"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Last Word


The baseball season never really ends anymore. Not after the last out of the World Serious, or after the awards are handed out. How can it be over with the winter meetings just a few weeks off? While we wait for the trades and rumors there is a lull, and when you get right down to it, spring training can’t come soon enough. Perhaps less so this year for Yankees fans, but you know what I mean.

Yet no season is complete until Roger Angell weighs in with his recap in The New Yorker, which he has been doing for close to fifty years, a truly remarkable run. Angell turned 89 this September and is still at it. The pieces aren’t as long as they once were, but that’s understandable. It’s like wanting another great movie out of Scorsese or another great novel from Pete Dexter–after awhile, you start feeling greedy. There is still something reassuring about Angell being around to tie a bow on what we all just saw that won’t be replaced once he stops writing. It is a part of the season, just like the MVP awards, just like the winter meetings.

Unfortunately, Angell’s latest is not available on-line. It’s funny, since I get a subscription, I printed out a copy a few days ago, but it didn’t feel exactly right until I got the actual magazine last night. The print is bigger in the magazine, and there is just something about the printed word on the page that has more weight than it does on a computer screen, or even a print-out from the computer.

Here are a few highlights:

On Alex Rodriguez:

I think A-Rod will always be a little beyond us. We can used to his money more easily than to his outlandish talent and his physical gifts; standing near him in the dugout at times, I’ve had the impression that I’m within touching distance of a new species. The games this fall set him free, at least for now, and in the process released me from the ranks of sullen doubters. I’ve begun to think that if Alex Rodriguez–A-Rod, of all people–can come such a distance in one season then maybe baseball is coming out of its long funk after all.

On Chase Utley tying Reggie Jackson’s World Series home runs mark with five:

There was passing speculation that Utley would supplant Jackson in legend were he to waft another, but it died of unlikelihood. Reggie, discussing all this with the News columnist Mike Lupica back at the Stadium before the last game, simply murmured, “Come on.” He pointed to the adjacent centerfield stands, with their line of standup drinkers above Monument Park in the new configuration, and said, “My fifth is in the fucking bar.”

On Godzilla Matsui’s performance in Game Six:

I can’t remember a closing performance anything like this, or the feeling, while it was happening, that I quickly needed to thank Hideki Matsui–with a bow or something–not just for tonight but for every game of his seven years of super-pro service with the Yankees. His straight-back, left-handed stance, with that almond-colored bat held still; his broad-shouldered, slashing cuts at anything up in the zone; his slightly tilted vertical style of running; the trim black hair just touching his uniform at the nape; the cracked smile–we knew all this, certainly, but in some oddly formal and removed fashion, because he was Japanese and because he didn’t speak English easily. His silence kept him old-fashioned: a ballplayer from the black-and-white newspaper-photograph days, before our heroes talked.

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1 Sliced Bread   ~  Nov 25, 2009 11:39 am

I love that last line about Matsui.

2 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 25, 2009 11:42 am

Now them there is some good writing. Glad I got me some of that New Yorker in my bag. I'll read during vittles time.

Roger Angell is a treasure. I love the marriage of elegance and baesball writing. I'm a sucker for it everytime.

BTW, I meant to tell you Alex that I agree that the Wes Anderson article was overwritten. Liked the movie though.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 25, 2009 11:50 am

Nice to hear about the movie. It seems like the perfect fit for his sensibility, stop-motion-animation.

I'm going to see A SERIOUS MAN for the third time this afternoon. LOL. Can't remember the last time I saw a movie three times in the theater.

4 Rich   ~  Nov 25, 2009 11:57 am

Angell's writing blurs the line between poetry and prose.

5 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:07 pm

I really enjoyed Serious Man. Very tribal. I have pot in synagogue stories that are still cringe-worthy. UGH!
My husband pointed out that had he not been immersed in my family "culture", he wouldn't have understood much. Now, there's something he can be thankful for. As opposed to being stupefied by our angst.

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:13 pm

he's the best...and that Reggie quote is just perfect

7 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:25 pm

"...then maybe baseball is coming out of its long funk after all."

