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Angell of the Basepaths Fondly Remembered [by David Lehman]

Roger Angell 2From an encyclopedia article on Roger Angell: << In a Newsweek article titled "Angell of the Base Paths," David Lehman made note of what he called Angell's "poetic resonance" and quoted Angell: "If I was influenced by anyone, I guess it was by my stepfather, E. B. White…. He suffered writing but made it look easy. >>

What prompted the question that provoked the quote? It was January 1988 and Roger had a new book coming . The Newsweek editors much preferred a fetaure article to a regular book review, and I pitched the idea of  going to Arizona and spending time with Roger (and some friends of his) during Spring Training. We watched a couple of games and dined with Roger and former Giants manager Bill Rigney who remembered every pitch of the ninth inning of the third game of the 1951 playoffs between the Giants of New York and the Dodgers of Brooklyn. "It was my life," he explained.

Roger AngellI asked Roger whether he thought anyone would surpass another Roger's record of 61 home runs. "If anyone can do it," he said in Scottsdale, "it's Mark McGwire with that short sweet swing of his." Roger introduced me to Bart Giamatti, then president of the National League. Of the barrel-chested former president of Yale, Roger told me "Bart will be our next commissioner. . .if he doesn't drop dead of a heart attack." Bart became commissioner and, alas, his fate was as Roger forecasted. The piece in Newsweek ran under the heading "Angell of the Basepaths."

In a  2017 piece on Red Smith, I asked readers to "consider these sentences from his piece about the 1947 World Series game in which the Dodgers' Cookie Lavagetto ruined the Yankees' Floyd Bevens's no-hit bid with a bottom-of-the-ninth game-winning two-out double. 'In the third [inning] Johnny Lindell caught Jackie Robinson's foul fly like Doc Blanchard hitting the Notre Dame line and came to his feet unbruised. In the fourth Joe DiMaggio caught Gene Hermanski's monstrous drive like a well-fed banquet guest picking his teeth.' In the same game, Tommy Henrich of the Yankees took a hit away from Hermanski: 'Henrich backed against the board and leaped either four or fourteen feet into the air. He stayed aloft so long he looked like an empty uniform hanging in its locker. When he came down he had the ball.'"

Roger wrote me a letter -- always a big event -- saying that Red Smith "was a hero of mine, long ago, because he always made it clear that it was OK for sports fans be smart and educated enough to own an extended vocabulary. and also to appreciate and, above all, enjoy sports. To be like him, that is.  He was serious about this but never took himself seriously.  He was also (by the way) a heavy drinker and often filed copy with seriously shaking hands.

"My only beef about your review is that you omitted Red's weird ending in that column about that Bevans-Lavagetto near no-hitter: a line saying  that the unhappiest man in North America when the tilt ended was a sportswriter there with a broken "v" on his typewriter, which made it it impossible for him to write either of those names.  This was Red himself---he told me later that the "v" snapped off along about the fifth inning and flew like an escaping sparrow out of his Smith-Corona and out of sight over the lip of the pressbox.

"Thanks for bringing this all back.  I've got the Okrent collection and now I'll actually read it."

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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