitled, invariably, A Baseball Companion. (The exception: The Summer Game, his first such collection.) That fit as perfectly as a Sandy Koufax curve ball, a Henry Aaron home run swing, a Willie Mays basket catch, a Rickey Henderson base theft, a Mariano Rivera cutter.
Those books made Angell himself—who died at 101 on May 20 —a baseball companion of Hall of Fame caliber. It took more than just a little doing to turn caliber to actuality.
When the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, she labored like batters trying to solve the Koufaxes and Riveras to get Angell into the ranks of the since-renamed J.G. Taylor Spink Award’s winners. Angell made it at last in 2014 — making him the only American writer elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Hall of Fame.
The Spink Award has been re-named the BBWAA Career Excellence Award, after the writers agreed at last that such an award should not be named for a man as vociferous as Spink was on behalf of keeping baseball racially segregated. “Career Excellence Award,” sounds more like a platinum watch than a place in Cooperstown. I’d have preferred the award be renamed the Roger Angell Award. No baseball writer worth his or her skills would find such an award anything other than a blessing.
Never mind that Angell was never eligible for BBWAA membership because he was never a daily baseball beat writer. From the moment he accepted then-New Yorker editor William Shawn’s challenge to visit spring training in 1962 and see what he might find, as I wrote myself once upon a time, Angell made Shawn’s challenge the single least impeachable moment in the history of American inspiration since Benjamin Franklin took whomever up on the admonishment to go fly a kite.
“It was clear to me,” Angell wrote, introducing The Summer Game, “that the doings of big-league baseball . . . were so enormously reported in the newspapers that I would have to find some other aspect of the game to study.”
I decided to sit in the stands . . . and watch the baseball from there . . . I wanted to pick up the feel of the game as it happened to the people around me. Right from the start, I was terribly lucky, because my first year or two in the seats behind first or third coincided with the birth and grotesque early sufferings of the Mets, which turned out to be the greatest fan story of all.
He eased naturally, intelligently, empathetically, into being an observer of acute insight and a gentle reminder to even the least inquisitive fan that the men who play and even administer the game are only too human. No other writer chronicled the staggering collapse of Pirates World Series hero Steve Blass, exhumed the core of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s real or presumed furies, or captured the depth of ill-fated relief ace Dan Quisenberry’s self-deprecating self-awareness (I found a delivery in my flaw), with Angell’s grace.
And no other writer captured the earthquake impact of an otherwise mere spring training home run the way Angell did when he watched Dave Kingman, freshly minted as a Met, hit one off Catfish Hunter, freshly minted (after Charlie Finley’s renege on a contracted-for insurance payment made him a free agent and six-figure bidding war target) as a Yankee in 1975, reposing forever in the pages of Five Seasons:
The hum was replaced by an explosion of sustained shouting as Kingman came around on a high Hunter changeup, caught all of the ball—every inch and ounce of it—with his bat, and drove it out of the park and out of the lights in a gigantic parabola, whose second, descendant half was not yet perceptible when the ball flew into the darkness, departing the premises about five feet inside the left field foul line and about three palm trees high. I have never seen a longer home run anywhere.
. . . The Yankees were still talking about the home run the next day, when Hunter told Ron Blomberg he hoped he hadn’t hurt his neck out there in left field watching the ball depart. Others took it up, rookies and writers and regulars, redescribing and amplifying it, already making it a legend, and it occurred to me that the real effect of the blast, except for the memory and the joy of it, might be to speed Catfish Hunter’s acceptance by his new teammates. There is nothing like a little public humiliation to make a three-and-a-half-million-dollar executive lovable.
His professional life primarily was as The New Yorker’s fiction editor. (He succeeded his mother, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in the job.) Thomas Boswell, himself long overdue as a (cringe) Career Excellence Award winner, came forth from his retirement to define it: “He had chosen a literary life that required commitment to psychological depth, to grasping and empathizing with the widest possible range of subjects and experiences. In that harsh highbrow league, there are flashes of provisional insight but seldom final truths.”
