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on September 25, 2016
Nobody does it better than Roger Angell. He is to baseball writing what Vin Scully is to baseball broadcasting.
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Enthusiast: Baseballon December 22, 2015
I've literally read hundreds of baseball books since becoming a fan as a rising fifth grader in 1969, and Roger Angell has been my favorite writer for at least three decades. Angell is a true wordsmith, a graceful writer who happens to love baseball, a sheer stroke of luck for those of us who love both the game and great writing.

Angell has been writing essays about baseball for New Yorker magazine since 1962, when the Mets brought National League baseball back to NYC. Collections of those essays were released as four separate books: "The Summer Game" in 1972, "Five Seasons" in 1977, "Extra Innings" in 1982 and "Season Ticket" in 1988. Incredibly, they are all out of print even though each is considered a classic of baseball literature. Two more collections of Angell's baseball writings sampled from all four are also available: This one, released in 1991, and 2003's "Game Time."

You can't go wrong with any of these books, but if you're new to Angell, I'd suggest one of the latter two as a starter. "Once More Around the Park" has thirteen full essays from over the years plus long excerpts from eight more. It's worth having as an introduction to an excellent baseball writer whose name is now enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame. Roger Angell is worthy of Cooperstown, and I know I'm not the only person who thinks a single volume of all his New Yorker pieces would be...well, I'D sure buy it.
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VINE VOICEon August 19, 2010
Baseball fans either get Roger Angell or don't. For some, he's too high-brow, looking down from his tweedy New Yorker perch writing long sentences about the Homeric aspects of Reggie or Yaz. For others, like me, he's an absorbing delight because of how well his writing fits a sport encompassing both speed and contemplation.

Published in 1991, "Once More Around The Park" captures Angell in some of his best moments from the 1960s through the 1980s, which was his own long career peak as a sportswriter. The worst you can say about "Once More" is its sometimes excerpted format dilutes Angell from the more concentrated form found in earlier classic Angell tomes like "The Summer Game". But watered-down Angell is better than no Angell at all.

Angell can write straightforwardly enough, demonstrated by his account of the 1969 World Series, "Days And Nights With The Unbored". The New York Mets' improbable victory there was aided by three key Baltimore Oriole hitters being held to one homer, one RBI, and a .163 average, he notes, and his shorter than usual write-up (just 14 pages) captures losing manager Earl Weaver in a reflective moment: "You've got to throw the ball over the goddam plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all."

But for Angell, stats and locker-room quotes are a small part of the total feast. In his classic essay on the 1975 World Series, "Agincourt And After", he captures little moments other beat writers miss in getting to what everyone still remembers from Game 6: Carlton Fisk's homer. "What can we say of it without seeming to diminish it by recapitulation or dull it with detail?" Angell sighs, yet his narrative proves you can actually add to the moment by dissecting choice elements leading up to it.

Even better was his 1986 World Series wrap-up, "Not So, Boston". The title comes from a palindrome a friend thought up watching that Series's Game 6. Angell here doesn't just get into the play-by-play of the amazing postseason that year, but the atmosphere and culture around it, of traffic slowdowns and commuters sitting in airport terminals skipping their scheduled plane flights to see the Mets finish off the Houston Astros in 16 innings. Reading that essay pulled me right back to that, the happiest time of my baseball-watching life.

Other essays collected here are not season overviews but feature-type pieces. Some focus on aspects of the game like the baseball itself, or the role of the catcher. Others spotlight individuals like Kansas City Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry or new National League president A. Bartlett Giamatti (a humanities scholar and former Yale president).

Not all click. The Giamatti piece reads a bit smugly in parts, two eggheads discoursing upon their love for baseball's more elevated aesthetic ideals. One long essay Angell wrote during the 1981 baseball strike features a semipro pitcher and his wife talking about their love of baseball at its less-plush margins; it's fine in parts but goes on too long.

The best essay here for me, looking beyond my Mets' prejudice, may be the one about Steve Blass, who enjoyed two terrific seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then inexplicably fell apart. Angell examines Blass's problem from all angles, with Blass himself a willing subject for study. No conclusions are reached, but the big takeaway for me is just how amazingly tough it is not only to be good but last in baseball.

