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Post Info TOPIC: G'bye Roger


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G'bye Roger


The news was not unexpected but it's still sad: Roger Angell, one of the best if not the best, baseball writers who ever wrote
about the game, died yesterday, Friday, May 20, at 101 in New York.

I'll miss him, even though his last posting in the magazine he mostly wrote for, The New Yorker, was about five years
ago, when he was 96. Imagine still writing at 96? He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, winning the J. G. Taylor
Spink Award for writers, in 2014 when he was 92. He was the first non-newspaper writer to win the award.

It was somehow comforting to think, while watching the Mets or the Yankees on TV, the teams Angell wrote about most,
that I'd not only seen a fascinating play, but I would wonder if Roger saw it, too, on TV in his New York apartment, sitting
with his dog, Andy, a black and white terrier, and what he'd say to Andy about it.

Angell, who wore glasses and was bald, was extremely well read, was maybe 5-foot-8 and thin, and wrote mostly from the vantage point
of the fan in the bleachers. He'd write about things that would catch the eyes and ears of ordinary fans: He'd record,
for example, the complaints of the beer-drinking middle-aged men two rows down in a spring training game
who were sure that the Mets' new bullpen pitcher was over-the-hill. "Lookit the pot on him!" one would say. "How we gonna win now?"

His main subject was how hard the game is to play and what a marvel it is when it's played well. To do his essays on that
he roamed out New York, all over the country. One of his best stories was a portrait of catcher Bob Boone, the father of
Yanks manager Aaron Boone, who in 1989, at 41, played 131 games behind the plate and batted 469 times for the sixth-place Phillies.
Angell's question for Boone, whom he thought to be very smart, was why was still doing that, playing the game's most physically
demanding position, at 41, against guys who, in some cases, were 20 years his junior? Boone's replies are perceptive.

Generally, Angell would write three essays a year: One just after spring training, another after the All-Star Game and a third
after the World Series. Over time, the essays were collected in five books, which are still for sale at bookstores and online.
In 1962, he started his beat by tracking the two New York teams through their seasons, which made his tales of the Mets over
the first seven years of their existence absorbing reading: going from world-class stumblebums to World Series champs.

But the fates of his teams didn't draw Angell as much as the fates of players, major and minor, and by the early '70s, when I started
reading him, that was his territory. In 1981, during the baseball strike, looking for something to write about, he learned that
Yale University was playing St. John's in New Haven, the winner would go to the College World Series. The two opposing pitchers that
day would one day become Mets' teammates: Ron Darling for Yale and Frank Viola for St. John's.

Angell got the idea to watch and record the game, which turned out to be a 10-inning, 1-0 affair, of obviously terrific pitching. (I won't say who won).
But he wanted more than just a standard record of the game. He wanted a filter. He knew that Hall of Fame pitcher Smokey Joe
Wood, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1908 to 1915, in the same rotation with Babe Ruth, lived near Yale. So he
swung by, picked up the then 93-year-old Wood, and the two sat in the bleachers, discussing the game in front of them, along with how
the game had changed in the past 70 years, what Wood had to do to stay in the majors after his shoulder went bad
(he became a star centerfielder for the Indians), and, of course, what the Babe would think of this one.

The essay, called "The Web of the Game" is, to my eye, one of his two best. The other essay, a really gripping one, especially
if you're a pitcher and/or you've had to deal with injuries to keep playing, is called "Gone for Good," and it's about former Pirates' star,
Steve Blass. It's a mystery.

Blass, a righty who pitched from '64 to '74, more than once posted winning percentages of .600 or better, and in 1972,
at 30, he had his best year, 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA. For the next two years he stayed in the majors, Blass could not find the plate.
In the bullpen, on the side, he'd fire one strike after another. But put him in a game and he suddenly became Nuke La Loosh wild.
Could not throw a strike. Angell probes why. Most ballplayers and fans won't like his answer, but they'll be glued to the essay.

Fortunately, both essays are in one collection, his third, which I think is his finest, "Once More Around The Park."

If I had the space, I'd quote from his writing, which is superb, and which of course points to the thinking.
You can find a lot of his better lines online. Here's one that I and many others have enjoyed more than once:

"Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive,
and you have defeated time. You remain forever young."

Bye, Roger.

-Mike












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Mike,

Please accept my sincere compliments on your eloquent, affectionate tribute to Roger Angell. I, too, took pleasure in reading his baseball essays, which I would inevitably encounter as I paged through The New Yorker over the years. I had no idea that those essays were collected into volumes. Clearly, you know his work much better than I do.

Angell was special because he was a thinking man's sort of fan, giving us an "inside baseball" look into baseball. His essays were essentially baseball cards for literate adults. What This Week in Baseball was for the television-watching masses, Angell's essays were for the bourgeois reading class.

As you know, however, I became apoplectic upon reading Angell's 1999 essay, "The Bard in the Booth," in which he effusively praises the abominable Tim McCarver. "Bard" in the title refers to McCarver's monstrous propensity to insert quotations from Milton and Shakespeare into his on-air commentary. Eeek, what a poseur! Tim McGoober as man of letters--as Mel Allen used to say, How 'bout that! Throw in McCarver's suffocating microanalysis and his signature brand of painfully strained wordplay, and you end up with a baseball telecast that was all but unwatchable.

In fact, I was so appalled by Angell's essay that I sent him an eleven-page letter, in which I detailed the analyst McCarver's multitudinous faults, while comparing this "Boob in the Booth" to a dozen other--mostly better--baseball broadcasters. My letter included, by actual count, 102 discrete (though admittedly indiscreet) comic elements, consisting of assorted wisecracks, puns, and witticisms. While my tone was respectful and decorous, I was undeniably out for blood, and if Angell read my letter, he declined to reply.

As the ump says, I just call 'em like I see 'em--and this McCarver was, in the words of my father, a foul ball. He had no business continually upstaging the action on the field with hypertechnical drivel. And I'll never forgive him for his compulsive tendency to monkey with our beautiful English language: his ostentatious, mannered rhetoric was forever leaving starch residue in my ears. And to think, for years McCarver was actually a solid, straightforward broadcaster. Then he became fandom's self-appointed guide to the esoteric realm of baseball metaphysics, where double-talk reigns supreme and tortured wit is always in fashion.

And that's not to say that McCarver didn't learn a thing or two in his twenty-two years in the Bigs. But whatever benefit his playing experience conferred was vitiated by a broadcasting style that gave labored didacticism a bad name. McCarver's most notable achievement as an analyst was to make baseball sound like differential calculus. I could almost picture him wearing a mortarboard in the booth, in his role as baseball's most deadly tedious weapon of mass instruction.

Yet, in all honesty, I was not always so sure of myself on these matters. For months after mailing my letter to Angell I suffered bi-weekly crises of confidence. Who was I to presume to lambaste a broadcasting icon like McCarver, a man who could wither me with the merest sidelong glance? And how could a nobody like me dare to take such vehement exception to the pronouncements of one of America's premier baseball writers? There was no question in my mind that had he condescended to respond, an avenging Angell would have crushed me like a bug on a base path.

Well, I'm happy to report that before long I was blissfully free of any such doubts. And this renewed confidence arrived thanks to none other than McCarver himself, when on a live telecast on September 9, 2000 he observed, "If Shakespeare were alive now, he might say: 'How do I get thee out? Let me count the ways.'" As you know from twelfth-grade English class, McCornball here misattributes a line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.") Yes, with that single howler, Tennessee Tim McCarver proved conclusively that he is every bit the imposter, the pretentious pseudobard that I had asserted in my letter to Angell.

Of course, McCarver went on to write several books in the same, ridiculously over-analytical vein, among them Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans. And if I were to write a book in response, it would be Broadcasting for Proctologists and Other Specialists on the Subject of Tim McCarver.

And this from Wikipedia: "On October 9, 2009, McCarver released a cover album of jazz standards entitled Tim McCarver Sings Songs from the Great American Songbook."

Uh, I rest my case.

Frank


-- Edited by Frank Montagano on Saturday 11th of June 2022 12:21:42 PM

-- Edited by Frank Montagano on Saturday 11th of June 2022 12:28:13 PM

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Hey Frank - neatly, entertainingly said. And on target. I would write a lengthy reply, trying, and doubtless failing, to reach some
of the flat out funny heights you did, but I think we've both done a number on our poor league-mates' eyeballs.

And their patience.

That said, the bloviating hyperbole that was Tim McCarver did get at least one verified comeuppance.

Once, while catching the fireballer Bob Gibson, McCarver noticed the pitcher doing something. He called time and started walking
out to the mound to put forth his observation, which upset Gibson, who was non-stop energy and didn't like interruptions.

When McCarver got halfway to the hill, Gibson shouted at him: "Stop! What are you doing?"

McCarver said, "I want to talk to you."

To which Gibson shot back, words as fast as a 95 mph heater: " Go back! You don't know what you're talking about."

McCarver, stunned, turned around and walked back.

Probably about 60,000 people saw that in person, and, who knows?, several million more on TV?

But did that stop Our Man Tim? For one game, yes.

But for a career? Obviously not.

Who knows? Maybe Gibson's lid-packing act only served to build pressure in Tim?

Maybe Tim walked back to the plate thinking, " I'll teach y'all, ya boobs! I'm no dummy. I've got I've got some Shakespeare in me to let loose. "

After all, 'to flee or not to flee, that is the question!"

And, as the world knows, McCarver didn't flee.

Alas.

-Mike
















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