“[W]hat we can honor him for, then and now,” Angell wrote, introducing a re-publication of his stepfather E.B. White’s anthology One Man’s Meat in 1997, “is his clear conviction (no one was ever clearer on the written page) that he is qualified to think about freedom, all on his own, and to address his reader as one citizen to another about such urgent business.”
We who’ve considered baseball season urgent business for at least as long as Angell observed the games, reached to the essences of those who played and administered it (his chronicle of watching a game with legendary Giants owner Horace Stoneham remains a shameless delight), and scolded those who manipulated or maimed it, should mourn only that there’ll be no more.
Angell’s longevity allowed him to see both Babe Ruth and Mike Trout. We were lucky to have had him among us, addressing us as one citizen to others about the urgency of baseball, for sixty professional years. I’ve probably exhausted the forthcoming by now, but I still think baseball historian Peter Golenbock was wrong to call Angell baseball’s Homer—even a fool knows that Homer was really ancient Greece’s Roger Angell.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they were born.
Double Immaculate Inning Is Something New In Grand Old Game
By Dan Schlossberg
Every day of the baseball season, something happens that never happened before.
Usually, it is something spectacular, like a no-hitter by a completely unexpected source or a ridiculous number of total bases by a hitter (Shawn Green has the single-game record of 19).
But the Houston Astros gave us something completely different on Wednesday night.
Two different pitchers delivered immaculate innings — a feat more rare than a triple play or a balk by a catcher.
For the uninitiated, an immaculate inning occurs when a pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches. Three batters. Three up, three strikes, three down.
Here’s what happened in our game of reference:
In the second inning of Houston’s 9-2 win over Texas, Astros starting pitcher Luis Garcia struck out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller on nine pitches, recording the first immaculate inning.
Then in the seventh, reliever Phil Maton got the same hitters … and also struck them out on nine pitches.
It’s the first time in MLB history two immaculate innings have occurred on the same day — and this happened on the same day, in the same game, against the same team, to the same hitters.
For the Astros, who are itching for a chance to get back to the World Series and get Dusty Baker his first ring as a manager, the midweek pitching performance will be an afterthought in no time. But it shouldn’t be forgotten.
On a team loaded with such sluggers as Yordan Alvarez, the MVP of last year’s American League Championship Series, pitchers other than Justin Verlander rarely generate any newspaper ink. But here’s a chance to correct that error of omission.
No team wins division, playoff series, or world titles without great pitching. The Astros have it in spades, even without the injured Lance McCullers, Jr.
Verlander, at 39, is on a quest to join the 300 Club, an effort that sounds like Mission Impossible for a Tommy John survivor of an advanced athletic age. But no one can argue with his stats, which could result in a starting assignment for the July 19 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.
Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi, Cristian Javier, and Garcia complete the rotation, with McCullers, Jr. ready to return when he is physically able. He actually suffered his latest injury during the 99-day lockout.
Baker could actually go with a six-man rotation, as many teams are doing, to give each starter extra rest as the weather gets warmer.
One thing is virtually certain: he won’t be getting any more immaculate innings out of the group. Not even Verlander, who seems capable of doing anything — from marrying Kate Upton to pitching no-hitters and winning Cy Young awards.
When the 2022 season started, it looked like the Seattle Mariners or Los Angeles Angels might mount a challenge to Houston’s perennial lock on the divisional penthouse door. But those thoughts have evaporated into the cyberspace of baseball.
Other than the Yankees, the Astros are the most likely of any team in the majors to top their division this year.
The double immaculate inning is just another step toward that accomplishment.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been covering the game since 1969. His byline runs in forbes.com, Latino Sports, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and elsewhere. E.mail Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The ball does special things off his bat. Everybody has a way to try to pitch him but to be able to get it there three times is really hard to do. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”
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