Roger Angell was born on September 19, 1920 in New York, New York, and he is considered one of the best baseball writers of all time. And while my exposure to Angell’s writing is admittedly limited, I’ve read enough to know that I need to read more. His pieces contain a significant amount of detail and his passion for the game shines through with every line.
Angell has received a number of awards for his writing, including the George Polk Award for Commentary in 1980, the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement in 2005, and the inaugural PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing in 2011. He was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals in 2010, and in 2014 he was awarded the J. G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Angell.
There are a few guys in baseball fortunate enough to be able to bring it late in their career: Roger Clemens was one, and Nolan Ryan was another one. And I’d like to be that kind of a writer, who’s still able to bring the fastball.
I came across this piece last night, and I love the sensory details it provides, even in such a concise poem. The author is right — sometimes all it takes are a few words to have an impact.
the non aficionado
when you say
such trite things as
step up to the plate
knock it out of the park
they can still feel
the solid oak of the bat
smell the oiled
leather of the glove
and hear the crack
as the ball soars
higher into the sky
past the cheap seats
and I wonder
how could I
and turns of phrases
sweet and bardic
[T]he wonderful, irresistible game of baseball, so enduring in its rules and rhythms, so varied in its lore and lexicon, has everything a writer could ask for, most especially the opportunity for vivid characters to involved themselves in a highly dramatic activity.
Here’s a good piece by Marianne Moore published in 1961. I like how it depicts some of the things that we all think from time to time, but don’t really talk about. Such as how a player, after falling short of an individual accomplishment, will talk about the success of the team. Or the fine line between work and play that players sometimes walk.
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
a fever in the victim—
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited? Might it be I?
It’s a pitcher’s battle all the way—a duel—
a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate. (His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston—whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat—
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied. We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.
When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . ” Is
it? Roger Maris
has it, running fast. You will
never see a finer catch. Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil”—why
gild it, although deer sounds better—
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.
Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather. “Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back. A blur.
It’s gone. You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant? Each. It was he.
Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos—
like Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners—even trouble
Mickey Mantle. (“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”
With some pedagogy,
you’ll be tough, premature prodigy.)
They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees. Trying
indeed! The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians. (Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger’s milk,” soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer’s yeast (high-potency—
concentrates presage victory
sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez—
deadly in a pinch. And “Yes,
it’s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you’re doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion.