I just read Roger Angell’s annual baseball article in The New Yorker. Every November he sums up the season, and there’s really no baseball writing I look forward to more. His write-up of the Yankees-Diamondbacks Series a few years ago was a classic. His tone can be a little Alistair Cooke-in-his-armchair, but he pulls it off. The guy has perspective. This year, in an aside about Barry Bonds going for 755, he writes:
“Once the unlovable Bonds—still perhaps the greatest and most consistent long-range hitter I have ever seen, including Ruth—has done the deed, I trust that, like other habitués of the game, I will be able to find the right place for his record in my baseball consciousness, with whatever asterisks are needed, just the way I did with Roger Maris’s sixty-one homers (struck in a longer season than Babe’s sixty), and with the jumped-up rabbit-ball averages of the early nineteen-thirties, and even with the rare dead-ball home runs knocked out in the sunlit, bribe-prone, alcoholic, and racist baseball times of my father.”
First of all, the guy (born in 1920) remembers watching Babe Ruth play. Second, that sentence, overlong as it may be, covers a stretch of twentieth-century history rather beautifully, or at least in a way that no other living baseball writer would cover it. Third, he doesn’t feel the need to pronounce his opinion on Bonds as if he were handing down a judgment. He understands what Bonds is about, and he doesn’t want the ugliness of it to ruin his experience of the Bonds’s greatness, and you get the feeling that it won’t. He’s never been invited to fill in for Mariotti on Around The Horn, I’m pretty sure.
Angell wanted a better Series from the Tigers than he got, and I feel a little sad that my team disappointed him. He once wrote that the best seat in any major-league ballpark was in the second deck in Tiger Stadium, just behind and above the plate, a spot that was so close you could hear the pitches. He describes watching Gossage on the mound from that vantage. He wanted the 2006 Tigers to step up, I think, to say something about leadership, redemption, and crusty old managers, but they didn’t quite pull it off.
But reading Roger Angell on baseball was a good reminder of some things to be thankful for: old writers; and an everyday game that will be around as long we will; and Wait Til Next Year.