Angell has done both for a long time. The best way to have him would be with all his original collections (this draws almost entirely from four of them, "The Summer Game", "Five Seasons", "Late Innings", and "Season Ticket") in unedited form. But until I get them together, I'll hold onto this.
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on August 17, 2001
I'm only half-joking with my title for this review, but I think that speaks to the loyalty and intensity with which baseball fans follow their sport and favorite teams. That said, I say God bless Roger Angell for his insightful writings about the greatest of games. This book is an awesome and vital collection of essays, articles and stories that go beyond simple retelling of the games and innings and moments that are only the most visible aspects of the game. As a lifetime baseball fan, Angell puts into words ideas that I can only feel -- thoughts like, and I paraphrase because I've already lent the book out, "Baseball is cumulative. It rewards the stayer." I think Angell is at his best when he waxes poetic as opposed to explaining pitching or catching mechanics, but even his lesser essays shine a light on the game that most baseball fans don't have access to on their own. There's only one other baseball collection which I think eclipses this one, and that is "A Great and Glorious Game" by Bart Giamatti, the former Commissioner and academic. Not surprisingly, Angell also recognized Giamatti's genius, and wrote about it while Giamatti was still alive and acting as President of the National League. The story is one of my favotites in this collection. This book is a gem, and even when he writes specifically about his love of the Mets or Sox, I know it's from a true fan of the game and appreciate how important the game is to him, and, in turn, to me.
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on March 31, 2001
I have been fortunate enough to share a love of baseball and a particular interest in the Mets and the Red Sox with Roger Angell, though I've not followed him into his current infatuation with the Yankees. As a result, I've not only read all of his books, his name is also one of the few whose appearance in The New Yorker's Table of Contents suffices by itself to get me to buy the magazine.
Since 1962, which was fortuitously the inaugural year of the Mets, Mr. Angell has written several baseball essays a year for The New Yorker. There's always one on Spring Training and one on the World Series, then a couple of mid-season updates. The earliest pieces, covering the years 1962 to 1972, were collected in The Summer Game (1973). Subsequent five year chunks appeared in Five Seasons (1978), Late Innings (1982), and Season Ticket (1988), then came Once More Around the Park (1991), which mostly reprinted selections from those prior volumes, all of which are, disgracefully, out of print.
Baseball has attracted an extravagantly talented assortment of writers but no one has ever written more beautifully about the intricacies and every day charms of the game than Angell, nor captured the idiosyncrasies of individual players in greater detail. It's impossible to match his prose, so let's allow him to speak for himself :
* Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man's hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose: it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance-thrown hard and with precision. Its feel and heft are the beginning of the sport's critical dimensions; if it were a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, a few centigrams heavier or lighter, the game of baseball would be utterly different. Hold a baseball in your hand ... Feel the ball, turn it over in your hand; hold it across the seam or the other way, with the seam just to the side of your middle finger. Speculation stirs. You want to get outdoors and throw this spare and sensual object to somebody or, at the very least, watch somebody else throw it. The game has begun. -"On the Ball", Five Seasons
* Baseball's clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever more tightly with each pitcher's windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch... Any persistent effort to destroy this unique phenomenon, to "use up" baseball's time with planned distractions, will in fact transform the sport into another mere entertainment and thus hasten its descent to the status of a boring and stylized curiosity. -The Summer Game
* 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. -"The Interior Stadium", The Summer Game
* The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference, if not irritation, to the non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not only informative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in aesthetic structure. It represents happenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures and history. Its totals - batters' credit vs. pitchers' debit - balance as exactly as those in an accountant's ledger. And a box score is more than a capsule archive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment - ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay - and an ensuing statistic. This encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that pickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds and violins. -"Box Scores", The Summer Game
* This is a linear sport. Something happens and then something else happens, and then the next man comes up and digs in at the plate. Here's the pitch, and here, after a pause, is the next. There's time to write it down in your scorecard or notebook, and then perhaps to look about and reflect on what's starting to happen out there now. It's not much like the swirl and blur of hockey and basketball, or the highway crashes of the NFL.
Baseball is the writer's game, and its train of thought, we come to sense, is a shuttle, carrying us constantly forward to the next pitch or inning, or the sudden double into the left-field corner, but we keep hold of the other half of our ticket, for the return trip on the same line. We anticipate happily, and, coming home, reenter an old landscape brightened with fresh colors. Baseball games and plays and mannerisms-the angle of a cap-fade stubbornly and come to mind unbidden, putting us back in some particular park on that special October afternoon or June evening. The players are as young as ever, and we, perhaps not entirely old. -Once More Around the Park
* There are baseball fans, it must be admitted, who don't like Tim McCarver's stuff. After they've listened to the celebrated baseball analyst working another World Series game, say, or a Fox Saturday Baseball Game of the Week, or a WNYW Yankees game, with Bobby Murcer, or, before that for many years, a Mets yawner or triumph with Ralph Kiner as sidekick, certain friends of mine have found fault. A few of them sound apologetic about it, as if they have failed Tim somehow; others plain can't stand him. Because I don't understand any of this, I have been at pains to listen to their whinings, which can be easily summarized: Tim McCarver likes to talk. He laughs and enjoys himself at ballgames. He makes jokes -- puns, even. He uses fancy words. He's excitable -- he gets carried away by the baseball. He's always going on and on about some little thing. He thinks he knows how the game should be played. He knows too much. -"The Bard in the Booth", The New Yorker, September 6, 1999
There are of course those philistines who dislike baseball, and even baseball fans who simply dislike this kind of myth-tinged writing about the game. For the rest of us, the essays of Roger Angell are a must.
We've had a particularly tough winter here in New England--as I write, it is March 31st and we just got another foot of snow. But pick up any one of Roger Angell's books, turn to just about any one of his essays (though you might want to avoid a few of those in Late Innings, when he got caught up in the hysteria over rising salaries and free agency), read one of his descriptions of a play or a player and he effortlessly transports you into that Interior Stadium. There are really only two sports that live on in our minds : golf and baseball. In fact, many years ago I learned a trick to help you get to sleep if you're having trouble--as you lay abed, either play eighteen holes at your favorite course or figure out how you would pitch to your favorite team for nine innings. It's no coincidence that these two sports, which have lent themselves to most of the truly great literature of sport, are the two which can be summoned thus in the imagination.
Roger Angell's writing is so evocative, it too seems to tap into your store of memories,--of players, plays, and games--enabling you to visualize most of the scenes he writes about. Writing in general, and sports writing in particular, just doesn't get any better than this.
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on September 20, 2014
Will be a year or so before I get around to reading all the books.
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