Verducci: The passion of Roger Angell

From Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated on July 21, 2014:

Over the last half-century nobody has written baseball better than Roger Angell of The New Yorker. What he does with words, even today at 93, is what Mays did in centerfield and what Koufax did on the mound. His superior elegance and skill are obvious even to the untrained eye.

Did I say Mays? Suddenly Angell leaves the colossal mallpark in the Bronx for the Polo Grounds of upper Manhattan. It’s Aug. 15, 1951. The long, late afternoon shadows of the big horseshoe fill the field. This is the first summer of Mays. Watching Willie arrive is like hearing Charlie Parker for the first time. Angell is in the stands, probably wearing a fedora like the rest of the men. He is there as a fan, a role he proudly will retain as a baseball writer.

Tie game, eighth inning. Carl Furillo of the Dodgers, a righthanded pull hitter batting with Billy Cox on third, confounds the Giants with a screamer to the rightfield gap. Mays, positioned for Furillo’s pull power, sprints leeward. He makes the catch and, while still running away from the plate, slings a sortie of a throw to the catcher. Cox is out too. “I can still see the Dodgers players on the field and the Giants players in the dugout,” Angell says. “What? What was that? Get used to it, guys. I bring this up whenever I see Willie Mays. He never remembers me, which is O.K. But he’s impressed: ‘You were there? You tell them. Nobody believes me!’”

In long pieces published a few times a year, Angell has turned Bob Gibson as soft as a stick of butter under the noonday sun; sequenced like a geneticist the original Steve Blass disease; and, drawing on his first writing gig—when he tap‑tap‑tapped on a typewriter for a GI newsletter as a soldier stationed in the Central Pacific during World War II—chronicled the winning maneuvers and statesmanship of Joe Torre and Derek Jeter.

A lifetime of exquisite work—much of it anthologized in books such as The Summer Game and Once More Around the Park—will be honored on July 26 at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where Angell will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Angell is the 64th writer to win the annual award but the first never to have been a member of the BBWAA. (The New Yorker does not cover baseball as a beat.)

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Originally published: July 23, 2014. Last Updated: July 23, 2014.