Has baseball been in a long funk?

8 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:28 pm

7, Yeah, I hear you on that one too. I guess he means "the steriods era," but I can't say. There were other things to pick at in his piece--pot shots at bloggers, his characterization of Rodriguez--but I feel like a heel ripping on the guy.

9 bags   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:29 pm

Angell is also literary royalty. His mom was Katharine Sergeant and his stepdad was E.B. freaking White.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:35 pm

[8] I hear you. Angell was a legend in the business, but that was a different time. He hasn't really grown with the times, so I'd rather read his old pieces than his new ones that are out of touch.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:37 pm

10) Yeah, I hear you on that. And his older pieces are especially valuable because there wasn't an Internet in the 60s and 70s and MLB didn't capture as many games on film or preserve their broadcasts like the NFL has.

12 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:47 pm

[10] He's old school, but I think that he nails his subjects for the most part. That Reggie quote was priceless.

"The games this fall set him free, at least for now, and in the process released me from the ranks of sullen doubters." How flawless is that?

Plus, his image of Matsui is palpable.

13 Ben   ~  Nov 25, 2009 12:52 pm

I agree that baseball has been in a funk for a while. Maybe not the revenue, but for lack of a better term, the soul of the game has been downtrodden.

Since 1998, I haven't been confident in great performances... was it steroids, andro, or actually baseball greatness?

Now I'm not very moral about any of this. If the sport goes totally steroid crazy, that's one thing. But call it what it is.

It's when there is controversy and subterfuge and collusion that my attachment to the game suffers.

So feeling more confident that A-rod is truly a great player, not just a figment of greatness like Juan-Gon, and actually getting to watch him perform well against his post-season 'rep' is restorative. To me, anyway.

14 Paul   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:02 pm

Ripping on something that beautiful somehow seems very wrong. Besides, who the fuck are we? I'd love to honor something for 50 years with solid work. That's what a word like 'legendary' is meant for. And he clearly still has it. Thanks for sharing.

15 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:05 pm

[12] He still seems to write well, but the theme in every excerpt was "it was better in my day". That kind of negates the floral prose.

[13] I am sure some people agree with you, but there are so many indicators that suggest otherwise, that it's hard to justify such a statement as anything more than a personal opinion (i.e., it would have been better said, "then maybe [my relationship with] baseball is coming out of its long funk after all".

16 RagingTartabull   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:11 pm

Angell's views on the game can be dated (we are talking about an 89 year old man after all)...but he's an essayist/"Man of Letters" as opposed to a reporter, so I think its forgivable.

His prose is what sets him apart.

17 Paul   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:13 pm

[15] Let me be more explicit: Who the f*$% are you? When you've climbed a 50 year mountain, damn straight you can criticize the followers especially when the most notable ones (Deadspin, ESPN) act like drunken frat boys. Have some respect for the journey. Yet, few do today. Yup, the sport is making more money than ever before. But that's like saying you're happy because you're married to the CEO of Gold Man Sacks. Romance isn't every reducible to dollars.

And I don't know how old you are but I grew up in the 80s listening to games before I fell asleep. Part of my love of Mattingly came from knowing only his performances on the field not that his wife as a meth addict. Today it's impossible to know a player only from his exploits on the diamond. That writing about Matsui is sublime. He nails it. I hope to be that lucid and concise when I'm 49 let alone 89.

18 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:25 pm


Paul, you can't curse at another poster. We're all free to have different opinons here. I understand you feel strongly about this, just hold back from making it personal, okay? William, and anyone else here, is free to knock anyone he wants.

16) Funny, but I've always found Angell's prose to be his greatest strength as well as his biggest weakness. His writing has always been so dense, with paragraphs that can last for more than a page, and at times, it's overkill for me. That's just a taste thing. But I've always been able to excuse his indulgence much I was able to excuse Pauline Kael's excesses--maybe it's a New Yorker thing. It was always worth reading for some of his keen observations. He rarely writes a piece without a few polished gems in there that make you sit back and say, "Damn, that's good."

