NEW YORK – Roger Angell, the legendary baseball author and essayist whose thoughtful, elegant works in The New Yorker set the tone for a generation of baseball writers and fans, died Friday. He was 101.
Angell published several baseball essay anthologies during his career, beginning with “The Summer Game” in 1972, The Athletic reported. Other notable compilations included “Late Innings” (1982) and “Once More Around the Park” (1991).
Angell was “perhaps, the most exquisitely talented writer ever to focus sustained attention on the subject of baseball,” the Society for the American Baseball Research wrote in a biographical sketch. “Yet Roger Angell was never a ‘baseball writer’ in the normal sense of the term. Instead, his work on baseball has been an extension of his keen observation and appreciation of the sport as a fan.”
“Hail and farewell,” baseball historian John Thorn tweeted. “He was simply the best.”
Angell was the son of founding fiction editor Katharine White and the stepson of E.B. White, The New Yorker’s longtime staff writer, according to The Associated Press. His first piece in the magazine was published in 1944, and he was still contributing essays into his 90s, The Washington Post reported.
He joined the staff of the magazine in 1956 as an editor of fiction, using his keen eye to mold the stories of John Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, Ann Beattie and Bobbie Ann Mason, according to the newspaper.
Angell had a unique voice because he wrote more like a fan than a sports journalist, the Times reported. His imagery was legendary.
Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk came out of his crouch, like “an aluminum extension ladder stretching for the house eaves.” Orioles pitcher Dick Hall threw “with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud.” According to the Times, Angell described Willie Mays’ pursuit of a fly ball hit to deep center field as “running so hard and so far that the ball itself seems to stop in the air and wait for him.”
Angell received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
He wrote his first essays about baseball in 1962, the Post reported. He chronicled the inaugural season of the hapless New York Mets, who would lose 120 games.
“These exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves,” Angell wrote, “and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.”
Angell, who was born Sept. 19, 1920, in New York City, was known for his annual page-long holiday poem, titled “Greetings, Friends!” The poem, a New Yorker tradition, began in 1932 and Angell took it over in 1976, the Times reported. It ran until 1998 and was revived in 2008, according to the newspaper.
Angell was a commentator for Ken Burns’ nine-part PBS documentary “Baseball,” which aired in 1994, the Post reported. He also published “A Pitcher’s Story” (2001), about David Cone in the twilight of his career. He also wrote the autobiographical “Let Me Finish” in 2006.
When he was 93, Angell wrote the highly praised essay, “This Old Man,” which won a National Magazine Award, according to the AP.
“Baseball is not life itself, although the resemblance keeps coming up,” Angell wrote in the 1987 essay, “La Vida.” “It’s probably a good idea to keep the two sorted out, but old fans, if they’re anything like me, can’t help noticing how cunningly our game replicates a larger schedule, with its beguiling April optimism; the cheerful roughhouse of June; the grinding, serious, unending (surely) business of midsummer; the September settling of accounts … and then the abrupt running-down of autumn, when we wish for — almost demand — a prolonged and glittering final adventure just before the curtain.”
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