Funny, but I don't like his non-baseball writing at all, the annual holiday poems, none of it. He published a book of essays early on called A Day in the Life of Roger Angell or something and I just couldn't get into it; he wrote a memoir not long ago, about his step father, and I didn't care for that either. And he was terribly miscast as David Cone's collaborator in that misbegotten "Pitcher's Story" book.

That said, his influence in my baseball reading and writing life, are unshakable and lasting.

19 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:29 pm

[15] One of the by-products of living a linear (chronologically anyway) life is having to listen to the people who came before us and their perceptions and comparisons. We do it too.

I'm going to read the article in its entirety, however I don't get a sense in the passages above that he's belittling our experieince today.

One thing I will say that there aren't many heroes left in sports today. We can appreciate a person's gift, but they are no longer larger than life. The irony is that while we know so much about them, we actually have much less access, sort of like watching animals in a zoo.

20 Paul   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:47 pm

[18] I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to specifically curse at anyone. More just ask a pointed question. Sorry if it came across more harshly. My apologies.

More to the point though, I'm beginning to hate blogs because this type of criticism for the sake of criticism is commonplace. There are always problems in everything. What good is it to constantly fester over the trivial rather than uphold the great? Seems like blogs rarely do the later. That's why I liked this post so much. Then reading a series of nits proves Angell's point.

21 ColoYank   ~  Nov 25, 2009 1:50 pm

I've never felt Angell had the it-was-better-in-my-day infection. His startling and original descriptions (like Derek Jeter slashing with his left elbow raised) captured the physical play so uniquely. And always Angell could give us the close-up, the natty, economical phrase to capture a personality or character trait, as in the oblique Matsui here.

22 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:01 pm

[17] I wont even bother being explicit with you…instead, I’ll just go back to ignoring you.

[19] I am not really criticizing Angell or denying him a chance to express himself, just stating that a lot of what he writes now has little relevance to me because it is clouded by a strong tinge of "in my day". If you read the excerpts above, his stated baseball funk, implication that Utley's performance didn't match Reggies and statement about Matsui being "a ballplayer from the black-and-white newspaper-photograph days, before our heroes talked" all harken back to "when it really was a game". We know better than that...and Angell should too. Baseball was no more pure in his heyday than it is now.

I also disagree with your point about their being no heroes left in sports. As adults, I think we are guilty of comparing things to how it was when we were children. I am pretty sure that kids today still treat sports starts as heroes. The beauty of childhood is that you aren't always concerned with many of things that leads adults to decry the qualifications of the modern hero. Even in the fish bowl of the modern day, I think guys like Derek Jeter can still be larger than life superheroes.

23 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:15 pm

Paul, it's all good. Actually, I never got that much of the nostalgia for the old days with Angell. Certainly, not like his contemporaries. A little bit here and there, but it is not pronounced. And, the guy is 90 after all!

24 Paul   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:15 pm

[22] I'm sorry if you were personally offended. In a bar I think my point would have come across better. My apologies again.

"Baseball was no more pure in his heyday than it is now."

With a statement like that, I don't see how you've understood Angell's point. It's not a matter of ontology. It's a matter of epistemology. And perceptions have drastically changed. Matsui is a fantastic exception. Dude loves porn and yet he's a graceful professional.

Derek Jeter is different because he lets exactly zero light into who he is in an era of hype and blather. Yet, it's possible to have him on the cover of rag in his swim trunks and with his latest fetch not two weeks after his thumb ring. It's a media saturation in which any one can make headlines or contribute.

25 Paul   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:18 pm

[23] Thanks. I really appreciate the colorful side long glances you give us here. It's a rare treat. I also find your lack of negativity very refreshing. Thanks for that too!

26 Yankee Mama   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:23 pm

[22] I concede your point about heroes. This is the first year my son didn't write a letter to Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium. My son used to cry when Jeter struck out, as did my brother when Mantle struck out.

Jeter, to your point radiates a certain something that kids cleave onto. From an adult perspective, he is a class-act who conducts himself admirably all the while, putting his whole self into what he does professionally. He is larger than life, most of ours anyway.

I think he's the exception to the rule.

27 Yankster   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:26 pm

[22] I categorically disagree with your suggestion that he has an "in my day" tinge. On the other hand, I love that he conveys great moments in the game that happened before my time. Most of the great moments in baseball happened before I was born (even there is an even distribution of great moments across time). I need Angell to connect me to those historic moments and somehow he does it without disparaging the present.

Angell has been around the game a long time and at his age, time is flying by and so when he says baseball is coming out of a funk, i think he is entitled to speak about baseball time in increments of decades. Congressional hearings on steroids and confessions by the great hitters in the game did funk things up. And noise (though perhaps not the problem) does now seem largely behind us.

There's a lot to love in the piece even though I might change a couple things, but I wouldn't change any of his jabs at bloggers or his criticism and acceptance of Arod. I love the connection he made between Cliff Lee and the tigers pitcher whose name I don't recall but will now have to look up. I love his prediction that neither Matsui nor Damon will come back despite the playoff contributions that he goes far to honor as special despite having covered 50+ years of access. I enjoy that he reinforces that this world serious was special and that the players are special in a historic way. How can you not appreciate that?

28 RIYank   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:50 pm

[24] [25] Dude, way to wax metaphysical! In consecutive comments you (a) compared ontology to epistemology, and then (b) praised AB for his lack of negativity.
Bronx Banter sure gets profound in the off-season!

29 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 2:52 pm

[27] I certainly do not want to enforce my opinion on you, but whenever I've read Angell of late, it seems like more of a lecture than anything else. As someone who considers himself a historian of the game (I assume you are referring to Mickey Lolich), I feel that I have a good appreciation for all of the eras of MLB and don't think this one needs to take backseat. Angell was a great baseball writer, but being a legend doesn’t mean your work is always legendary. There are many books available that provide access to Angel’s best work. If I want to get a good feel for the game today, however, I think it is better to read elsewhere.

30 williamnyy23   ~  Nov 25, 2009 3:03 pm

[23] Angell was actually refreshing in his lack of misplaced nostalgia (most nosalgia is actually a nice thing, especially when it isn't used to denigrate the modern day). It just seems that he has changed recently. Maybe it's just me, but when I saw the Angell post, my first reaction was I hope this isn't going to be about how the game isn't as good now.

31 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Nov 25, 2009 3:12 pm

Paul, welcome, and don't mind william. He's got time to do battle, strong views, and sometimes they are even valid. :) I've defended him, and argued with him. Comes with the Banter territory.

I agree with those who see no 'better in my day' tinge to Angell, only a remembering other days. I think he loves the game, period, and looks very closely, still, at micro-moments, signatures that help us see it better. Some people have a hot button for any hint of a 'wiser head' or 'the long view' - feeling it is dissing them, or current players, or claiming hierarchical preeminence. Me, I'm happy to listen to a wiser head if I think they ARE one ... and Angell is, for me, many times over. The internet, talk radio, the blogosphere as a subset are all about 'everyone's equal, all opinions have validity' ... it isn't so, in the realm of ideas. Informed opinions mean more than from-the-hip shots. (This is a general statement, not aimed at anyone at all.) There is also an element online of 'he ain't so big!' where people like to take a shot at a star just to ... show they can, that they aren't intimidated.

The 'long funk'? I think one needs to have a very narrow perspective not to see it, in the wake of Bonds, Clemens, congress. I'd offer an irony ... that it seems to be the Yankees winning that is helping move the sport out, if Angell's right?

William, for what it is worth, the elegiac tone has ALWAYS been part of baseball. The entire 'you could look it up!' ethos is predicated on it. 'You shoulda seen Koufax in his prime!' Does that automatically diss CC Sabathia? And, indeed, if we want to get scientific, odds are VERY good the best today are in better shape, better trained (more sober) than most of the best of yesterday. It doesn't matter. The game is built around myths and legends. Angell's a link to some of them.

32 Yankster   ~  Nov 25, 2009 3:40 pm

[29] Wrong.

From Angell's article: "[Lee] throws with an elegant flail, hiding the ball behind his hip or knee and producing it from behind his left shoulder, already in full delivery. His finish brings his left leg up astern like a semaphore, while his arm swings back across his waist."

And then he hunts his memory to recollect the same motion in another pitcher:

"I thought about Dizzy Dean or Lon (the Arkansas Hummingbird) Warneke, but they were righties. Then I remembered Hal Newhouser..."

And he goes on to talk about who he talked to that agreed with him.

This kind of narrative connection of his personal baseball experience connecting two players playing 57 years (or so) years apart, is a lot of fun for me to read. Maybe because I'm not the historian of the game that you are, William.

33 wsporter   ~  Nov 25, 2009 4:04 pm

How can you resist a line like ". . . a ballplayer from the black-and-white newspaper-photograph days, before our heroes talked"?

Made my heart to skip and me to feel my grandfather was standing next to me again.

34 patrick b   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:18 pm

"No season is complete until Roger weighs in with his re-cap" -- perfectly said Alex and that's been my exact feeling for many years and consequently, I've been really anticipating this. I did not come to gribs (will never get over) the loss in the 2001 Serious until I read Roger's recap which put it all in beautiful perspective. I cut it out and saved it. Too bad it's not available online because I wish I could email to friends who don't subscribe because I really think every baseball fan should read his stuff.

35 RIYank   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:28 pm

[33] Mr. Porter! Welcome back. We missed you during the season.

36 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:44 pm

Hey, it's ws! Long time no see!

And happy Thanksgiving everyone: who the fuck do you think yous all are?

37 thelarmis   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:48 pm

[33] shaun p will be very happy with your cameo appearance here!

hope all is well and that you'll stick around! : )

38 thelarmis   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:49 pm

[35] you won't believe me, but i have indeed had turkey lurkey before. and will again - in queens tomorrow! ; )

39 thelarmis   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:57 pm

[36] i don't know about you weeping, but i'm my mothers' child! ; )

Happy Turkey Day!

40 thelarmis   ~  Nov 25, 2009 5:58 pm

btw, i'm thankful for the yankees winning the world series and the bronx banter!

41 RIYank   ~  Nov 25, 2009 6:36 pm

Thelarmis: I almost hate to ask, but: cranberry sauce?

42 thelarmis   ~  Nov 25, 2009 6:45 pm

[41] i think you know the answer to that: absolutely not. never!

43 The Hawk   ~  Nov 26, 2009 12:22 am

What a great bit about Matsui. Of course I don't personally know anything about a time before our heroes talked, but I agree with the sentiment that Matsui's quasi-silence is part of his mystique.

44 thelarmis   ~  Nov 26, 2009 12:56 am

i don't like the new layout at nomaas, but they have a fun cc-related turkey day picture up.

speaking of pictures, the smile on sugar ray's face in the top photo of the 'pound for pound' post, reminds me of Cano.

45 thelarmis   ~  Nov 26, 2009 1:16 am

for those who read the article and post here about Mex, Josh Wilker has a post up about Keith Hernandez.

46 Jay Jaffe   ~  Nov 26, 2009 11:32 am

Even if he weren't still such a master of prose, Angell's perspective would be a valuable one simply because the breadth of baseball history he witnessed firsthand — back to the days of Ruth and Gehrig, or the Gashouse Gang (dig the Dizzy Dean reference), Willie Mays in his prime in the Polo Grounds — gives him an authority on the subject that's virtually unmatched. If he sounds a bit crotchety at times, well, where the hell else are you gonna get a comparison between Cliff Lee and Hal Newhouser?

I sat down and read the piece last night, and my only beef was that it felt too short, too rushed. I wanted to read his unwritten digression about the new Yankee Stadium and his deeper thoughts about CC Sabathia; when exactly are we going to get those from a guy whose output is down to these annual summaries? I realize that print is his medium and that the pressures of the industry restrict his space, but why not produce a double-length piece for the web that we can, as Alex did, print out and read at our leisure? Seems like an opportunity missed for a guy who's got all too few innings left.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver